Expanding from human CPG to pet food: Tips for success

Learn about the similarities and differences between the human consumer packaged goods and pet food spaces, as well as what you need to know as a company dealing in both segments.

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cute young small dog sitting on the floor and working on laptop. Wearing glasses and cup of tea or coffee besides him. Pets indoors
cute young small dog sitting on the floor and working on laptop. Wearing glasses and cup of tea or coffee besides him. Pets indoors
Entering the pet space with a solid knowledge of the human CPG space could provide plenty of benefits to a company willing to work through the challenges. | Eva Blanco I iStock.com

The human consumer packaged goods (CPG) space and the pet food space have a lot of similarities. Trends from human food generally end up in pet food sooner or later, there can be functional crossover in terms of ingredients and final products, and even the packaging can be similar. It’s no surprise, then, that some companies operating in the human CPG space take a look at their offerings, take a look at pet food, and think: Why not?

“Over the past decade or so, the pet space has evolved drastically, and pet parents have started treating pets as another member of the family,” said global information services company NielsenIQ’s Pet Vertical team. “Many pet parents are reflecting the same shopping patterns or dietary guidelines they set for themselves onto their pet. Several human food trends have found their way into pet at a later point, including gluten-free, natural/organic, flexitarian/plant-based and better-for-you/limited ingredients.”

According to NielsenIQ data, specialized diets and ingredients are experiencing strong dollar growth. Meal enhancers (37.8%), freeze-dried (31.1 %), dehydrated (25.9%), frozen (19.6%) and natural (10.4%) all increased by double digits in 2021 vs. 2020.

“This is because consumers are not only paying more attention to their own health, but also the health of their pets,” said the NielsenIQ team. “The industry continues to see increased humanization of pets and overall spend on wellness-focused, premium products. More than US$175 billion is spent in a year in the U.S. on health and wellness products across the store (all CPG products, not just pet), proving that health and wellness is no longer a channel but a lifestyle. As a result, pet parents have started treating pets as another member of the family, making purchase decisions for their pets that align with their personal purchase decisions.”

Pets are family mindset makes the leap a no-brainer for some

North Coast Seafoods is a family-owned seafood company based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, that has joined the pet food segment with its “Simply Naked” and “Boat to Bowl” dog and cat food recipes. In addition to its well-established human seafood offerings, the company now offers fish-first formulas for animals.

“The trend of consumers growing increasingly educated, aware and sensitive to what they are buying, consuming and putting in their bodies has been a continuously growing trend in the CPG space, and that resonates just as strongly in the pet space,” said Jon Wooner, pet products director at North Coast Seafoods. “Pets are like family to people, and people want to feed their pets like they feed themselves — and sometimes even better than they feed themselves. Since pets are not the ones shopping for their own food, the trends in the CPG space are nearly synonymous with trends in the pet space. Natural, nutritious, transparent and sustainable are the highest values in the consumer mindset.”

With that kind of lead in, it was an easy decision for North Coast to join the pet food market.

“As a company that processes millions of pounds of fish a year for families across America, our core value of sustainability and keen understanding of our responsibility to our oceans and earth was a huge motivator for us getting into the pet space,” said Wooner. “How can we utilize 100% of every fish we take out of the water? The ‘off cuts’ that are usually not consumed by humans still hold the same nutritional value and quality, providing the same health benefits, so why waste that wholesome goodness? We want to share the ‘power of vitamin sea’ with as many living beings as possible! We believe utilizing our seafood to provide the best nutrition for our beloved pets is so important, and about two years ago we made a commitment to share our products with the pet industry.”

Similarities and differences between human CPG and pet

From a manufacturing standpoint, there are actually a lot of similarities between human food and pet food that could be of interest to companies looking to expand from one space to the other.

“Many types of equipment are used for both human and pet food production, such as extruders, ovens and packaging lines,” said Tony Moses, director of product innovation for CRB Group, a full-service facility design, engineering, construction and consulting firm for food and beverage (among other segments). “Hygienic facility design principles are applicable in both environments, such as keeping raw and cooked product zones separate, captive boot programs, and using gowning or uniforms to mitigate food safety risk. A CPG company entering this space could leverage existing relationships with suppliers, knowledge within their operations and engineering teams, and potentially even capital assets, such as warehouses or production facilities.”

Of course, there could be some reticence in making use of these similarities and connections due to the idea of managing both human and pet food in the same space.

“There is some reluctance by producers to use the same facilities for the manufacture of human food and pet food,” said Moses. “This can be driven by the desire to distinguish human food brands from pet food brands in the minds of consumers. It can also be driven by different raw material inputs and processing types. For example, a key raw material input in most pet food is raw meat and its byproducts. A CPG company that currently does not handle raw meat may not want to introduce this into an existing facility due to food safety risks.”

Is it worth it?

The barrier between what people want for themselves and what they want for their pets in terms of food is continuing to thin, which provides plenty of opportunity for a company considering jumping into both pools.

“The pet industry is changing fast, with pet ownership reaching an all-time high in the U.S. over the course of the pandemic,” said the NielsenIQ team. “COVID-19 accelerated pet adoption and a trend toward more health-conscious purchases. As a result, a growing number of pet parents, new and old, apply their human wellness standards when shopping for their furry friends. They read labels closely and seek out products that match their pets’ specific dietary needs and their own values.”

Furthermore, “the pet food shopper is the ultimate omnishopper,” said the team. “With the ever-changing landscape of pet products on the market, pet food shoppers are doing more research before they buy. Not only are they searching for the best price, but they are also placing a high value on the most convenient ways to get quality products for their pets. This more conscious approach to pet care represents a major opportunity for the pet industry to personalize their offerings and win with new and existing pet parents alike.”

PODCAST: How might a company in the human CPG space branch out into the pet food world?


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