["Some pet owners view these products as safer, holistic alternatives to pet medications.", "One of the biggest preventive health thrusts in petfood is weight loss."]

Packaged Facts’ March 2011 report, Pet Food in the US, 9th Edition, shows the underpinnings of the US pet industry are strong, and the outlook is especially good for all things related to pet health. In the case of pet supplements and petfood, this is true to such a degree that some pet owners view these products as safer, holistic alternatives to pet medications.

For example, long-term administration of traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can induce gastrointestinal toxicity, kidney failure and liver disease. As a result, before going the NSAID route, pet owners often turn to supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin in pill, treat or food form.

In Packaged Facts’ May-June 2011 Pet Owner Survey, 22% of dog medication purchasers and 28% of cat medication purchasers agree that they prefer to try holistic/natural pet treatments before resorting to pet medications. Over half of dog medication purchasers (51%) and cat medication purchasers (59%) agree that high-quality petfoods are effective in keeping their pets healthy (Table 1).

Numerous negative health  conditions stem from overweight/obesity in dogs and cats, including osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease, non-allergic skin disease and many forms of cancer. Not surprisingly then, one of the biggest preventive health thrusts in petfood is weight loss.

At the American Pet Products Association’s 2011 Global Pet Expo, two major petfood companies featured new weight reduction programs under way in the veterinary channel: Purina, with Project Slim Down, and Hill’s, with Prescription Diet Weight Reduction Program. The latter relies on pre-measured meals, and in February 2011 Hill’s carried this emphasis over into the pet specialty channel with the Science Diet Weight Loss System for Dogs.

Other marketers continue to segment established petfood lines with weight formulas, including Blue Buffalo (Blue Wilderness Natural Evolutionary Diet Dry Dog Food with LifeSource Bits Healthy Weight formula and Blue Adult Dry Cat Food Weight Control formula), Mars (Pedigree Dry Dog Food for Adult Dogs with Healthy Nuggets Kibble Healthy Weight formula) and Nutro (Nutro Ultra Holistic Superfood Dry Kibble Dog Food Weight Management formula).

Trends including natural, no wheat, no gluten, hypoallergenic and meat first combine in one of hottest holistic health-related trends in petfood today: grain free. According to Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics, during the first seven months of 2011, 35 lines representing 167 SKUs carried grain-free claims, up from 9 reports/45 SKUs in all of 2010.

Grain free first showed up on the new product radar in 2007, when only two lines representing 8 SKUs appeared (Table 2). Going the grain-free route now are all-new brand lines such as Dogswell’s Nutrisca, Petcurean’s NOW!, Merrick’s B.G. (Before Grain) and Ainsworth’s Back to Basics, as well as extensions to lines including Fromm’s, Pinnacle, Canidae, Sojos, Evanger’s, Natural Balance, Halo Purely for Pets, California Natural, WellPet and Dave’s.

Looking ahead, petfood  marketers will continue to come down squarely on the side of health and wellness in seeking to communicate value to consumers. Driving much of the growth in the market will be functional petfoods and treats boasting whole foods and holistic ingredients such as omega fatty acids and fruits and vegetables.

At the same time, we will also see more action in veterinary diets targeting specific medical conditions, including Hill’s Prescription Diet, Iams Veterinary Diets, Royal Canin Veterinary Diets and Purina Veterinary Diets. This emphasis will increasingly position petfood, along with pet supplements, at the front line of consumers’ pet health regimen in terms of both prevention and treatment.

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Read more market information at www.petfoodindustry.com/marketreport.aspx.