The scope of food and nutrition is shifting for both humans and their pets. Increasingly, people are looking for higher quality food and doing deeper research into the origins of their food. Health awareness is increasing, and people are looking for more nutrition in everything from their local, artisanal restaurants to the food their pets eat.

In the U.S., pet food is a booming industry. Estimates place the current value of the national pet food industry at around $25 billion, with a projected increase to $30 billion by 2022. With so much demand, suppliers are competing to offer unique products with added value to consumers. With such competition, industry professionals often ask, “What are some of the key trends that can help a pet food manufacturer get ahead of the competition?”

Humanization

This novel trend is marked by a desire for pet owners to elevate the status of their cats, dogs and other pets to members of the family. While dogs may have originally become domesticated from their lupine relatives for their use as pest controllers and hunting aids, nowadays many owners see dogs as a companion for a special needs child, for example.   

Humanization involves making pet food resemble human food as much as possible. This is achieved by modifying ingredients, aroma and appearance as well as using names that match human equivalents. Humanized pet food names might include “pie” or “homemade” in the title.

People generally don’t like to consider what might be going into pet food. However, this avoidance of the issue is sometimes enough to make them recognize the potential quality of what they might be feeding their animal companions. In this sense, humanization is tied to the idea of quality in food and comes with the implication that good pet food might even be fit for human consumption.

Pet food marketers are carving the market into sub-groups and targeting pets based not only on their size and breed, and indoor versus outdoor but also echoing human food trends such as nutraceutical ingredients and whole foods. Incorporating probiotics and enzymes along with fruit, vegetables and high-quality protein into pet food will micro-target this growing niche.  

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Raw Food

Many people are experimenting with raw food diets, both for themselves and for their pets. There is doubtlessly some value to raw food and fresh fruit and vegetables. However, some elements of the raw food diet provide cause for concern.

For a long time, owners and breeders have fed raw food to sled dogs and racing greyhounds; however, applying these methods to domestic pets is more of a novelty.

Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst first proposed a raw food diet for pets in 1993, with his BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). Billinghurst based his proposal on the idea that it would be beneficial for dogs to adopt a diet that most closely resembled what they would have eaten pre-domestication.

Despite some enthusiasm for raw food, it remains a controversial subject. Studies show that raw meat, given to dogs, presents a serious risk of bacterial disease to the pets and their owners. Just as humans wouldn’t often eat raw meat for fear of infection, the same applies to household pets. Interaction with these raw meats presents a further risk of contamination as bacteria transfer to humans while feeding or from an infected animal.

Many veterinarians disagree with Billinghurst and advise pet owners against using raw food for their dogs and other pets. Although it is worth considering the nutritional benefits that might be lost during food preparation.

There is a fast-growing trend for pet parents to incorporate the raw food diet into DIY pet food, and they enhance their homemade meals with spray-on nutrients, mix-ins, toppers and supplements. This allows the pet owner to customize their DIY pet meals with healthy additions specific to their breed.    

Premiumization

Consumers are increasingly demanding higher quality for themselves and, by extension, their pets, too. As the market for pet food expands, so does that for premium or gourmet products, which advertise higher quality ingredients and manufacturing processes.

Premium products might contain a mixture of meat and grains, such as rice. This approach is designed to offer consumers the chance to improve the nutritional intake of their household pets. By offering their pets a premium product, pet owners may feel better about themselves due to the way they are treating their animal. This is an important factor for many individuals who are looking for a way to act and spend in a more conscientious manner.

Beyond content, premiumization also involves a desire from consumers to purchase locally-sourced products. This is already prevalent in human grocery and restaurant industries, where consumers are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. It is only natural that such considerations have extended to the pet food market as well.

Premium products cover a range of attributes that may contribute to premium status. The stronger the claims a pet food can make to being locally-sourced, nutritious, luxurious and human-like, the more premium it is likely to appear.

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Nutrition

Most pet owners care for and love their pets. Many owners consider their pets to be members of the family and treat them as such. This bond affects the way owners value the welfare of their animal companions.

By considering the nutrition of their pets, owners feel they are acting responsibly, potentially extending the lifespan and improving the quality of life their pet experiences. Products that offer additional nutritional value to pets have a great tool in their belt for marketing to conscientious pet owners.

Owners realize that pets, like humans, require balanced diets that offer nutritional value across the board. With a rise in the prevalence of labels that clearly reflect the content and nutrition in food and an overall improvement in education, consumers are becoming more aware of nutritional concepts.

Premium pet foods capitalize on this by offering a mixture of meat and grains to compare themselves favorably against a human diet and suggest a balance of food types. Sixty-eight percent of pet owners believe vegetables are good ingredients for their pets according to the Packaged Facts September/October 2017 National Pet Owner Survey.

One additional strand of nutrition for pets comes in the form of enzymes. Enzymes aid in the digestion of food by breaking down large molecules into smaller, more digestible ones. This can increase nutrient intake, as the smaller molecules are more soluble and easier for the intestines to absorb.

Certain enzymes perform protein hydrolysis, which can tenderize meat, improve flavor and generally make food more palatable for animals. This process involves breaking down large protein molecules found in meat and fish into their smaller amino acid components, which the body can use in the growth and repair of cells.

Pet Foods for The Future

Although it is impossible to predict what tomorrow might bring for the U.S. pet food industry, trends of improved quality, increasingly conscientious choices and nutritional improvement are likely to continue.

Savvy pet owners not only feel better about buying higher quality products for their pets, but they also recognize that taking care of their pets’ nutrition could save them money on veterinary bills over the course of the animal’s lifetime.

Protein hydrolyzing enzymes offer a great deal of potential to increase pets’ ability to absorb nutrients from their food. As studies continue, there is a real chance that products featuring enzymes could further increase their market share.


About the Author: Morgan Walker Clarke is a writer and dog lover from Dallas, Texas. In his spare time, he enjoys taking his dogs to the park, watching football, and spending time with his wife and twin sons.