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Adventures in Pet Food

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, shares her insights and opinions on all things pet food, addressing market trends as well as news and developments in pet nutrition, food safety and other hot topics for the industry.
Pet Food Market Trends

Global Pet Expo petfood trends: new formats for big names

March 10, 2015

Freeze-dried petfood and treats are not at all new, nor are baked dry petfood products. What is new is that now larger petfood players are investing heavily in these less traditional formats for their petfood product development. Witness several major new product launches at Global Pet Expo (GPE) 2015.

For example, Wellness made a big splash with its new TruFood brand, featuring four formats for both dogs and cats, including Baked Blends, slow-baked dry diets with whole prey and raw produce, and freeze-dried Raw Goodness Treats. Similarly, Wellness expanded one of its existing lines, grain-free Core, with air-dried toppers and wet products comprised of pate surrounding gravy and cuts (called Chunky Centers).

A few aisles away, Merrick Pet Care debuted its new "ancestral" line for dogs, Backcountry, with dry products that include freeze-dried raw bits. Company representatives said that later this year, its Castor & Pollux Organix brand would release organic dry products that include freeze-dried raw pieces, too; the booth even displayed a prototype of one of the SKUs. (Merrick also launched a Limited Ingredient Diet line for dogs and cats, and expanded its lower-priced Whole Earth Farms line to include grain-free products for dogs and cats.)

These petfood manufacturers are onto something, based on data from research firm GfK. In a seminar on marketing to Millennials, Maria Lange, Senior Product Manager for GfK, presented 2014 sales data for specific categories of petfood in the US pet specialty retail channel. While still a small category at only US$74 million in 2014 (just 1% of the petfood market in that channel), sales of freeze-dried petfoods and treats increased 43.7% from 2013. After the presentation, Lange told me she believes this category will continue to grow robustly and that the new petfood launches at GPE supported that projection.

Other rising petfood categories in US pet specialty for 2014 included grain free (23.9% sales growth), fresh/raw (18.2% growth) and dehydrated (35.1%)—though Lange stressed that the dehydrated data (including 2014 sales of US$10 million) comprised petfood only; dehydrated treats actually declined in sales last year. Sales of seasonal petfood and treat items soared; for example, Halloween-themed items grew 178% from 2013 and Christmas items, 121%. Lange projects growth of seasonal items to continue, too.

Grain-free petfood sales reached US$2.2 billion in 2014—a 30% petfood market share in US pet specialty—and accounted for four of every 10 new items. Natural petfood sales hit US$5 billion, a 67% market share, with growth in the single, yet healthy, digits at 7.4%. These products accounted for eight of 10 new items. (I believe GfK classifies grain-free as a sub-category of natural.) Lange will present this and other petfood data, projections and trends at Petfood Forum 2015.

As for the entire US petfood market, the American Pet Products Association (APPA), organizer of GPE, released data showing that sales totaled US$22.6 billion in 2014, a 3.2% increase over 2013. For 2015, APPA projects the market to grow another 3.5% to US$23.04 billion.

Other new products, trends and notes

  • Nestle Purina PetCare launched Pro Plan Bright Mind, a food touting medium-chain triglycerides from botanical oils to help senior dogs stay alert and mentally sharp. Purina executives described it as a "game changer"; while it's probably too early to crown the line with that title, it does seem to draw on pretty interesting research, including some in humans.
  • During my brief meeting with Purina executives, the current Beneful lawsuit came up. Paul Cooke, Vice President/Director of Trade & Industry Development, reiterated that the company believes the lawsuit is baseless and pointed out that last year alone, 1.5 billion Beneful meals were served to 15.3 million dogs.
  • Open Farm made a big splash, launching as a brand new company with a complete line of petfoods it says are certified by a third-party organization, Certified Humane, as being ethically and humanely sourced and produced. Besides using ethically raised and sustainably farmed meats, ocean-caught fish (in collaboration with Ocean Wise and the Vancouver Aquarium) and locally grown vegetables, the company is also working with TerraCycle to provide consumers a free and easy way to recycle their Open Farm petfood bags. In fact, the GPE booth displayed a leash made by TerraCycle from recycled bags, though this and other potential "upcycled" products are not yet for sale.
  • Cooking celebrity Paula Dean also launched a full dog food line, manufactured by Hugs Pet Products and including dry foods, treats and a do-it-yourself treat kit.
  • Another major petfood launch announced at GPE came from Nutram, a division of Canada-based, private label manufacturer Elmira Pet Products. Nutram has had petfood products on the market in Canada and the rest of the world but not really in the US; now, the company is not only making a big push into the US but also completely relaunching the brand globally in May with three new premium lines. The company is trademarking a new concept, Optimum Combinations—19 combinations of ingredients that, paired together, offer extra benefits, according to Nutram's lead nutritionist, a certified holistic veterinarian. (Though an executive said the company is "working on label claims," it's difficult to see how the products would be allowed to carry any based on these combinations.)
  • In addition to two consumer websites announced last month, Pet Health Live and Horse Health Live, the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) has another major initiative: pushing its auditing and certification program, the NASC Seal of Quality, "upstream" to suppliers. Bill Bookout, President and Chair of NASC's board of directors, reported that pet supplements are still growing, as is the organization's membership.
  • Finally, APPA also released a few highlights from its biennial report, the National Pet Owners Survey (2015-2016), including that more than 10% of US pet owners are new pet owners, equating to nearly eight million new pet owners within the last year, the majority of which are Gen Y and Gen X. Interestingly, while APPA's survey still has Baby Boomers at 37% of the pet-owning population, GfK's data shows Millennials supplanting Boomers as the largest group of pet owners, just barely, at 35.2% to 32.8%. 

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