How premiumization is driving pet food evolution

Pets are being thought of more than ever as part of the family and demanding the same premium nutrition for their pets as for themselves, leaving much potential for innovation in pet food.

Iakov Filimonov,
Iakov Filimonov,

Humanization of pets is propelling pet owners to think differently about how they feed their pets, “trading up” to different pet foods and feeding experiences. This premiumization brings new opportunities for pet food manufacturers, said Jared Koerten, head of pet care, Euromonitor, at Petfood Forum 2019 on April 30.

Near-term opportunities for development

Koerten cited Euromonitor data that 68% of global consumers believe pets are a member of their family. Consumers are demanding the same good nutrition for their furry family members as for their human ones, which is evident as new pet food trends closely follow those of human foods. For example, Koeten said that there is now “significant opportunity for organic label in pet food.” He also said that, as more younger people are choosing to have pets instead of children, the pet food industry is missing out on the opportunity to serve millennials in the mass market. According to the data presented, the No. 1 factor millennials look for when selecting a pet food is its value for the money, meaning there is opportunity in the near term for development in premium private label to serve this market.

Pet owners not only want to provide a quality food for their pets, but they also now want to be part of the feeding experience. This premiumization of feeding trend brings greater opportunity for pet food manufacturers to develop products that consumers can purchase at foodservice restaurants and bakeries to enjoy on the spot with their pet, mix fresh at home or add to their pet’s food, like bone broth toppers, to watch them better enjoy the feeding experience.

Future innovation opportunities

Koerten pointed to three key trends that pet food manufacturers should keep an eye when looking at the future of pet food product innovation:

1. Impact of new markets

2. Curation and customization

3. Sustainability

New markets

Lifestyle trends in these developing markets will change pet ownership, as consumers in these countries lead busier, urban lives and also have growing dual-income, no-kid populations. As cats are small and ideally suited for this type of lifestyle, he said that there would be a stronger demand for cats in these nations, providing pet food companies with the chance to develop more premium cat food and catch up with the largely dog-dominated premiumization trend.

However, Koerten noted that premiumization may look different in these emerging markets. Data he presented showed that in 2018, just 27% of pets’ caloric intake in developing markets came from commercial dog and cat food, compared to 63% for developed markets in 2018.

For example, he said that, while previously signs in countries like South Korea and Turkey warned residents not to feed or interact with stray animals, pet food companies are now selling pet foods formulated specifically for stray cats – a big trade up from garbage and scraps from the street.

Curation and customization

Pet food customization has evolved, but there is still much potential for future development in both emerging and developed pet food markets. Pet food companies have developed specific-breed formulas and therapeutic diets for pets, yet Koerten says now there is much room for development in terms of fully customized diets that are designed for a specific pet’s holistic profile. He said this doesn’t just have to be done online, but can also be done in stores, citing an example for JustFoodForDogs partnering with Petco to allow in-store customers to watch their custom food being made.


Consumers are increasingly paying attention to sustainability in both the foods they consume as well as those for their pets. Koerten said two-thirds of consumers are trying to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions. This consumer concern is driving growth in ethical labels and provides pet food brands the opportunity to differentiate their product.

He also noted that the future of pet food premiumization will also be impacted by the three “P”s of sustainability: protein, packaging and provenance.

“Sustainability in proteins is a major issue,” Koerten said.

With the rise of meat-first, high-protein diets, he said there is a gap between consumers’ demands for these products and their desire to live sustainably, as byproduct use in the foods is eliminated. This, he said, leaves room for premium brands to develop formulas with alternative animal-free proteins.

The second “P,” packaging, has come a long way for pet food, but Koerten said there is still a lot of room for future innovation in the industry, which he said some of the biggest players in the industry are already investing in.  He also noted that 63% of global consumers believe the word “recyclable” is a trustworthy label on products.

Consumers are also increasingly paying attention to the third “P” – provenance – as they want to know exactly where their food comes from.

“People are wising up to the idea of ‘food miles,’” he said.

Consumers want locally sourced products that don’t need to be transported all across the world.

Petfood Forum 2019 was held April 29-May 1 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. 


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