Adventures in Pet Food

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, shares her insights and opinions on all things pet food, addressing market trends as well as news and developments in pet nutrition, food safety and other hot topics for the industry.
Pet Food Market Trends Pet Food Ingredients
Dog with pumpkin
Pumpkin has long been a food ingredient associated with the fall months, but it’s fast becoming a staple year-round. | Kasefoto | Shutterstock.com

New pet food product launches bounce back, focus on health

Recently I wrote about how the pet food market may be ripe for innovation post-COVID-19, partly because new product development lagged in 2020 amid all the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The lag seemed to manifest in data from Mintel on new pet food product launches, which showed a decline of about 67% from 2019 to 2020.

The data was presented by Max Davis, business unit manager for Waldner North America’s filling and sealing systems, in a webinar; I’ve seen the same chart elsewhere. However, the 2020 data point of 169 pet food product launches, compared to 510 in 2019, may be misleading; that former number likely was not for the full year of 2020.

According to more recent Mintel data shared by TreeTop, an ingredient supplier, in its “Pet Food Market Trends July 2021” report, segmenting the data by a 12-month period from June 2020 to May 2021 paints a different picture: In that timeframe, new pet food product launches bounced back, reaching 569. That represents a nearly 5% increase over the previous 12-month period, June 2019 to May 2020, of 543 launches—which was a decline from its previous 12-month period, June 2018 to May 2019, of 562 launches, but only of about 3%.

I suspect the 169 number for 2020 shown by Davis and others was mainly from the beginning of the year through May; it stands to reason that new product development fell off as the pandemic and lockdowns hit, and pet food companies focused on getting their existing products made and shipped to pets and their owners. Regardless of any discrepancy in numbers or reporting timeframes, it’s heartening to see that new pet food product launches picked back up later in 2020 and into the first half of 2021, supporting the idea that indeed, pet food was and is ripe for innovation.

Pet owners, new pet foods and treats center on health/wellness

More importantly, the new Mintel data in the TreeTop report (which was a collaboration with Michael Sellitto, contributing editor for the Mintel Global New Products Database) provided a helpful overview of some key ingredients in recent new pet food product launches, as well as what pet owners are looking for.

For example, 98 new pet food products in the June 2020-May 2021 timeframe had all-natural claims, up from 88 and 89 in the two previous 12-month periods. That may have been in response to the pandemic and how it has driven consumers to focus on the health and wellness of themselves and their families, including the furry members, as some people consider “natural” foods and products to be healthier.

Accordingly, health and wellness claims on pet foods and treats received high interest from U.S. pet owners in a March 2021 survey by Mintel/TreeTop. Healthy digestion topped the list, at 58% of respondents, followed closely by muscle, joint and bone at 52%, skin/coat health at 49%, immune system support at 46% and heart/cardiovascular at 40%. Other health and wellness claims selected by respondents included weight management, calming/anxiety relief, brain/cognitive support, vision support and energy boost.

Human food influence at play again

With TreeTop supplying fruit ingredients to the pet food market, its report highlighted the leading fruits appearing in new pet foods from June 2018-May 2021, according to Mintel’s database. Cranberry, blueberry and apple occupied the top three spots on the list, far outnumbering other fruits like banana, carob, pomegranate and others. Interestingly, the use of those three top fruits declined quite a bit in the June 2020-May 2021 timeframe.

Perhaps even more interesting: The use of certain flavors in new pet food and treat products has grown significantly since June 2018. Pumpkin/squash increased by 500% during the three-year period from then to May 2021, and a similar flavor, sweet potato/kumara, by 300%. Bacon/lard/pancetta/speck&cheese, cheese and blueberry & peanut butter all rose by 200%. Not surprisingly, those are all flavors and ingredients that have also grown in popularity for human foods during the same timeframe. If bacon/lard/pancetta/speck & cheese is not a human-food-influenced flavor and trend, I don’t know what is!

That flavor did account for only 1.9% of new pet food and treat launches in the three-year period, Mintel’s data showed, while peanut butter (alone) was at 3.4%. The most popular flavors—again, no surprise—were chicken at 15.1% of new product launches and beef at 7.3%. By comparison, another protein source, salmon, accounted for 3.1% of new product launches.

The percentages for protein sources actually also map fairly closely to human food, I believe, though dogs’ and cats’ strong preferences and needs for such flavors and ingredients (or at least their owners’ perceptions) likely also played a strong role in pet food producers’ flavor choices for their new products.

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