Why plant-based pet foods continue to sprout up

Stemming from growing interest in human foods, a focus on plants in pet foods continues to increase, even as barriers remain and more research is needed.

Plants are becoming a more significant contributor to pet food formulations. | (PPAMPicture | iStock.com)
Plants are becoming a more significant contributor to pet food formulations. | (PPAMPicture | iStock.com)

Plants have long been part of pet food, mainly grains like corn, wheat and rice. But as the market has evolved to encompass categories such as grain-free or novel ingredients like superfoods or alternative proteins, plants have become a more significant contributor to pet food formulations.

Increasingly, pet food startups incorporate a business and marketing strategy focused on plants, joining other plant-based, even vegan or vegetarian, brands on the market (primarily for dogs, considering cats are obligate carnivores). Among new pet food product launches between 2016 and 2020, plant-based claims increased 40% and vegan claims, 30%, according to Innova Market Insights.

Following human food trends

As with many other trends, the growing interest in plants in pet food stems from similar attention in human foods. An ongoing focus on health and wellness, heightened by the pandemic, is combining with increasing demand for sustainability—not just environmental issues but also concerns over supplies of traditional, animal-based proteins.

This awareness may be drawing more consumers who don’t consider themselves vegetarians or vegans. In a webinar from Kerry, Tom Vierhile, VP of strategic insights North America for Innova, shared that, when asked what they considered a plant-based diet, 32% of global consumers in 2020 chose “meat and dairy reduced,” more than mostly or strictly vegetarian or vegan. When asked what types of products they prefer, 36% chose a mix of plants and animals, while the percentages choosing 100% plant based or 100% animal based were 22%-23%.

Launches of human foods and beverages with plant-based claims increased 47% from 2016 to 2020, while plant-based protein claims rose 30%, Vierhile said. As a sign of further interest during COVID-19, consumers surveyed in 2020 said that in the past 12 months, they had increased their consumption of plant-based protein by 31%, vegetarian meals by 30% and vegan meals by 20%.

Animal proteins still in demand

Yet plants aren’t likely to replace animals as protein sources soon, if ever. Consumer concerns over higher costs and lower taste and texture remain—and those may extend to what they feed their pets, especially considering the persistent, competing belief that pets need high amounts of animal protein. More research on the nutritional benefits of plants for pets is needed, too. Still, there’s no denying that plants are having their day in the sun.

Page 1 of 110
Next Page