Pet Food Market Trends / Pet Food Labeling
On June 6, 2013

Human food trends offer insights for petfood

Food technologists, research firms, retail outlets and shows offer information worth considering for petfood product development

These days, petfood product development follows human food trends by only "half a step," according to David Sprinkle, publisher and research director for Packaged Facts, who spoke at Petfood Forum 2013. He referred to a regular report from his company, Culinary Trends Mapping, that covers restaurant trends in addition to product ones and said large petfood manufacturers often buy it.

They're smart. But, not all companies have the budgets to purchase those types of reports. If that's the case for you and you happen to be in Chicago July 13–16, I encourage you to consider attending the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo . Besides a few sessions on petfood (this year focusing on product development and ingredient innovation), the meeting offers many examples of human food trends and products that can provide insights for petfood.

The expo typically includes many ingredient companies that also supply the petfood industry. (Bonus: Most booths offer tastes and samples of their products, so you don't even have to buy lunch!)

The human food-petfood  alignment also comes through in the April issue of IFT's Food Technology magazine with an article by A. Elizabeth Sloan, contributing editor, on the top 10 US food trends for 2013. While some obviously don't apply to our industry, a few might reinforce that many petfood manufacturers are on the right track:

  • Redefining health —Sloan cited data from Technomic (2012) showing that 90% of US consumers believe fresh foods are healthier and link healthy foods to phrases or words such as "homemade," "from scratch," "artisan," "authentic," "seasonal" and "real." We already see many of those words on petfood packages, don't we? Just as we're starting to see label claims related to the care of the animals that go into the product, like "farm-raised" and "grass-fed," that are gaining popularity with human foods, too.
  • Seeking true transparency —That's Sloan's label for what I would call a heightened safety awareness that we know is also present among pet owners: Most US adults say they have thought about food safety in the past year, according to IFIC data (2012), and 17% have stopped buying a specific brand or food due to a safety concern. Similarly, 86% of pet owners in a recent survey said strict quality control measures for petfood were important to them.
  • Nutritional insiders —Last year, Sloan said, 78% of US consumers made a strong effort to eat more vitamins, and 57% tried to consume more products with specialty nutritional ingredients—which we know pet owners look for on the labels of petfoods.

Speaking of labels,  in the May issue of Food Technology, Sloan addressed what food label claims and features matter most to US consumers. Again, there are parallels with our industry. For example, touting health benefits contributes to market success: The average number of benefits claimed on the labels of the most successful human food products increased to 6.2 in 2012, according to IRI, up from 4.2 benefits claimed 10 years ago.

Sloan also cited data from Packaged Facts indicating 66% of US consumers buy foods for a specific nutritional ingredient. In his Petfood Forum presentation, Sprinkle showed a similar, though lower, figure, with 41% of dog owners in a consumer survey saying they buy one or more specialty ingredient formulation dog food(s)—supporting his comment about petfood being just behind human food.

So, look to sources like IFT and Packaged Facts for guidance on trends in human foods that may be worth adapting to your petfood products. Or, as Sprinkle recommended, if you have a Trader Joe's store in your area, check out its petfood section, which he believes is fairly progressive and innovative. (Trader Joe's often has samples of tasty human foods available, too.)

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