LuAnn Williams, co-founder and global insights director of Innova, explained in a recent webinar that the food industry has come full circle in terms of ingredients, from early attention on functional foods in the 1990s to the first concepts of clean label, which created an “avoid” list, to today’s even greater focus on “hero ingredients.” We see similar patterns in pet food.
An Innova survey of consumers in 11 countries — Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, U.K. and U.S., likely representative enough that the market research firm refers to this as a global survey — shows about a third saying they always look at ingredients of interest on food and beverage products, with 42% saying protein is the most important ingredient. (Another parallel to pet food.)
“Consumers seek value from the ingredients that are in the products. It becomes front-of-pack marketing and is very important,” Williams said, adding that ingredients are also an important part of storytelling (an element of marketing) and often provide visual cues on the product label.
Innova recommends that food and beverage marketers feed into positive consumer attitudes toward ingredients by promoting a product’s star element. While many pet nutrition experts lament the focus on ingredients vs. nutrients that pets need, this advice is still probably relevant to pet food marketers, too. (In fact, many already do that.)
Sustainability becoming more nuanced
Innova’s second trend for 2024, “nurturing nature,” is a continuation of a focus on sustainability, another key trend for pet food, yet it keeps involving in both industries. “What see with these big trends is they start to break into smaller niches, and there’s more nuance every year,” Williams explained. Now consumers think businesses have a responsibility to go beyond more basic sustainable practices, requiring actions that make a positive difference in protecting nature. In fact, the top things consumers want to see companies prioritize include nature protection, sustainable packaging and improved waste management.
Hence, Innova has tracked 37% average annual growth in food and beverage products with a forest-protection-related claim and 40+% annual growth in ones with a water usage claim. Other areas attracting more attention (from consumers and businesses alike) are upcycling and “agrobiodiversity,” which Williams said includes crop diversification for planetary health and food security, and regenerative agriculture, “which is getting a big marketing push in the U.S.”
Combating information overload
Though it’s number 10 on Innova’s list for 2024, “minimizing the noise” also seems to have a play for pet food — it’s all about simplifying messages aimed at consumers. “Consumers said last year that there are too many environmental certifications, for example, but they’re absolutely looking for open and straightforward communications to try and deal with information overload,” Williams said.
For example, 64% of global consumers in Innova’s survey said they would like to see straightforward communication about companies’ efforts in sustainability on food and beverage packages. (That may seem to run counter to the greater nuance and increased elements of sustainability consumers are asking for!)
The top things consumers would like to see simplified on packaging are brand overview, shelf life, product storytelling and sustainability information. Regarding the latter, 49% said they’re worried about greenwashing, yet 53% said they can’t recognize if a company is greenwashing. Williams mentioned that new legislation is coming in Europe to tackle this. “What will happen is if regulators feel like the industry is not going far enough, they will also try to help with clarifying the message.” A cautionary tale for pet food, perhaps.
More human food trends
Among Innova’s remaining top trends for 2024, ones that seem applicable to pet food include prioritizing prevention (number 3, all about being proactive toward health), plant based: the rise of applied offerings (4), indulging in health (number 7, healthy treating) and oceans of possibilities (8; “Seas are developing into the farms of the future, providing inspiration along new, environmentally positive ingredient sources,” Innova said.”).
Williams concluded the webinar by saying Innova will be releasing more information about its top trends on its website in the coming weeks and months.