As we begin what promises to be another interesting, dynamic year for pet food, I’ll be watching to see how several developments and stories unfold:
- Another big acquisition announcement? Pet food mergers and acquisitions started happening just a few days into 2018, though it was February before a blockbuster occurred: General Mills buying Blue Buffalo. Will we get through January 2019 without another big announcement, especially as talk has renewed that Nestle Purina is still trying to acquire Champion Petfoods? And, will the number of mergers and acquisitions in the global industry — including pet food suppliers as well as companies — surpass this year’s total of 51?
- Which truly novel pet food ingredient will take off in 2019? And will regulatory approval (or lack thereof) matter? Despite having no regulatory status or that status being very murky, ingredients such as insect protein and cannabidiol (CBD) continue to attract interest from pet food brands and consumers alike. Will one of those categories finally gain approval? Will it start to go mainstream anyway? (After all, CBD pet products almost seem mainstream without approval.)
- Will a new pet food recall or ingredient situation crop up? 2018 closed, unfortunately, with a spate of recalls related to overly high levels of vitamin D. Recalls due to Salmonella, especially in raw pet foods, certainly haven’t stopped, either. And, while the Food and Drug Administration has released no new reports or information on its investigation into cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy and grain-free pet foods, that situation is still hanging in the air. Pet food is safer than ever today, thanks to companies’ efforts, diligence and commitment (not to mention compliance with regulations); but is another problem or situation on the horizon?
- Will pet food companies revolt against Amazon and Chewy? Pet food e-commerce, and especially these two platforms, continue to grow exponentially and command a larger share of the market. That seems to allow them to dictate more of the selling terms to pet food brands while also launching their own, competitive pet food lines, leaving brand owners in a difficult position: not wanting to turn down the online sales opportunities, nor disappoint loyal pet owners using those platforms, yet needing to protect their margins, brand equities and businesses. Further, many pet food brands, particularly smaller, specialty ones, want to continue to work with, and protect, loyal independent and brick-and-mortar pet retailers. Where will this all lead?
I imagine we will learn the answers to at least some of these questions as 2019 unfolds.