The state of pet food innovation in early 2024

Pet food innovation doesn’t always mean new products; sometimes it’s new delivery services, new market players and new research on existing ingredients.

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You may sometimes hear or read that innovation in pet food is lagging, that many new pet foods or treats being launched are just line extensions or similar to everything else on the market. In fact, I have shared sentiments to that effect.

Yet I think that in today’s environment, innovation must and does take many forms. No doubt we’ll see quite a few instances of that at upcoming pet trade shows such as Global Pet Expo 2024, March 20-22, in Orlando, Florida, USA, and Interzoo 2024, May 7-10, in Nuremberg, Germany. (And later this year, SuperZoo in Las Vegas.)

But even before those events, when many pet food and treat brands plan their new product introductions, several recent announcements highlight innovation and its many forms, including in research, delivery methods, new market players and more.

Human-food-inspired dog treats, new delivery options

In terms of new products, Bark, the company behind the BarkBox dog treat subscription service, just launched a Snack Pack inspired by breakfast cereals for people. The treat products play off the names of iconic, if sugary, cereal brands — Frosted Socks, Toot Loops, Lucky Duckies — and sweeten the offering (sorry, pun intended) with accompanying plush dog toys and QR codes on the packaging that lead owners to interactive experiences.

(It's purely coincidental, yet interesting, that the launch happened at the same time the CEO of leading cereal company WK Kellogg caused a controversy by suggesting that people struggling with higher food prices should eat cereal for dinner. For Bark’s sake, let’s hope those taking issue with the suggestion and who are also dog owners don’t transfer their reactions to their dogs’ treats.)

Also in the category of subscription services, one aimed at delivering meat and seafood on a regular basis for human food consumption has announced its entry into pet food: ButcherBox, a direct-to-consumer brand, has launched ButcherBox for Pets, offering dry food plus treats and supplements for dogs. The company said 60% of its existing meat/seafood customers have dogs, and it had already been offering them dog treats supplements, to the tune of US$750,000 in sales in 2023. That success spurred the company to develop a full line of dog foods and this separate brand.

And finally, in terms of pet food and product delivery, DoorDash and Pet Supplies Plus, a pet retail franchise chain with 720 locations in the U.S., are partnering to offer on-demand delivery of “pet essentials” to pet owners. This builds on DoorDash’s earlier partnerships with Petco, PetSmart and Independent Pet Partners, following the launch of its own pet vertical in 2020, which has grown to include more than 400,000 pet products, the company said.

New research may provide new options for pet treat, food developers

Another area of innovation involves research on novel ingredients: Ones that have been around for at least a few years now, but the new studies are indicating new uses or benefits for the ingredients. For example, Protix, which provides black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) insect protein to the pet and human food industries, released a study showing a positive impact on dogs’ oral health from BSFL, including a reduction in doggy breath (halitosis).

CBD in pet treats and supplements is also getting more research focus. In the most recent study, conducted by the National Animal Supplement Council, hemp-derived cannabinoids were shown to be safe for long-term use in healthy dogs. That follows a separate study from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Colorado State University indicating similar results for CBD supplements for dogs.

These announcements have all come in just the first quarter of 2024 and represent only the tip of the iceberg of similar studies, developments and partnerships — ones already in place and ones likely to come later this year and beyond. They serve as a welcome reminder that pet food innovation can happen in all sorts of areas and ways.


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