Emerging consumer trends in the pet food industry

Pet products with a focus on nutrition and quality are big winners in 2016 consumer awards.

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iStockphoto.com | Koljambus
iStockphoto.com | Koljambus

On February 12, Product of the Year USA, a US-based, consumer-voted award for product innovation, announced its 2016 product winners. Among those winners, which are selected each year through the votes of more than 40,000 consumers in a national representative survey conducted by research partner TNS, were two pet categories—and two pet product award recipients.

In the category of Pet Health, Big Heart Pet Brand’s Milk-Bone Good Morning Daily Vitamin Treats took home the award. The specially formulated dog treats “provide beneficial nutrients not found in most dog foods—nutrients that help promote dogs’ well-being and longevity,” according to Big Heart. The treats are made with real chicken as the number one ingredient, and come in three formulas: Total Wellness, Healthy Joints and Healthy Aging.

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Milk-Bone Good Morning treats are specially formulated dog treats that provide beneficial nutrients not found in most dog foods, according to the company. Every daily vitamin treat is made with real chicken as the number one ingredient, and is available in three formulations to help support specific functions: Total Wellness, Healthy Joints and Healthy Aging. | Courtesy Big Heart Pet Brand, via Product of the Year USA

In the category of Pet Food, Nestlé Purina PetCare’s Beyond Purées came out on top. The natural mix-ins are made with human-grade ingredients plus vitamins and minerals. Meant to be squeezed onto a dog’s dry food, the mix-ins come in various formulations that can help support a healthy immune system, digestive system, or skin and coat, according to Purina.

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Beyond Purées are natural mix-ins made with human-grade ingredients plus vitamins and minerals, according to the company. To serve, consumers open and squeeze onto their dog’s dry pet food to help support a healthy immune system, digestive system, or skin and coat. | Courtesy Nestlé Purina PetCare, via Product of the Year USA

“Pet is a pretty popular category,” said Richard Fryling, managing director of Product of the Year USA. “It seems to be growing in steam, so more and more we’re seeing interest from pet food companies, both big and small, and this year’s no exception. [In 2015], we also had two winners.” For 2016, there were roughly 10 submitted entries for various pet products, according to Fryling, which fell into the two categories of Pet Health and Pet Food.

The entries are self-submitted by companies for a number of reasons, but primarily for the potential consumer-focused accreditation. “[The companies] look to something like Product of the Year as an accreditation program to help break through some of the clutter of new products on the market,” said Fryling. Product of the Year collects all the possible entries, and once everything has been submitted, the products are organized into consumer categories. “Say that we have several entries in the dog food category, or oral care—those are the products and categories that go [to research company TNS],” he said. “Some years we get products that don’t naturally fit into any category, and then those products can’t participate for the year.”

As with any consumer-focused data, strong trends have emerged in terms of what consumers seem to be looking for in their pet products. “The trend is really about nutrition and quality, this idea of human-grade ingredients,” said Fryling. “More and more consumers are saying, look, if it’s not good enough for me, if it doesn’t have ingredients that I would want to eat, as a member of my family my pet isn’t going to eat it, either. They’re putting a different standard on what they’re giving their pets.”

It’s an observation that overall industry data continues to validate. According to industry experts, pet humanization is no longer a simple trend—it’s a given. Specialty, superpremium pet foods on the freeze-dried, fresh and raw spectrum have seen growth in addition to the broader specialty segments such as natural and organic. Consumers are becoming increasingly educated and engaged in their pets’ diets, providing the pet food industry with new challenges and opportunities alike. The industry, in turn, is jumping to provide innovation that answers consumers’ growing needs. “When we ask our submitting companies, what is the innovation that’s happening in this product, with the pet products it’s becoming ingredient-based,” said Fryling. “Whether it’s in a US$60 bag of dog food or a US$2 vitamin treat, it’s talking up the ingredients as quality—a much higher quality than what might have been in pet food in the past.”

That quality, as is evident in the 2016 winners, can come in multiple forms. “Both [pet winning products] share the same properties,” said Fryling. “They have the common denominator where it’s all about nutrition, but one is a vitamin-based product and the other is a food supplement.”

Speaking of supplements, Product of the Year is seeing a decided growth trend in that segment of the pet food industry. “[Pet companies] are taking a standard food regimen that consumers might have and saying, ‘we have a nutritional boost that we’re going to give to that regimen,’” said Fryling. “It could be a separate treat or it could be an added food product, but what they’re doing is delivering extra nutrients that aren’t found in a typical food. And this additive trend, it seems big. I think it satisfies that consumer desire to ‘plus up’ nutrition through human-grade ingredients and vitamins; but, more importantly, it’s that unspoken emotional step that owners are taking, and they feel that personal assurance that they’re giving their pet the best care possible.”

This supplemental mentality is tangential to, but not equivalent to, what Product of the Year saw in its human product winners for 2016. “It was different,” said Fryling. “In the human product categories, consumers are buying a separate product to add to a current behavior. The trend that we saw on the human side was that they were going in this world of convenience. We saw a lot of winners this year that had multipurpose as their benefit (e.g., the 11-in-1 or 5-in-1 claims). It was about taking different products and smashing them into one. In the pet world, we’re adding another product to the current regimen. But the benefit is the same for consumers—I’m getting a lot; I’m bringing more performance into my world. They’re just doing it differently.”

Value was also the clear winner in the pet products category, according to Fryling. “We had other entries this year that didn’t win, and they were really high-end, high-nutrition foods,” he said. “But their price point was so astronomical that the feedback from consumers was essentially, you’ve got to be kidding me, I can’t spend US$80 on a bag of dog food. But what they can spend is the US$2–3 that they’re seeing in our winners. They’re saying, that I can do, and I feel like I’m getting the same effect. I’m giving a really good nutritional solution to my dog, I’m not breaking the bank, so I’m getting nutrition and value. And that seems to be something consumers are very interested in.”

The retail price for the Milk Bone vitamin treats is US$3.99, while the Beyond Purées retail at just US$1.99.

“Yes, you can go into a specialty store and buy an amazing bag of dog food, and you’ll spend US$60–80,” said Fryling. But the lion’s share of pet food manufacturers, he said, are realizing that it’s a limited market. They aim to take the existing behaviors of consumers and try to give them an add-on that’s not going to take too much time, energy or money, but maximizes the emotional result. “Which is, hey, I’m doing the most I can, and my dog is getting more nutrients than he would get in the normal regimen,” said Fryling. “And that sort of benefit with the notion of value—I think this is becoming a home run and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to grow.”




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