Should consumer demands always dictate pet food’s path?

Consumers and their demands for pet foods based on human food trends have long driven industry growth, but can consumer focus and humanization go too far?

Consumers are in charge, but should pet food companies always follow their demands? ( | Halfpoint)
Consumers are in charge, but should pet food companies always follow their demands? ( | Halfpoint)

Pet food is a consumer good, and increasingly, the most important word in that category name has become “consumer.” To wit: “We’re used to thinking retailer first and not consumer first, and we need to shift,” said Nathan Marafioti, group director of e-commerce for Nestlé Purina North America, during a Petfood Forum 2019 panel discussion on changes in pet food retailing.

That is not the only area where this shift has arisen; consumers and their demands are a major force in pet food product development, too. Those demands often stem from humanization of pets – a significant factor in pet food’s continuing growth. But some industry experts believe it can go too far (

During another Petfood Forum discussion addressing science vs. marketing, all the panelists agreed that, while human food trends have driven pet food product development for some time, what’s good for humans isn’t always good for dogs and cats. “I always start by telling my clients, remember, dogs and cats are not little people. They are animals,” said Serge Boutet, owner of SB Nutrinnov Consultants.

It all comes down to the need to better educate consumers about pet food and nutrition, the panelists said. This picked up on a theme set by keynote speaker Katy Nelson, DVM, host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” and associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

She challenged the industry to stop catering to pet food trends and consumer demands. “We need to stop giving people what they think they want; start educating them and telling them what their pets need,” she said. “Do the research, please, and release it! Help vets, too; they crave real, solid information, and so do pet owners. If they don’t get it from vets or pet food companies, they go to Dr. Google. Vets can be pet food companies’ biggest ally, but they need the research.”

Nelson also took issue with the prevailing perception that most vets don’t receive much education or a strong background in pet nutrition. Perhaps she represents a new vanguard of vets who believe strongly in it and are trying to educate themselves and share that knowledge with their clients. If that is the case, this may indeed present a significant opportunity for pet food companies to collaborate with vets on educating consumers.

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