A professional with 35-plus years’ experience in companion animal nutrition and petfood remarked recently that trends in our industry are now only three months behind human food trends. Petfood used to follow human food by at least six months, he said.

Undoubtedly, the cycle keeps getting shorter as pets are treated more and more like human family members. So, it only makes sense for our industry to stay updated on news and information from the human food world—not to mention connect with professionals in that industry.

One source I  highly recommend for insight into human food is the Institute of Food Technology (www.ift.org). You have to become a member to receive its magazine and all the information it distributes, but you can still find quite a bit on its website as well as at its annual conference (scheduled this year for June 11-14 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA).

The April issue of the magazine, Food Technology, includes an article by A. Elizabeth Sloan on the top 10 food trends, at least for the US:

1. Demographically directed—significant differences in food preferences, eating styles, attitudes and behaviors between Baby Boomers and Gen Yers will impact the products, marketing and messages of food companies.

2. Still cooking—in 2010, 55% of grocery shoppers reported they prepared more meals at home, according to FMI.

3. Americana appeal—this includes local and farm-raised foods as well as regional cuisines.

4. Foodie focused—67% of US consumers think of themselves as knowledgeable about and interested in food.

5. Get real—the focus on natural and “free” foods (as in free of chemicals, artificial preservatives, flavorings, colors and similar substances).

6. New nutrients—a continuing and growing interest in functional ingredients and fortified foods.

7. Specialty treats—despite the move toward healthier eating, as well as recessionary cutbacks, more US consumers are indulging themselves with high-quality (and sometimes high-priced) treats.

8. Three squares—over the past two years, more US adults have reported eating three meals a day.

9. Prescriptive eating—buying and consuming foods to alleviate and possibly even prevent certain diseases and conditions.

10. Home rituals—this definitely speaks to the recession and consumers not only eating at home more but preparing snacks and meals to take to events and venues outside the home.

Obviously, not all  of these have an immediate link to or relevance for petfood. But some certainly do. For example, regarding “getting real,” consider these data shared by Sloan:

“In 2010, 39% of consumers, up 9% in one year, cited chemicals in foods as the most important food safety issue today vs. 44% who cited concerns about bacteria, down 8% (IFIC, 2010).

“Consumers believe limiting processed foods is among the most important components of healthy eating, right behind consuming vegetables and fruits (Mintel, 2009b),” she continued. “Half (50%) of consumers deliberately avoid preservatives, 49% avoid MSG, 47% artificial flavors, 44% colors/dyes, 43% growth hormones and 29% genetically modified organisms (Hartman, 2010a).”

It stands to reason these consumers might be following the same behavior when choosing foods for their beloved furry family members. The same probably goes for new nutrients, specialty treats and prescriptive eating. What does that mean for your brand and products?

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Read more about human food trends in the blogs on Petfood-Connection.com.