Negative label claims popular in pet food and human food

Pet food marketers seem quick to include ‘no XXX’ label claims to convey the absence of certain ingredients that have been demonized in consumers’ minds.

As pet food trends mirror those in human food, negative marketing—making claims about what the product does not include—has become standard practice for both sectors. “Gluten free has gone mainstream,” commented Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation for Innova Market Insights, in a webinar on human food claims. That seems analogous to grain free in pet food, though even in North America, food products with gluten-free claims have reached only about 20% of new product labels. (For pet food sold in US pet specialty outlets, grain-free claims now appear on about 40% of all new products, according to GfK.)

Williams noted that the gluten-free claim often appears on foods that would not naturally contain gluten anyway, proving that for many companies, the “free from” claim is purely a marketing ploy. While that same scenario doesn’t play out as much in pet food, marketers seem quick to include “no XXX” label claims to convey the absence of certain ingredients that have been demonized in consumers’ minds. How did those ingredients come to be demonized? By exactly the same type of claims.

Given how consumers continue to respond to such claims, they likely aren’t going away any time soon. Grain-free products now account for nearly 30% of pet food sales in the US pet specialty channel, GfK reports, and grain-free sales continue to grow by more than 20% a year. With pet treats, 10% of US cat owners and 9% of dog owners bought grain-free formulations in 2015, according to Packaged Facts, while similar percentages bought treats with non-GMO claims and 6% of both cat and dog owners bought gluten-free treats.

In human food, Innova’s data shows that “no additives/preservatives” is still the most prevalent “clean label” claim globally, appearing on 9% (in Asia) to 37% (in Australia) of new products in 2014. The fastest-growing claim is GMO-free, with more than a 40% rise in new product claims globally from 2010 to 2014.

Recent research from Mintel supports that finding, with 37% of US consumers surveyed saying they are interested in non-GMO foods, the top “free from” interest. Pet food companies should note other data from Mintel:

  • 70% of all US consumers surveyed buy free-from foods for health and nutritional reasons.
  • 84% of free-from US consumers buy those foods because they are looking for more natural or less processed food.
  • 43% of US consumers agreed that free-from foods are healthier than foods without such claims.
  • 59% of free-from consumers believe that the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is.


Negative pet food ingredient claims not going away

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