A trip to Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Florida, USA, in late March provided tangible proof that the pet industry has weathered the recession well and is set for a strong year. There were definitely more people-pet retail store buyers, exhibiting pet product manufacturers and others-than at least year's event, and a palpable buzz filled the aisles and air. A colleague noted the number of orders she saw being written one day.

The largest pet industry trade show in the US, GPE is where many manufacturers launch their new products, and this year's event didn't disappoint. While I saw few truly innovative petfood products, I did find many new petfood and treat brands, line extensions and campaigns, most touting natural or organic claims.

One of the few innovative products: Smart Pup treat cups from Ubuntu, the new pet division of a natural human food manufacturer. Like many other companies entering our industry from the human nutrition world, Ubuntu is using a technology and process from those human products to fortify peanut butter-banana smoothies with what it says are higher, more absorbable doses of functional ingredients (omega-3 fish oils, glucosamine/chondroitin, prebiotics/probiotics) than found in most dog products.

Companies introducing new petfood brands and lines include:

  • Blue Seal, announcing By Nature and By Nature Organics, both complete lines (dry and wet foods for both dogs and cats, plus dog biscuits) exclusive to the pet specialty channel;
  • Three Dog Bakery, known for its franchises of retail bakeries (now numbering about 50 in the US, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong), starting an all-natural, oven-baked brand called Bake to Nature to be distributed to independent pet stores;
  • SmartPak, previously specializing in human nutrition and pet medications via online and mail, launching Proportions Whole Food Nutrition Program, which it describes as a "new diet category for dogs that will forever change the way people feed their dog"; and
  • Freshfetch, announcing shortly after GPE what it calls a reawakening of "ancestral food for dogs. Every Freshfetch meal is real, unprocessed food that you'll recognize when you see it." Obviously, more information about these new lines and nutrition programs is needed, but they help make the case that petfood is no stranger to innovation.

Another newsworthy trend noticed at GPE was the number of petfood manufacturers tying their brands and marketing to causes benefiting pets or people. For example, Bil-Jac has secured a license to produce dog treats for America's VetDogs Veteran K-9 Corps, which provides service and therapy dogs to US military veterans and active personnel dealing with post-traumatic symptoms, loss of limbs and other injuries.

As part of its launch of a new line of dog food called Zero/G ("zero grains, zero gluten, zero GMO"), Darford has created a donation program called the Plus One Movement. Most of its dog foods and treats are packaged in kits that include a small donation bag of Zero/G that purchasers can place in a bin at participating pet stores. The donation packs will then be distributed to no-kill animal shelters.

Please watch Petfood Industry and here online for more information soon on so-called cause marketing from petfood companies, as well as a report from Interzoo this summer. Meanwhile, keep those new products, brands and campaigns coming.

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