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If you’re a pet food trends watcher (and who isn’t?), you may be happy to know that trend prediction season is upon us! One of the first lists of human food trends for 2018 is out, and several have connections or implications for pet food.
The list comes courtesy of Mintel and includes trends that have been in play for a few years now, such as transparency, health and wellness, and personalization. Mintel believes these will take on new meaning or significance in the months ahead.
This trend is certainly not new to pet food and continues to ramp up in both the pet food and human food markets. Mintel seems to attribute the demand at least partially to the current political and cultural climate in the US and other countries, referring to “our new post-truth reality.” That may be a tenuous link, especially for pet owners, but there’s no denying that pet owners want to know as much as possible about how and where their pets’ food is made and the ingredients are sourced or cultivated.
“Widespread distrust places pressure on manufacturers to offer thorough and honest disclosures about how, where, when and by whom food and drink is grown, harvested, made and/or sold,” reads Mintel’s press release. “The need for reassurance about the safety and trustworthiness of food and drink has led to increased use of natural as well as ethical and environmental claims in global food and drink launches.” That definitely rings true for pet owners.
Described by Mintel as focusing on “self-care,” or prioritizing time and efforts for themselves and encompassing flexible, balanced diets, this trend may not have a direct tie to pet food – but it certainly brings to mind the health benefits of pet ownership. After all, what’s a better or quicker stress reliever than a snuggle with an adoring dog or warm, fluffy cat (or rabbit, chinchilla or even parrot or snake)?
This type of connection to human health and wellness is key to ensuring pet ownership stays strong or, better yet, increases, especially in more mature pet markets.
“As technology helps make shopping as effortless as possible, an era of targeted promotions and products is emerging,” Mintel says. With human food, they link this trend to consumers’ motivation to save time and money. That definitely plays out in pet food, too; hence, the increasing role of e-commerce in pet food shopping and the rise of home delivery of pet food. Brands such as Bark Chef and Just Right by Purina have figured out that convenience and customization are powerful drivers for pet owners, especially millennials, to sign up for dog and cat food delivery services.
Food companies, scientists and human population experts are seeking solutions for feeding a growing worldwide population – expected to reach at least 9 billion by 2050 – one that increasingly demands protein and meat, as incomes rise globally. This also has implications for pet food, as pet ownership grows worldwide and manufacturers often try to tap into the same supplies for ingredients, especially meat-based proteins.
However, I question whether Mintel has really thought through the direction this trend might take, in light of increasing consumer aversion to GMOs and other bioengineered foods and ingredients. “Some forward-looking companies are developing solutions to replace traditional farms and factories with scientifically engineered ingredients and finished products,” the press release says. “While lab, cultured or synthetic food and drink is only just emerging, technology could eventually be used to design food and drink that is inherently more nutritious, which could extend the consumer audience for scientifically engineered food and drink beyond environmentally conscious shoppers to reach consumers who are concerned about ingredient consistency, efficacy and purity.”
Perhaps, but many consumers don’t understand or trust “scientifically engineered” food, and that definitely extends to pet food. Without a comprehensive educational effort, even food scarcity and environmental concerns may not be enough to turn consumer opinions.
Where I think technology may soon play a significant role, in both pet and human nutrition, is with genomics: studying each individual’s genome (and microbiome) to determine the ideal nutrients and, thus, diet for that pet or person. The science and technology aren’t quite at a point to make this concept widely available or affordable yet, but I believe that’s only a temporary situation.