More than 2,500 dog and cat owners in the UK, Germany and Spain rate natural, functional nutrition and the source and amount of protein ingredients as the most important features in the pet foods they buy. These health-conscious pet food purchasers participated in a study on consumer perceptions of pet nutrition, conducted by DSM Nutritional Products and presented by Sarah-Jane Godfrey, technical marketing manager for DSM, at Petfood Forum Europe 2017.

Unlike pet owners in markets like the US, these European pet owners seemed less concerned about grain in pet foods, as grain free, along with gluten free, fell to the bottom of the list of pet food attributes rated for importance. Features like price, brand and country of manufacture also rated relatively low, while ingredients in general and whether they are sustainably sourced rated higher, Godfrey reported.

She was just one of 10 experts presenting their latest research and insights during Petfood Forum Europe. Taking place on June 13 in Cologne, Germany, the conference attracted more than 200 pet food professionals from throughout Europe to network and learn about the pet food market, functional ingredients, processing innovations and more.

European pet food market: two distinct regions

Paula Flores, global head of pet care research for Euromonitor International, started the conference with an update on the European pet food and pet care market. She characterized it as a “tale of two regions,” with total Western Europe pet care sales at US$28 billion, divided almost evenly among dog food, cat food and pet products, and marked by slow growth (about 2 percent annually). In comparison, Eastern Europe is dominated by cat food and shows 4 percent compound annual growth, with some markets as high as 8 percent, and total pet care sales of US$5 billion.

Specific to pet food, Western Europe reached about 1.6 million tons in volume in 2016, with a slight decline (-0.9 percent), and Eastern Europe hit 571,000 tons and 3 percent growth. The premium category drives pet food sales in Western Europe, though growth is still less than 2 percent for that category; in Eastern Europe, economy and mid-priced are the largest pet food categories, while premium pet food, while still a small category, is growing 6 percent a year.

Other sessions during Petfood Forum Europe 2017 included tackling dogs’ age-related cognitive decline with polyphenols, by Anne LePoudere of Vivae-Diana Pet food; making your pet food processing system flexible to keep up with pet food trends, by Galen Rokey of Wenger Manufacturing; protein in pet food, by Jennifer Adolphe, PhD, of Petcurean; freeze-dried pet food, by Calvin Smith of Pet Nutrition NZ; the effects of prebiotic fructans in overweight dogs, by Franka Neumer, PhD, of Beneo; increasing pet food process energy efficiency with dryer automation, by Anders Haubjerg, PhD, of Graintec; a novel ingredient to treat hip dysplasia in dogs, by Erena Gil-Quintana, PhD, of Eggnovo; and tracing the mineral profile of dry dog food, by Ana Margarida Pereira, of University of Porto.

Petfood Forum Europe will next take place in 2019.