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

New petfoods and treats abound at Global Pet Expo

Innovation is often in the eye of the beholder. What one person or company might see as innovative (or at least label "innovative" in marketing materials), another might see as just a continuation or expansion of an ongoing trend or category. Such has been the case with innovation in petfood for a few years now. The new petfoods and treats on display at Global Pet Expo last week might have changed that a little -- depending, again, on your perspective.


In my opinion, some of the new petfood products being launched by petfood manufacturers and marketers this year are more interesting than in recent years. If not outright innovative -- as in truly disrupting a category or creating a new one, for example -- at least they're putting new twists on trends that have started to become rather tired or so prevalent that they can no longer be considered trendy.


First, as for the show itself, the American Pet Products Association, organizers of Global Pet Expo, said this year's numbers of exhibitors, exhibit space, buyers (attendees) and new products all topped last year's records. That added up to an 8% increase in exhibit space, a new record of 964 exhibitors and a 5% increase in attendees.


While I don't have an exact number for new products on display, I can say that there seemed to be more new petfoods and treats than there were last year; my impression was echoed by others in the industry with whom I talked. In some cases, the element of newness comes from a company's strategy and philosophy rather than the products themselves.


For example, FreeHand created buzz at the show after launching last year with a unique business model: For every bag or pound of dog food it sells, it donates one to an animal rescue group. It also hit the market with a strategy of selling through four channels: pet specialty, veterinarians (FreeHand has convened a veterinary advisory council, comprised of top vets from throughout the country, to build credibility in this channel), direct to consumers and through rescue groups themselves. On the bags of food offered through rescue groups, the company uses up valuable packaging space to thank its suppliers and vendors; founder Tom Bagamane said that if it wasn't for their partnership and concessions they made, the company wouldn't have come into existence. (Watch for a profile of FreeHand in the April issue of Petfood Industry.)


Other new and interesting petfood highlights included:

  • Hill's Pet Nutrition launching its first full natural line, Ideal Balance, which it's backing with a US$20 million promotional campaign (mostly in TV advertisement). It's the first time the company is touting its products' specific ingredients, rather than nutrients, according to Hill's (in other words, putting less emphasis on the science).
  • Halo, Purely for Pets coming out with a grain-free "healthy weight" dry cat formula in May, followed by a dog formula in June. As far as I'm aware, this is the first time the ever-present grain-free trend is being combined with the category of products for the many obese or overweight pets in the US.
  • Castor & Pollux (part of Merrick's) introducing what it says is the first organic food for large-breed dogs, with packaging featuring Bentley, the Great Dane recognized by the Guinness Book of World Record's as the world's largest dog (and largest service dog; he visits pediatric cancer patients).
  • WellPet, on the other end of the spectrum, riding the popularity of small-breed dogs by launching what it calls a full platform of products, including an expansion of its line of dry foods for toy breeds, a Petite Entries wet line and Petite Treats.


As has been the case for several years now, treats are proving good ground for experimentation with ingredients and marketing strategies:

  • The Delca Corp. is introducing treats featuring Louisiana alligator, crab, shrimp and crawfish;
  • Tuffy's/Natural Planet is licensing Larry the Cable Guy's likeness and name for a new line of treats;
  • Puppy Cake has new Puptato Chips made from sweet potatoes and looking exactly like potato chips for humans;
  • ThunderShirt, the company that makes garments that supposedly help calm dogs (and now cats) during storms, now has ThunderTreats;
  • Bocce Bakery, adapting a functional/health trend from human food, is launching treats featuring green juice; and
  • Omega Paw is borrowing from another, probably less healthy, human trend and introducing Buddy Brews treats for dogs (riffing on beer) and Cranberry Cabernet and Meowtinis treats for cats.


That's just a sampling. Suffice it to say that even if no one is currently disrupting or creating new petfood categories, companies are doing their best to come up with new products for a marketplace that has proven eager to embrace (and buy) them.