Another Global Pet Expo (GPE) is nearly here, and as in most years, the 2020 show will feature many pet food manufacturers and marketers displaying their latest products. What will be the trends and common themes of the new products? Here’s what I’ll be looking for.

Will ‘grain in’ pet food development continue?

At GPE 2019, while the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) investigation into canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and a potential link to grain-free pet food was a frequent topic of conversation, it was not yet known if or how the agency’s announcements were affecting sales. Nor had FDA released its third announcement, in which it implicated brands named in the investigation. So, there didn’t seem to be much of an impact on pet foods displayed at GPE.

But that changed quickly and dramatically after FDA’s June 2019 announcement naming those brands; by that time, many pet food companies in general were also hearing from consumers, retailers and others with concerns about grain-free pet foods, resulting in loss of sales. Thus, at SuperZoo 2019, many companies debuted new “grain-friendly” pet food products, plus ones claiming addition of taurine or no legumes.

Given the continuing slide of grain-free pet food sales and lack of clarity around FDA’s investigation, my hunch is that the GPE new products section and exhibits will showcase even more new pet foods featuring ancient grains and the like. Will there be any new twists, ingredients or features taking the market further away from grain free?

‘Alternative’ format pet foods: still growing?

Last year saw several new air-dried pet foods from New Zealand at GPE, plus newer companies offering formats other than traditional dry, wet or semi-moist pet food. According to data from Nielsen, partially freeze-dried and dehydrated products’ share of the U.S. dry pet food market increased from 9% in 2017 to 13.1% in 2019, while frozen pet foods’ share of the wet pet food market rose from 11.9% to 17.6% over the same time.

In addition, the overall dry category declined by 4.9% year over year in 2019, mainly due to a 9.2% drop in traditional dry pet food sales, said Maria Lange of Nielsen. What she called “preserved” foods (freeze-dried and dehydrated) soared 39.1%. On the wet side, overall sales grew by 5%, fueled by a 55.4% boost from “fresh” categories such as frozen and refrigerated. At the same time, traditional, shelf-stable wet pet food decreased by 1.8%.

These products still have small sales and shares of the total pet food market, but their continued growth bears watching.

Has sustainability’s moment finally arrived?

Sustainability is no longer just a “nice-to-have” feature or program for pet food companies – nor for human food companies, for that matter. Consumers are increasingly demanding evidence of it in the products they buy and the brands they buy from, and they’re even starting to put their money where their mouth is. Nielsen data showed sustainable products sales (in all categories) have grown steadily, reaching US$128.5 billion in 2018. Nielsen projects such products to represent 25% of total store sales by 2021, up from 22.3% in 2017.

This increased interest and purchasing is at least partially driven by millennials, now the largest pet-owning group in the U.S. Pet food companies are taking notice; at GPE 2019, sustainable packaging came up frequently in conversation. At this year’s show for 2020 (and going forward), will we start to also see claims on products, not just for their sustainable packaging but also for more eco-friendly ingredients?

Will CBD’s popularity start to wane?

This is a trick question: Of course it won’t! I fully expect to see just as many, if not more, new products touting CBD inclusion at GPE 2020; the number of emails about such products flooding my inbox the last few weeks are a harbinger of that.

I had heard that the American Pet Products Association, organizers of GPE, had issued warnings to exhibitors to display only empty packaging and not any CBD products themselves due to their murky legal status, especially in Florida, USA, where the show is located. It will be interesting to see how many companies heed that warning, but I doubt it will discourage any exhibitors from touting the purported benefits of CBD, regardless of legality.

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dphillips@wattglobal.com