For the last decade or so, “natural” has been the primary buzzword in pet food. The natural trend has grown every year in both dog and cat food—in 2014, the US natural dog food market grew 7.2% to US$4.3 billion and the natural cat food market grew 8.8% to US$700 million, according to GfK data. Grain-free pet food has been the significant driving force behind the trend for some time, but as consumers become even more determined to feed their pets the very best, and to cater to their pets’ individual dietary needs, other subsets of natural pet food are becoming more prominent. One of those subsets is freeze-dried pet food.
The US freeze-dried pet food market has steadily increased in dollar value since 2011, in both full meals and treats (see Figure 1). In 2011, according to Maria Lange in her 2015 Petfood Forum presentation, “The next big thing: Based on sales trends in pet retail specialty,” the category brought in US$22.7 million total—US$10.4 million in full meals and US$12.3 million in treats. By 2014, those numbers had increased to US$73.9 million total—US$51.3 million in full meals and US$22.6 million in treats. Dollar share of the total pet food market has also trended upward, from 0.4% in 2011 to 1% in 2014.
Freeze-dried pet food is a small but steadily growing subtrend within the larger natural pet food trend. Its dollar share of the US market grew from 0.4% to 1.0% between 2011 and 2014, and is expected to continue its upward trajectory, according to GfK data.
What’s more, US stores that sell pet food seem willing to answer market demand and promote the trend. In 2011, according to GfK data, 51.4% of stores selling pet food included freeze-dried food as part of their inventory—more than those who included frozen pet food (33.1%) or refrigerated pet food (17%). By March 2015, the percentages for all those categories had increased significantly, but freeze-dried continues to come out on top—now, 70.8% of stores that stock pet food include freeze-dried foods in their inventory, compared to 53% for frozen food and 36.5% for refrigerated pet food.
While the freeze-dried market is relatively small in terms of product diversity, its growth is significant when compared to other trends in the natural pet food arena. In 2011, there was an average of eight freeze-dried pet food products on US store shelves among those stores that sold pet food (see Figure 2). Compared to the other big trend in natural pet food, grain-free (an average of 154 products on shelves in 2011), that seems like an insignificant number. But by March 2015, that average had increased to 22 products on store shelves (compared to grain-free’s 370 products).
Even though freeze-dried pet food isn’t nearly the powerhouse the well-established grain-free trend is, when year-over-year growth is considered, freeze-dried has beat out grain-free, refrigerated and frozen pet foods each year since 2012.
This still makes freeze-dried pet food a small trend compared to the more established grain-free, but when growth percentage is considered, freeze-dried is actually keeping up with, and even beating out, grain-free, to say nothing of refrigerated or frozen pet foods (see Figure 2). In 2012, freeze-dried pet food saw 33% growth on store shelves year-over-year, compared to 31% in grain-free, 21% for refrigerated products and just 2% for frozen pet foods. In March 2015, freeze-dried saw 15% growth on US store shelves, compared to grain-free’s 14%, just 3% for refrigerated products and 14% for frozen pet foods.
The one practical sticking point for consumer expansion of this trend is its price point: currently, freeze-dried pet food on the market costs around US$31 per pound, according to GfK, putting it firmly in the “superpremium” category of pet foods when it comes to pet owners’ bank accounts. To continue to expand, more affordable options must be available, which is why the freeze-dried category has grown to include more than just the straightforward, freeze-dried kibble. Kibble products with freeze-dried pieces mixed in (“premium kibble”) can be found on the shelves, as can kibble products with freeze-dried coatings. Compared to US$31 per pound, these pet food options often come in at a far more wallet-friendly US$4–5 per pound, opening up the freeze-dried pet food trend to multiple levels of price-conscious consumer.
How have pet food manufacturers been capitalizing on this growing trend?
Stella & Chewy’s (www.stellaandchewys.com) offers significant freeze-dried product lines for both cats and dogs, and sees freeze-dried pet food as a way for pet owners to introduce raw pet food into their pets’ diets. Touting freeze-dried as a way to improve nutrition while saving time and space (for those who might be interested in frozen/raw diets but don’t have the facilities to store frozen/raw products), Stella & Chewy’s offers freeze-dried patties for dogs and freeze-dried dinners for cats. The company offers meals such as Stella’s Super Beef, Duck Duck Goose and Absolutely Rabbit (for dogs), and Heavenly Herring & Tuna, Tummy Ticklin’ Turkey and Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken (for cats).
Courtesy Stella & Chewy’s
Stella & Chewy’s “kitty-tailored” freeze-dried dinners include dinners for cats and kittens. They contain no added hormones or antibiotics, and are free of grains, fillers and artificial colors.
Fresh is Best (www.freshisbest.com) offers lines of freeze-dried dog and cat food as well as treats. The company’s goal is to produce premium pet food at a price point that makes it available on virtually any budget, and focuses on using only American grown/raised ingredients. Human-quality, grain-free, raw ingredients are minimally processed in small batches for nutrition and freshness integrity, according to the company. Freeze-dried dog and cat food options include Beef, Chicken and Turkey. Treat options are extensive and include such products as Beef Heart Medallions, Whole Chicken Necks, Duck Giblet Rounds, Salmon Steak Niblets and Turkey Tenders.
Courtesy Fresh is Best
Fresh is Best offers lines of freeze-dried cat and dog food, as well as freeze-dried treats. Cat food options include Turkey, Chicken and Beef Recipes.
Stewart (www.stewartpet.com) offers both freeze-dried dog food and freeze-dried patties, using the same fresh, human-grade ingredients and formulas as its raw frozen food line. Aimed at consumers looking for a convenient, easy-to-feed, shelf-stable diet for their pets, Stewart’s Raw Naturals line includes Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Bison, Lamb and Chicken & Salmon recipes, as well as a Freeze-Dried Puppy Formula. The patties come in Beef and Chicken.
Stewart’s Fresh to Home freeze-dried patties include Beef and Chicken Recipes for dogs. The company uses human-grade ingredients, including single- or limited-source protein, fruits and vegetables and other natural ingredients.
Bravo LLC’s (www.bravopetfoods.com) line of freeze-dried Homestyle Complete Dinners for dogs is made with raw meat or poultry as the number one ingredient, plus organs, garden vegetables and cranberries. Recipes are designed to provide complete and balanced nutrition for dogs of all ages and breeds, according to the company. There are no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors in the formulas, and products are grain- and gluten-free. Recipes include Beef, Pork and Turkey Dinners.
Courtesy Bravo LLC
Bravo offers Homestyle Complete freeze-dried formulas for dogs, including Turkey Dinner, Beef Dinner and Pork Dinner. Each dinner is grain and gluten free, supports a healthful, low fat diet, and includes ingredients like sweet potatoes, chickpeas, green beans and cranberries.
More on pet food nutrition
Lindsay Beaton is the editor of Petfood Industry magazine and the author of "Trending: Pet Food," a weekly pet food industry blog. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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