Executives at Bravo Pet Food and Holistic Health Extension believe demographics and demand trends favor continued growth in the wet pet food category. These pet food industry entrepreneurs shared their insights into how to innovate in the wet pet food category, and what drives its growth.
The present and future engines of pet food sales, millennials and baby boomers, increasingly tend towards owning cats or smaller dogs, like Chihuahuas, which can be fed wet pet food more affordably than a Saint Bernard. At the same time, pet food trends, including grain-free, raw and high-protein, lend themselves well to wet dog and cat food.
“Millennials inherently spend more money on their pets to ensure they are well fed,” said Brad Gruber, president and COO of Holistic Health Extension. “The real strength in growth in this category is driven by baby boomers, where spending is growing the most due to the number of households headed by this group.”
Wet pet food consumer demand trends
These pet owners’ preferences in wet pet food are largely following the same trends as the rest of the pet food industry, which in turn mirrors trends in human food. Gruber pointed out some of those trends, such as premium ingredients, local sourcing, customized recipes, weight loss and variety.
“There is an ongoing shift in consumer demand toward higher-quality, nutritionally sound foods,” said Bette Schubert, Bravo’s co-founder and senior vice president of sales. “As a result, we’re seeing a lot more products entering the all-natural space that are USA-made, grain-free, with meat and poultry ‘first’ and using clean, wholesome ingredients.”
With that consumer interest in quality and nutrition naturally comes a movement towards premium wet pet food. Schubert believes that as more pet owners realize how food choices influence their pets’ health, they will also tend to purchase more premium wet pet food. For example, a tangible improvement in a cat’s fur, or an obesity reduction, can convince a consumer that they got their money’s worth from a premium product.
“I think we’re going to see increased sales and offerings of premium canned foods in the coming year,” she said. “It is going to be driven largely by pet parents recognizing the power of food.”
“The category of premium canned foods is not going away any time soon, especially with pets being such an integral part of today’s family,” said Gruber.
Health-focused and therapeutic wet pet foods directly make that connection between health and food. Dogs and cats live longer now than in decades past, yet suffer from increased obesity rates. The market may grow to help these ailing animals with new wet pet foods that address specific health issues.
“There is also an emergence of foods formulated specifically for those companion animals who may be suffering from medical conditions such as allergies, diabetes, and/or issues associated with being overweight such as joint problems,” said Schubert.
To formulate these health-focused pet foods, along with conventional varieties, an increasing number of novel ingredients are becoming available. Holistic Health Extension used novel ingredients when they entered the canned cat food arena earlier this year.
“We just launched six new, grain-free 2.8-ounce canned cat recipes that contain premium protein sources, are low in carbohydrates and include apple cider vinegar, coconut oil and other exciting novel ingredients,” said Gruber.
While many consumers have responded well to these unfamiliar ingredients, pet owners also demand that certain well-known ingredients not be included, particularly grains. As grain has fallen out of favor, protein has risen in popularity with wet pet foods marketed as made from muscle meat without by-products.
“The entire grain-free category will continue to explode,” said Gruber. “With canned pet foods, meat ingredients are closer to their natural state, so you wind up with a more appetizing and palatable product.”
Holistic Health Extension launched six grain-free canned cat food recipes in 2016. | Holistic Health Extension
New wet pet food product introductions
In 2016, Bravo branched out from their core of frozen raw pet food with canned foods for dogs and cats. Those new products, Feline Cafe and Canine Cafe, were marketed for what they didn’t contain as much as the ingredients they did.
“Our approach to the Cafe lines closely mirror that of our raw diet products in that they are made with quality muscle meats, poultry and seafood, and contain no fillers, preservatives, artificial flavors, or meat and poultry meal or grain, and they contain no guar, carrageenan or cassia gum,” Schubert said.
In 2016, Bravo introduced canned foods for dogs and cats, Feline Cafe and Canine Cafe. | Bravo
The new wet pet foods succeeded, said Schubert and Bravo plans to follow up with new proteins for dogs and cats in the coming year. Likewise, Holistic Health Extenstion plans to release more canned recipes for cats and dogs later this year. However, making those new products stand out in a crowded market can challenge pet food brands.
“The big question is how to properly merchandise all of these products to make the shopping experience exciting, interesting and enjoyable for the consumer,” said Gruber.
Packaging options for wet pet food
One way a new product can stand out is with innovative wet pet food packaging. One significant trend is towards smaller types of containers, such as trays and pouches. As millennials and baby boomers both move towards smaller dogs and cats, the average size of pet food packaging has been shrinking.
Maria Lange, business group director of GfK, said that this downsizing trend is most notable in wet pet food, while she explored packaging size data in a Petfood Industry webinar. Traditional cans still contained 83 percent of wet dog food and 92 percent of cat food sold in the US in 2015, but those percentages have fallen since 2011. Western European pet food marketers have adopted trays and pouches more than the US.
The future of the wet pet food segment
Although the packages may be getting smaller, the market for wet pet food seems likely to grow. Pet food industry executives agree that the current trends in dog and cat food, such as grain-free and high-protein, will continue into at least the near future, and that wet pet food can capture those trends.