Today's global economy doesn't just affect commodity agriculture, 24/7 IT support and multi-national business leaders. It also has a profound effect on the world's smallest consumers - our pets. Although North America is still the nucleus of the global petfood industry, innovation in other markets is shaping new product development around the world, including in the US. Increasingly, inspiration for petfood formulations, claims and packaging is coming from places as diverse as Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
Exploding around the globe
The explosion in product launch activity outside the US underscores how active the global petfood market truly is. Consider that in 2005, North America was the leading petfood market in terms of new product introductions. By 2007 it had been eclipsed by Europe, whose introductions grew 44% from 2005 to 2007, according to Mintel's Global New Product Database (GNPD). Asia Pacific and Latin America saw even more aggressive new product growth during that period at 122% and 95%, respectively (Figure 1).
By contrast, North America saw petfood introductions decrease 5% - the only region to experience a decline from 2005 to 2007. As pet owners around the world begin to adopt more of the habits of North American consumers, the global petfood market is becoming more progressive and sophisticated.
It's all about function
Much of today's global innovation is rooted in functional ingredients and foods. From 2005 to 2007, functional claims grew exponentially and appeared among the top 10 petfood claims overall. To date in 2008, the Mintel GNPD shows functional claims outside North America related to digestive health, immunity, bone health, beauty benefits and cardiovascular health have all appeared among the top 10 overall petfood claims - outranking and outnumbering those same claims in North America.
An emerging area of global functional innovation is brain health. Just as human consumers are turning to omega-3 fatty acids to boost their cognitive performance, pet owners are looking for the same for their cats and dogs. Specifically, petfood companies are calling out the inclusion of a particular omega-3, DHA, for its mental function benefits.
Since DHA is especially important to early brain development, it is often added to foods for puppies and kittens. In Portugal, DHA is used in Iams' Eukanuba Puppy & Junior Dry Dog Food to support hearing and vision as well as brain health. This fatty acid plays a similar role in Whiskas' Chicken & Milky Plus Nuggets sold in India. But DHA can also bolster cardiovascular health, and in Thailand, CP Smart Heart Toy & Small Breeds Dog Food includes it to reduce pets' cholesterol.
Keeping a healthy gut
Best known for their digestive health and immunity benefits, probiotics have become a mainstream health ingredient for consumers around the world. Growing education about these friendly bacteria has prompted pet owners to seek out probiotics as functional ingredients in their pets' food.
Brazilian petfood company BanPet adds probiotics to its BanCook Nino Mini Biscuits to aid dogs' digestion. And in Russia, Mars has introduced probiotic-rich Immuno Cat Food with Lactobacillus , part of its Whiskas line, to improve immunity among cats.
Probiotics' popularity has paved the way for two related trends - prebiotics and yogurt. Prebiotics are essentially the food that probiotics need to stay alive. Prebiotics are most often associated with digestive health, as is the case in Finland, with ProFormance's Freshway Garden Chicken Cat Food, which uses probiotics to promote good intestinal function.
Yogurt has also gained a "healthy halo" because of its alignment with probiotics in human foods and beverages. NestlÃ© features yogurt in Austria's Purina One Natural Balance Adult Cat Food, although here its calcium content is highlighted for its bone- and teeth-building properties. In Spain, dog owners can find Biazoo's Yogurt Drops dog treats. Yogurt even exists in standalone form in Germany's Yo Cat, which is sold in four 62.5 g pots that bear a striking resemblance to yogurt made for human consumption.
Don't forget taste
But global petfoods aren't just about functional benefits; they are also devoted to good taste. Especially in Europe, steam cooking has emerged as one of the best ways to retain petfood's flavor and freshness. It also has an inherent association with gourmet foods, allowing manufacturers to charge a premium for their steamed offerings.
Mars' Cesar brand offers steamed dog food in Europe and features such varieties as Mediterranean-Style Chicken and Italian-Style Beef and Pasta. Whiskas has been a leader in this trend by selling steamed cat foods throughout Europe and recently reformulating its French wet cat food to be steam cooked.
Convenience is another significant driver in the development of global petfoods. International petfood manufacturers have been savvy about adapting packaging to on-the-go lifestyles and changing consumer tastes. Companies are also now developing human-inspired packaging for mess-free eating.
Butcher's Pet Care in the UK introduced its Olli Cat Food Assortment in disposable plastic bowls with peel-back lids. The package features anti-slip technology, ideal for mats or hardwood floors, to prevent slipping and spilling.
In Japan, Mars and its Sheba brand have taken a completely different approach to convenient petfood packaging with stick packs. Similar to single-serve beverage sachets for humans, these individually wrapped portions contain dry cat food for convenient dispensing with no waste or clean-up.
Packaging innovation isn't confined to single-serves; it extends to multi-pack petfood, too. French retailer Carrefour introduced its mousse-style cat food in a vertical, octagonal eight-portion carton that stands out on the shelf and saves space.
With international players continuing to develop petfoods in record numbers, this kind of innovation will inevitably affect the marketplace in significant ways.