Pet food trends don’t just follow human food trends; in some cases, they’re getting to market faster as pet owners seek quality, healthful aspects and what’s next for their pets’ food bowls. So said James Restivo, client director and pet lead for Nielsen, in a webinar on how human food trends are impacting pet food formulations.
This is not a new insight, of course, yet it’s always fun and intriguing to think of pet food leading human food, rather than the other way around. What does that mean in terms of opportunities for brands to find the next big thing in pet food?
Restivo provided some data and information that might provide clues or ideas for what could come next for pet food. For starters, even though companion animal nutritionists and other experts always emphasize that the amount, quality and bioavailability of the nutrients are much more important than the ingredients that deliver them, ingredients are what consumers know and care about.
At least, they care about the ingredients listed on products more than they do product claims. Restivo discussed what he called the “flip”: when consumers encounter a new or different product, they tend to immediately flip the package over to study the ingredients and other information on the back. One reason for this behavior, he explained, is that many Americans don’t trust marketing claims on packages.
An example he gave was natural claims, which Nielsen data show just 15 percent of U.S. consumers always trust; 67 percent trust such claims only sometimes and 18 percent never trust them. He added that claims backed by regulations are more likely to be trusted, which helps explain the lack of trust for natural claims, especially those on human foods. (Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is looking at regulating such claims on human food; with pet food, there is a definition for “natural” established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, but it’s debatable how strictly or consistently that’s enforced.)
As another example, Restivo presented data showing that while sales of pet food with joint health claims have declined 6 percent, products with glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate called out as ingredients have increased 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively. That’s because consumers recognize those ingredients and understand the benefits to their own health.
While Restivo covered the most popular trends in both human foods and pet foods now — think clean label, superfoods and other functional ingredients, proteins and plant based — he also highlighted up-and-coming trends in human food that may also emerge for pet food:
For pet food brands looking to find new product and business opportunities, Restivo offered these recommendations:
In response to a question about whether cannabis-based products (for pets or humans) might become a big success, Restivo answered more generally: In most cases of a trend really taking off — for example, Greek yogurt — it’s because one company or a few companies decided they were going to take a niche category and turn it into a US$500 million industry. They made that a business strategy and executed it very well. Is there a niche category in pet food that could follow that model?