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 Sustainable Dog and Cat Food
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Sustainability: Top trend for human food and pet food

Sustainability in all its forms and meanings has become more of a focus for consumers and businesses alike, including those feeding their pets or making the pet food for them. This is yet another spillover from human food and other industries, so the fact that Innova Market Insights has declared “Shared Planet” as its top human food trend for 2022 has implications for pet food.

“We started talking about sustainability in 2008,” said LuAnn Williams, director of insights and innovation for Innova, during a November 3, 2021, webinar. “It took a long time for it to become more than just a Wall Street issue; it’s now definitely a consumer issue.”

The proof: Innova surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021 of consumers in 10 countries (U.K., U.S., Spain, France, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, China and Indonesia) showed that health of the planet supplanted health of the population as the top global concern in 2021. It makes sense that the population’s health ranked first in 2020, considering the global pandemic raging then; in late 2021, we are still in the pandemic to different degrees around the world, yet now health of the planet is the chief concern among the consumers surveyed.

“Consumers are definitely being influenced by this more and more,” Williams said, adding that the concern touches nearly every category and country worldwide. Williams shared the information as part of Innova’s annual top 10 human food trends for the coming year.

Meeting communication challenge with trust, transparency

For human food brands—and most likely for pet food brands, too—the biggest challenge is how to communicate your company’s strategy and initiatives on sustainability, Williams emphasized. “There are lots of ways to communicate what companies are doing, because I don’t think there’s a single company not doing something about sustainability now; you have to.”

The secret to meeting that challenge? “Trust and transparency are key to helping consumers make responsible choices,” read Innova information. Of course, achieving that is much easier said than done. Innova’s survey showed 55% of consumers globally (in the 10 countries listed above, plus Canada, which was included in most of the 2021 survey questions) said they don’t know what to look for, because there are too many environmental labels. Further, 64% agreed or strongly agreed that they prefer “one label that captures the complete impact on the environment over multiple labels.”

Williams gave three examples of ways to communicate and build trust:

  1. The Vegetarian Butcher, a U.K.-based alternative protein product company owned by Unilever, provides a “Discover Your Impact” framework to help guide consumers in product choices.
  2. The Eco-Score from Etiquettable, an “independent project” based in France, helps brands display sustainability-related metrics of their food products and recipes.
  3. Companies’ own metrics for carbon emissions and footprints; Williams said Innova has seen a 56% increase year over year in carbon emissions claims on labels.

Sustainability links to many trends

The focus on the planet and sustainability links through many of Innova’s other top 10 trends for 2022, including its second, “Plant-Based: The Canvas for Innovation.” In asking consumers in its survey the reasons they would consider plant-based products, “better for the planet” ranked second after health in 2021, moving up from third in 2020.

Similarly, sustainability ranked as a chief reason, along with health/nutrition and freshness, for consumers who prefer upcycled ingredients to consider them higher quality—figuring into Innova naming “Upcycling Redefined” as its ninth trend. In the Innova survey, 35% of consumers said they find products with upcycled ingredients to be more appealing; and Innova has recorded a 54% annual increase globally in food and beverage launches with a food waste or upcycling claim from 2016 to 2020.

Upcycled and plant-based ingredients are making more of a foray into pet food, too, so this consumer data probably tracks closely in our industry. As do those related to two other trends with links to sustainability: “Back to the Roots” (locally sourced, but also now encompassing functionality, freshness and authenticity) and “My Food, My Brand” (personal and social values increasing in importance for evaluating food and beverage products).

Innova’s other top trends for 2022 include “Tech to Table,” “Shifting Occasions,” “Amplified Experiences,” “Voice of the Consumer” and “Gut Glory.” Those last two definitely play a role in pet food, too.

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