Leading up to Global Pet Expo 2020 (GPE), I commented on the top pet food trends I would be looking for at this year’s show. Before I report on those trends (among others), it bears mentioning that the show did experience effects from the global COVID-19 coronavirus situation. More than 100 exhibitors from China were unable to attend, and the number of pet store buyers seemed down a little. Steve King, CEO of the show organizer, American Pet Products Association (APPA), told me show attendance always dips slightly in a year that also includes Interzoo, and that perhaps the coronavirus was having a small effect, too – but at worse, he expected attendance to be flat. (APPA will likely be releasing its final numbers soon.)

During a press conference, King shared 2019 U.S. pet food and pet care expenditure data, saying the overall pet market reached US$95.7 billion, reflecting a healthy 5.7% increase over 2018, and pet food and treats accounted for US$36.9 billion, also a large increase. King said APPA has changed its data collection and analysis methodology, now drawing on research from Nielsen, Euromonitor and Packaged Facts, then verifying the results with industry experts.

In fact, APPA restated its data from 2018, he said, and calculated the increases for 2019 from that – making it difficult, without seeing the adjusted 2018 numbers, to know how much was actual growth for pet food and how much is due to the changes.

Now, about those pet food trends …

Grain-friendly pet foods: Before GPE, I wondered if we would see a further explosion of these, which first happened at SuperZoo 2019 after the Food and Drug Administration issued its third (and some would say most controversial) announcement about its investigation into canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and a possible link to grain-free pet foods.

While this “grain-in” trend continues to appear in new and existing pet food lines, I can’t say I saw a huge number of new products at GPE, or a new proliferation of claims such as ancient grains, added taurine, no legumes or potatoes and the like. Perhaps this product development track peaked at SuperZoo 2019?

That doesn’t mean DCM wasn’t a frequent topic of conversation at GPE – it definitely was, including in an update session delivered by Dana Brooks, president and CEO of the Pet Food Institute, to pet food retailers. I was not able to attend, but my colleague Lindsay Beaton did, and she reported that when Brooks asked the audience for feedback, people weren’t shy about sharing it! And that included a lot of frustration, understandably, from independent pet store owners.

Alternative pet food formats: Pet food companies that have launched new freeze-dried or air-dried products in the past several years, kibble plus products (combining dry pet food with freeze-dried bits) or raw-coated kibble continue to expand those lines as such formats keep growing. That was true for several companies at GPE, such as Merrick, WellPet and Stella & Chewy’s, to name just a few.

Probably the most innovative new format I saw were freeze-dried food bars from Guardian Pet Food, under the Nobl brand. Of course, “sports bars” for dogs are not new, but those are usually treats. The Nobl bars are complete and balanced foods, with each bar scored to provide the right amount for each meal depending on the size of the dog. The line includes a vegan formulation, along with turkey & duck and beef & chicken. Co-founder Jim Galovski, co-founder of Guardian, told me that, except for the vegan version, the bars are appropriate for cats, too, at least nutritionally. He and his fellow co-founder, Ryan Yamka, Ph.D., are still working on the best shape and size of bars for cats.

Sustainability: This is definitely a pet food trend now, perhaps even the beginning of a movement, as evidenced by all I saw at GPE. For example, Merrick’s new Full Source line touts using most parts of the animals providing the protein for the food (“nose to tail”). New companies such as Cookie Pal, based in Ontario, Canada, offer dog biscuits with organic ingredients, made in the parent company’s human-grade facilities accredited as having zero waste and packaged in sustainable, biodegradable bags.

And Jiminy’s, maker of cricket protein treats, is now building on its sustainability platform with the launch of insect protein dog food: Cricket Crave (featuring the same cricket protein as its treats) and Good Grub (featuring black soldier fly larvae, or BSFL). According to Jiminy’s, switching just one dog from a pet food with chicken as its main protein source to Cricket Crave could save 480,000 gallons of water per year.

(Note that these insect proteins are not yet approved for complete and balanced pet foods, though Jiminy’s founder Anne Carlson said the company is very close to having a GRAS notification for the cricket protein, and the BSFL is very close to receiving ingredient definition approval from the Association of American Feed Control Officials.)

Also, during an event at GPE, the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) celebrated new members, partnerships and initiatives, including its new Flex Forward pilot to test recycling of all plastic pet food bags, plus its ongoing research with Iowa State University to establish sustainability metrics for pet food proteins. PSC executive director and co-founder Caitlyn Dudas will present results of that research at a roundtable session exploring pet food sustainability at Petfood Forum 2020.

Other pet food innovations – and oh yes, CBD

Besides the Nobl food bars and Jiminy’s insect protein dog foods, another new pet food product garnering attention was Purina’s Pro Plan LiveClear, a cat food designed to reduce the allergens in cat hair and dander by up to 47%. With more than 10 years of research behind it, the food features a specific egg protein that isolates the main allergen in cat saliva, Fel-D1, according to Purina. Otherwise, in terms of the nutrition the product provides for cats, it follows the rest of the Pro Plan line – which will also all feature live probiotics by the end of this year, company representatives said.

Under its Friskies line, Purina also introduced a new wet pet food product in a special pouch. When the cat owner places the pouch in warm water, a circle on it changes color once the food is warm.

In terms of ingredient trends, collagen seems to be having a moment, at least with dog treats. This likely stems from the popularity of collagen in human foods and supplements.

Finally, as for CBD: yes, there were treats, supplements, oils and other products everywhere, and many exhibitors either were unaware of or chose to ignore APPA’s warning not to display actual products since no CBD or hemp products are legal in Florida. (GPE takes place in Orlando.) We’ll follow up with more on that category at a later date.

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dphillips@wattglobal.com