Pet food packages resemble human food, not livestock feed

Historically, pet food containers tended to resemble livestock feed bags.

Tim Wall Headshot Small Headshot
photo by Andrea Gantz
photo by Andrea Gantz

Historically, pet food containers tended to resemble livestock feed bags. However, modern pet food packages are evolving to look more like human food containers and convey the same ideals of freshness and healthiness. Packaging manufacturers have taken note of this and now make many of their pet food containers along the same designs as human food packages and with similar labeling motifs.

“Most people don’t think, ‘I’m going to go get some feed for my dog,’” said David Sprinkle, publisher and research director at Packaged Facts, during his presentation at Petfood Forum 2018.

However, even after people started to think of pets as family members, pet food packages often still looked like sacks of livestock feed, he said. The conventional dog and cat food sack is starting to change as pet food package makers embrace containers that convey human food trends towards health, freshness and convenience.

Pet food packages follow human trends

"We have a long history in food and beverage business,” said Larine Urbina, vice president of Communications at Tetra Pak. “A few years back we realized that there's a great opportunity to deliver that same level of quality, innovation and food protection to the pet food industry. Now, we're seeing a lot of interest in those types of containers. Pet parents are putting a lot more emphasis on health and quality of food that they are feeding their pets. So, there's a lot more human-grade pet food coming in our cartons now.”

Pet food purchases mirror larger consumer trends, said Rebecca Casey, senior director of marketing at TC Transcontinental Packaging. Those consumer trends include a focus on prepared foods, health considerations and the use of unconventional retail channels.

“Many pet food buyers now look for food that aligns with their own personal dietary preferences and focus on well-being,” Casey said.

Pet food consumers attracted by packaging

Elements of a pet food package help convey a premium image for the product within by giving the perception that these products deliver on better health and quality, said Casey. Similarly, a high-quality package boosts a consumer’s experience at the store, which makes shoppers feel good about buying a particular pet food.

For TC Transcontinental, which concentrates on specialty bags and stand-up pouches, that means using flexographic printing and color management to make eye-catching packages with smooth vignettes, sharp details, impressive ink coverage, intense colors, and high contrasts and highlights, Casey said.

TC Transcontinental Packaging won several awards at 2018 Excellence in Flexography Awards, including three awards for pet food packages: Nutro Ultra Small Breed Adult Dog Food, Freshpet Select Roasted Meats Tender Chicken Recipe with Beef Cat Food and Nutro Natural Choice Dog Food Bag.

Convenient pet food packages

Along with being attractive to the eye, it helps when pet food packages are easy to use and store. Tetra-Pak’s cartons allow both retailers and pet owners to store the product efficiently.

"Cartons are extremely convenient,” Urbina said. “They are square or rectangular in shape so they fit really nicely in a cabinet. You don't have any wasted space. They are light weight. They open without tools, which is also really nice if kids want to feed the pets. They don’t have to worry about sharp edges on cans. Pets can eat right out of the carton too.”

Other trends in pet food packaging

Casey explained some other trends she has noted in pet food packages.

“Innovative wet pet food packaging is being used to help products stand out,” said Casey “One major trend is toward smaller types of containers that include pouches and trays. With the movement toward smaller dogs and cats, average pet food packaging size is shrinking as well.

“Growth in the interest for healthier fresh and freeze-dried pet foods are driving demand for specialized packaging to maintain product freshness and taste.

“In contrast, there is also growth in larger economy packs for value-conscious consumers. Other popular packaging trends include re-sealable packaging, convenient closure options, handles for large food bags, and sustainable, recyclable packaging for environmentally conscious pet owners,” she said.

As human and pet foods continue to converge, so too will the designs of the packaging that holds those foods.

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