Despite continuing economic woes in some regions and markets—and consumers still spending conservatively no matter what their financial situations—sales of natural foods, petfoods and other products continue to grow.
Consider this: US sales of natural foods and beverages rose 7.7% in 2010 to US$21.3 billion in natural stores alone, according to Natural Foods Merchandiser and described by A. Elizabeth Sloan in the July issue of Food Technology magazine. Sales of natural/organic foods in conventional food, drug and mass merchandise stores totaled US$16.5 billion, a 7.6% increase from 2009.
How does this compare to petfood? While US sales of natural petfood dipped 2.4% from April 2009 to April 2010, according to SymphonyIRI, that was only in US supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Walmart at that time). In reporting this data in Pet Food in the US, 9th Edition (March 2011), Packaged Facts said it expects natural sales to rebound over the next five years at 11% compound annual growth, compared to only 4% annual growth for petfood overall. That would put US natural petfood sales at US$2.5 billion by 2014.
In natural supermarkets in the US, sales of natural petfoods rose 3.5% in 2010 to US$54.2 million, Packaged Facts says, citing data from SPINS Inc., a natural products market research firm. The growth was driven by a 10% increase in sales of natural treats. For organic petfood, Packaged Facts reported data from the Organic Trade Association showing 2009 US sales of US$85 million, representing 10% growth from the previous year.
Considering that consumers who shop at natural retailers might be better weathering the down economy, that growth makes sense. But the August issue of Nutrition Business Journal puts a negative spin on it, saying US sales of natural and organic petfood grew “only 4%, the lowest category growth ever recorded.”
A summary of the issue’s reports also said pet supplements grew 6% in 2010 but “suffer from a lack of significant new product development,” while other natural and organic pet supplies had “another banner year.” According to NBJ, the total animal nutrition market—defined by the publication as including those three categories of natural and organic petfood, pet supplements (excluding animal feed supplements) and natural and organic pet supplies—increased 5% to US$3.2 billion last year.
Sloan’s article on natural human foods also reported:
- Nearly one-third of the top-selling new foods/beverages launched in the US in 2010 carried a natural or organic claim (IRI, 2011);
- “Natural” topped the list of descriptors consumers looked for when purchasing foods/drinks at retail stores in 2010 (Hartman, 2010);
- Seven in 10 shoppers believe food described as fresh means it is healthier; and
- Eight in 10 consumers want their supermarkets to carry more foods naturally high in nutrients vs. fortified.
With petfood, Packaged Facts says “natural” topped US marketing claims in 2010 for the third year running, far outpacing the next most popular claim, “high vitamins” (211 mentions vs. 106). Mintel’s Global New Product Database showed similar findings, with “all natural product” ranking among the top three claims of all new petfood products launched in 2010. “No additives or preservatives” was the most prevalent claim globally, showing up on nearly 30% of new petfood products, according to Mintel, followed by “vitamin/mineral fortified.”
So, even though most countries or regulatory bodies have no legal definition for “natural,” the buzzword has clearly captured consumers’ attention and wallets. It’s a marketing claim that works, even with a sluggish economy.