When discussing overall business trends for 2022, two words continued to come up among pet food industry experts: sustainability and transparency. Neither is new, and both have already been growing focus points for those involved in pet food, but it’s clear that these trends are continuing to grow alongside the evolving expectations of pet owners everywhere.
Sustainability: strategies and initiatives growing in pet food
“Sustainability continues to drive the industry,” said Juan Gomez, global director for Alltech, which provides pet supplements and feed additives for pet health and nutrition. “Pet food companies and their premium brands are beginning to identify and/or tout their sustainability strategies and initiatives to minimize environmental impact. Company pledges to sustainable development goals, their contributions to carbon neutrality and communicating their carbon footprint or, better said, what their carbon ‘pawprint’ is, will make the difference in the success of a brand.”
The link between sustainability goals and a successful brand is, of course, directly related to what customers are coming to expect from the companies they choose to bring into their homes.
“Sustainability is not a unique selling proposition (USP) or a claim, but a sign of taking responsibility,” said Marcel Blok, owner of international pet industry consulting company Change Stranamics.
It’s something a lot of pet food brands have already been seeing a lot of.
“As consumers continue to become more aware of their environmental impact, we expect pet parents will continue to seek out eco-conscious brands that align with their personal sustainability goals,” said Steve Joyce, CEO of Tailored Pet Nutrition, a pet food company that provides customized products for pets.
Scoular, a company that buys, sells, stores, handles and processes grain, feed and food ingredients, is one of the companies seeing the sustainability trend impact things on the ingredient side.
“We are seeing strong demand for certified sustainable fish and seafood,” said Justin Stadden, product group manager in Scoular’s feed division. “Specific species of farm-raised seafood, like salmon or cod, allow pet food manufacturers to reduce the supply risk while providing customers a compelling product story.”
Speaking of telling a story, one of the threads throughout industry trends discussions is the need for a brand to take a holistic view of its communication to pet food customers. Traditionally, pet food packaging has taken the stage as a key communication tool for brands to let potential buyers know what their story is; it’s also one of the most visible ways to promote sustainability as reduce-reuse-recycle continues to echo in the overall conversation.
“Consumer awareness and interest in ethical and environmental pet food choices is set to grow as more pet owners become interested in green choices,” said Rebecca Casey, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for TC Transcontinental, a packaging, printing and specialty media company. “Seventy-seven percent of pet owners aged 35–54 believe that pet food packaging should be easier to recycle (Mintel, March 2021). We have seen the growth in demand for sustainability, and as this demand heightens it is important to educate the consumer.”
If anyone still isn’t convinced that sustainability is worth pursuing, increased scrutiny at the legislative level provides extra incentive for doing so.
“Pet Food Institute (PFI) recognizes that sustainability, including innovations in packaging sustainability, will continue to be a growing issue for pet food makers going into 2022,” said Dana Brooks, president and CEO of PFI. “Around the [United States], state legislatures are introducing bills addressing extended producer responsibility (EPR), meaning that food manufacturers will have added responsibility for the lifecycle of the finished product and packaging. This will impact pet food makers as they further study packaging recyclability opportunities.”
Traceability: being able to tell your product’s story
“Manufacturers that include traceability and transparency narratives on their product packaging and online will be well-positioned to serve premium-level customers,” said Jorge Martinez Carrillo, president, pet solutions for ADM Animal Nutrition, a manufacturing, nutrition and marketing business that offers a wide range of products for the animal nutrition market.
It seems that many companies are taking the hint and doing just that.
“We are seeing a significant uptick in brands redesigning their packaging approach,” said Bill Kuecker, vice president of marketing for packaging provider Mondi North America. “Recent Mondi consumer research has shown that new pet households are more affected by packaging in their pet food purchasing decisions and, with the growth of ‘new pet families’ in the last two years, packaging has been seen increasingly as a tool to drive trial and demand with new audiences.”
The increased focus on being able to explain product origins to consumers, and including that explanation in an overall brand picture, means that storytelling may see a resurgence in the pet food industry.
“We will see more transparency in brand and product-communication — however difficult this will prove to be — because the consumer wants to know what and why, and be told so in an uncompromised, clear and unambiguous way,” said Blok. “Taking [that] into account I see that hyperbole-marketing has reached its upper-limits; we will go back to basics as a major brand-positioning platform: health and well-being. Brands will become stories again instead of a list of attributes or pseudo-USPs.”
Sustainability and traceability aren’t going anywhere in the minds of pet food customers. Rather, the ideas are expanding as pet owners become more educated on what these words might mean in terms of what’s going in their pets’ bowls. It seems clear that 2022 could be a significant year for the pet food industry getting a handle on just what those definitions are, and how to make the most of them.
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