Global Pet Expo (GPE), the largest pet trade show in North America, starts in two weeks: March 16-18, in Orlando, Florida, USA. Given its size, status and annual calendar positioning, many pet food and pet product companies use the show to launch their latest product lines and offerings. In terms of new pet food products, I will be on the lookout at GPE for:
- Anything truly new and unique, innovative to the point of ground-breaking. Arguably, NestléPurina PetCare’s launch of its Pro Plan Bright Mind dog food approached that level at last year’s show. Drawing on significant research, including in humans, the food uses medium-chain triglycerides from botanical oils to help senior dogs stay alert and mentally sharp—a condition-specific attribute that, at the time, Purina executives called a “game changer.” I’m not sure Bright Mind quite reached that status; to be a game changer, I think a product has to essentially create an entirely new category. Will we see a pet food launch like that at GPE in 2016?
- Whether last year’s emerging trend—“enhanced” and “infused” kibble—is spreading. Examples from GPE 2015 include Wellness’ TruFood brand, featuring Baked Blends with whole prey and raw produce, and Merrick Pet Care’s Backcountry line, with dry foods incorporating freeze-dried raw bits. With freeze-dried among the fastest growing pet food categories in the US, yet also among the highest priced products, this blending of formats may present a happy medium for premium pet food consumers, as well as a way for more traditional brands to enter these small but popular “alternative” categories.
- More freeze-dried, raw and baked pet foods and treats. Along the same lines, I’ll be looking to see if the number of products in these formats are continuing to grow. While freeze-dried and raw have been on the rise for a few years, I’m curious to find out if baked and other “gently processed” pet foods and treats will start to take off, too, as pet owners increasingly seek alternatives to dry and wet pet food.
- More cat food and cat treat product launches. Cats continue to outnumber dogs in the US (93 million to 85 million, according to GfK), yet dog food sales, and the number of dog foods and treats on the market, far surpass sales and products for cats. This makes sense to some extent, in that there is such greater variety in breeds and sizes of dogs compared to cats, thus creating more product development opportunities and much higher food sales, as medium and large dogs need to eat a lot more. But, with so many cats ruling homes and their cat-loving owners (as a cat owner, believe me, I’m well aware of who’s in charge), you would think cat food and product innovation would be booming. It’s decidedly not, even with recent studies and experts showing that the rising group of Millennial pet owners seem to be gravitating toward cats. Even Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association (APPA, organizer of GPE), has lamented this lack of cat product development. It will be interesting to see if that changes at his show in 2016.
- On the flip side, will the number of new dog treats on display necessitate their own wing of the Orlando convention center? Each year at GPE, a higher proportion of the new products area seems comprised of dog treats—understandably, given the fact that treats are still a high growth area of the market.
- The number of “natural” pet food and treat claims. While the GPE exhibit hall includes a natural products section, pet foods and treats with natural claims are not confined to those aisles; rather, they seem to show up on every other product, if not more, whether or not the products are truly natural.
- Pet food companies touting transparency on ingredients, sourcing and processing. We all know consumers are demanding and thirsting for transparency on how pet food is made, what’s in it and where those substances (and the material it’s packaged in) come from. Last year at GPE, Open Farm launched its pet food line with a message of ethical and humane sourcing and production, certified by a third-party organization, Certified Humane. Its packaging can also be recycled through TerraCycle. That’s just one example; will we see more during this show?
- The booths for recently acquired pet food companies and whether their new parent company affiliations will be visible. Examples include Merrick, acquired by Purina in 2015, and Sojos, bought by WellPet at the beginning of 2016.
- Most entertaining pet food-related booth or marketing gimmick. In 2015, my vote probably went to I’d Rather Be With My Dog, a dog treat company whose owner, Doug Ratner, even sang for people stopping by his booth. (See photo above, too.) I don’t expect to be serenaded again this year but will be on the lookout for amusing and interesting ways to market pet food.
Check back here for a post in a few weeks about whether these trends came to pass at GPE 2016.