Pet specialty is the main retail channel driving continued growth for pet food in the US, and for many of these retailers, pet food is one of their best-selling product categories, according to past surveys conducted by Pet Product News. So when that publication asks its readers (who are mainly independent pet retailers) which trends they’ll be following and expecting this year, it’s worth paying attention to the ones involving pet food and treats.

For example, Lisa Senafe, president and founder of Bentley’s Pet Stuff, which Pet Product News named as its retailer of the year for 2016-2017, commented that, in terms of innovative pet foods hitting the market, semi-moist or baked products are doing well in the company’s 39 (and counting) stores. “We definitely see our customers seeking nutrition-boosting products that can be added to their pets’ food, or those that already have these ingredients mixed in,” Senafe added. “These foods create mealtime that is more fun and flavorful.”

In terms of pet treats, Senafe mentioned “interactive” ones or those with a purpose or function, such as dental, joint, and skin and coat health. “It’s like a little added bonus for a customer wanting to feel better about feeding his or her dog a treat.” (Her comments about treats were seconded by another retailer.)

Other members of Pet Product News’ retail panel said:

  • Demand for pet foods with novel proteins or superfoods will continue;
  • Demand for more holistic, natural products, with “less use of chemicals,” is a factor, with more consumers turning to raw foods and holistic/homeopathic remedies;
  • Treats with ingredients such as hemp, kale and coconut will be a big trend;
  • Sustainable and humane pet food practices are seeing growth (this was mentioned by several retailers, along with organic; and in a fall 2016 webinar, Maria Lange of Gfk also noted humane and sustainable as buzz words getting more play on pet food labels and marketing materials);
  • Raw pet foods and “kibble plus” products (dry kibble with freeze-dried bits) are being noticed, and baked foods are making a comeback (echoing Senafe’s comments);
  • Toppers, whether freeze-dried, dehydrated, even raw, are getting bigger, letting pet owners try those formats without them necessarily being fed as the sole diet;
  • Pet owners are still searching for the easiest way to feed a raw diet, resulting in continued growth of freeze-dried products;
  • We will see good growth in “soft” treats, with just enough preservatives to ensure stability and shelf life;
  • Instead of cookies and chews consisting of “body parts,” we will see a more fun type of treats hitting retail shelves;
  • Continued pressure from online sales as well as expansion of large chain stores mean that high-end kibble will be sold in more grocery stores and even hardware stores.

Pinning down the exact meaning of some of these comments and descriptions is a bit difficult; and because the comments published were brief, there was no background information or substantiation for most of them (like the last one about other retail channels). Still, several key themes emerge. While none are really new or a surprise, the focus they’re receiving from people who interact daily with pet food-buying consumers means they probably deserve some focus from pet food companies, too.

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dphillips@wattglobal.com