Health and wellness top concerns for pet owners

Learn about the latest health and wellness trends in the pet food space.

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Pet owners want their animals to lead their happiest, healthiest lives, and they’re looking to pet food to make it happen. | Bianca Grueneberg I Shutterstock.com
Pet owners want their animals to lead their happiest, healthiest lives, and they’re looking to pet food to make it happen. | Bianca Grueneberg I Shutterstock.com

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought health and wellness into sharp relief. In the human space, lockdowns found people purchasing at-home options for physical fitness, eating all their meals at home and, surrounded by those they lived with nearly 24/7, hyper-focusing on their family’s every sniffle as well as their own.

This vigilance extended to their pets, according to consumer data, with Packaged Facts’ “U.S. Pet Market Outlook 2021–2022” reporting in March 2021 that 25% of surveyed pet owners said their spending on veterinarian services increased in 2020 — this in spite of the fact that for most of the first half of the year, veterinarian offices were closed to routine care visits and in many places offices have only just started to reopen to pet owners wanting to accompany their pets inside. Additionally, the pet industry is doing its best to prepare for an influx of pet mental health concerns, mostly centered on anxiety and behavior issues, for pet owners who are beginning to return to company offices after a year or more working from home.

In fact, according to Packaged Facts’ November–December 2020 survey of pet owners, 23% of dog owners and 24% of cat owners agreed that they’re “especially concerned” about their pet’s anxiety and stress.

A myriad of pet health and wellness concerns

While pet health and wellness as a function of pet food has been a growing topic for some time now, current events have certainly contributed to deeper concerns from pet owners.

“More time spent with pets at home means people are paying closer attention to their pets’ attitudes, behaviors and health and wellness needs,” said Gary Davenport, Ph.D., companion animal technical manager for ADM Animal Nutrition. “As a result, more pet owners are seeking tailored solutions for weight management, healthy digestion, oral health, skin and coat health, immune health and healthy aging.”

In the pet food space, these solutions could be anything from the ingredients in the foods or treats to the way the products are made. According to a recent Packaged Facts survey, 43% of pet owners “strongly agree” with the statement, “I like the idea of healthier snacks/treats for my pets.” Thirty-seven percent said they strongly agree that “I am interested in giving my pet more preventative healthcare,” while 34% strongly agree that “I am willing to spend more on pet foods with extra health and wellness benefits.” 

That’s all good news as far as pet food opportunities are concerned, and global data bears it out. According to Euromonitor International research presented during an April 2021 Petfood Industry webinar, “The pet food market: 2020 update and 2021 projections and trends,” pet healthcare products overall grew over 9% globally in 2020.

“Health and wellness” becoming all-encompassing to pet parents

There are some obvious go-tos for pet owners when they think of health and wellness for their animals: functional treats and food formulas, breed- or age-specific options, the now-common natural and organic options. But other industry trends are now becoming intertwined as the demographics most concerned with (and willing to pay a premium for) their pets’ health line up with those concerned about other aspects of how they use their purchasing power.

“Consumers want to feel good about what they feed their dogs and cats,” said Shannon Falconer, co-founder and CEO of Because Animals. “For the most part, that revolves around the nutrition and safety of foods, but now it also has to do with environmental sustainability. You might feel great about giving your dog top-of-the-line nutrition where all the ingredients are traceable and easy to recognize, but you don’t feel good if it comes in a lot of packaging. The challenge is to give consumers that feel-good experience in every way.”

This means that considerations such as economic, environmental and social impacts should be at least a small part of the conversation when coming up with products that address pet health and wellness. Current premiumization (a category under which many health and wellness-focused pet products fall) trends, according to Euromonitor’s Head of Packaged Food Jared Koerten during the April 2021 Petfood Industry webinar, focus on things like sustainability and locally sourced ingredients as well as less processing and functionality and health.

Current and upcoming trends in health and wellness

There’s a lot happening related to pet health and wellness, and experts say the trend will only continue to grow, particularly as it continues to be a focus in the human space.

“Trends within the human food industry are often used to predict the future expectations of pet owners, and the move toward more plant-based foods is emerging as a key trend to watch closely,” said Davenport. “Pet food manufacturers should expect a shift in more pet parents demanding foods with plant-based ingredients to mimic their own foods.”

Ingredients overall will continue to play a significant role in what pet owners are looking for.

“Some of the health/wellness related trends that we may expect in the pet space could be ingredients or products for a dog’s gut health, and these may include prebiotics like inulin, dandelion, probiotics and superfoods like chia seeds, digestive enzymes like bromelain, or papain,” said Sandrayee Brahma, Ph.D., food product development scientist for Dr. Harvey’s. “Other trends will see minimally processed ingredients become a high priority. The use of superfoods that boost immunity and longevity will definitely be trending.”

Whatever your focus, it seems that if your products are somehow involved in pet food or treat formulas (from ingredients to the final product) there is plenty of opportunity to be had in health and wellness.

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