Freeze-dried raw pet foods are a small but rapidly growing segment of the pet food industry, said Maria Lange, GfK business group director. However, the now-niche category could expand to become up to 10 percent of the market. Freeze-dried pet foods are part of the specialty market trend that now is the main retail channel for pet food growth and innovation, said Lange, at Pet Food Forum 2016.

Lange’s freeze-dried pet food data, separated it into 100 percent freeze dried meals, “kibble+” (traditional dry kibble mixed with freeze-dried pieces) and freeze-dried treats, showed that for the overall category, only 3.8 percent of new pet food products in US pet specialty in 2015 were freeze dried, but that has doubled in just one year.

Consumer demand for freeze-dried pet food

In addition, sales for the freeze-dried category reached US$195 million in 2015, a 62.7 percent increase, mainly driven by a 74.4 percent jump in sales of kibble+. According to Lange, that’s because the price per pound of that subcategory, US$3-4, is so much more attractive than 100 percent freeze dried at US$36 per pound.

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. 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).

Retailing freeze-dried pet food

What’s more, US stores that sell pet food seem willing to answer market demand and promote the freeze-dried trend. In 2011, according to GfK pet industry data, 51.4 percent of stores selling pet food included freeze-dried food as part of their inventory—more than those who included frozen pet food (33.1 percent) or refrigerated pet food (17 percent). By March 2015, the percentages for all those categories had increased significantly, but freeze-dried continues to come out on top—now, 70.8 percent of stores that stock pet food include freeze-dried foods in their inventory, compared to 53 percent for frozen food and 36.5 percent for refrigerated pet food.