Top human food, pet food trends: now embracing science?

Natural and science-based pet food claims no longer seem in conflict, as consumers seemingly find value in both, mimicking trends in the human food space.

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(tishchenko |
(tishchenko |

In a recent report from Mars Petcare analysts in the United Kingdom, two of the top five trends they pegged to influence pet food around the world through 2025 caught my eye: natural nutrition and science-led nutrition. For several years, those concepts seemed at odds, at least in the minds of consumers, with natural finding more favor at the expense of science.

The Mars analysts apparently didn’t see a conflict, acknowledging both the ever-increasing consumer desire for “free from” pet food and treats (natural) and the growing market share for formulations, especially ones for specific conditions and life stages, with “proven” nutrition (science-led).

Helping make the connection between the two – not surprisingly, considering how often and closely human food and pet food intersect – one of Innova Market Insights’ annual top 10 trends for human food for the coming year sums it up well. Innova calls it, “Nutrition hacking: Technology is addressing demands for foods with enhanced nutritional value, sustainability or ethical impact.”

Moving toward a balance between natural and science

In a webinar on November 11, 2020, LuAnn Williams, director of insights and innovation for Innova, indicated this human food trend perhaps signifies that consumers are leaning more toward a balance between natural and science/technology, describing it as leveraging the best of both natural and tech-driven approaches. She referenced an Innova 2020 survey of consumers in 10 countries (U.K., U.S., Spain, France, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, China and Indonesia) that showed many agreed or strongly agreed that they were prepared to compromise on naturalness for a product that fits their dietary needs.

In the survey, four in five consumers also agreed that they believed in progress in food and beverage through science. “That’s fantastic for those of us who have been concerned about how science has been kind of beat up, but now it’s really interesting to see some [product] development there and interest from consumers,” Williams said.

I count myself among those concerned about the lack of trust in or respect for science (related to pet food, human food and many other areas), so I find this heartening, too – and encouraging that Mars named science along with natural as a top trend for pet food.

How clean label has morphed to overall transparency

Williams named other human food trends that seem to align nicely with pet food. For example, Innova’s number one trend for 2021 is “transparency triumphs,” a culmination of existing trends since 2008 that combines sustainability, clean label and more. “It really did start with clean label,” Williams said. “In 2006, I remember that’s the first year I heard people talking about ‘kitchen cupboard ingredients,’ and what we’ve seen is over that time, it’s morphed and changed, and it gets bigger and bigger, and umbrellas up to this trend now where we see that brands really do have to up their game when it comes to transparency.”

And from Innova’s consumer survey came comments like this: “To me, product information is of major importance. I want to know what the product contains.” Plus, they want to know how it’s made, Willams said, showing survey data that three in five consumers say they are interested in learning more about where their food comes from and how it is made. Clean label itself has grown and morphed to now include concepts and claims like human and animal welfare, supply chain transparency and sustainable sourcing.

For brands, it becomes a matter of trust and also engagement, Williams added. “If you have a meaningful story, you can connect with consumers in a very new and different way.” She was referring to human food brands, but that definitely fits for pet food, too.

Personalized nutrition is taking off

Fitting well with pet food is true for another human food trend for 2021, “tailored to fit.” “We’ve been talking about personalized nutrition for 15 years, and now we see things really starting to take off,” Williams said. For example, 64% of consumers in the Innova survey indicated they’ve found more ways to tailor their lives and the products they buy to their individual styles, beliefs and needs. Besides their food, that also means their entertainment, clothing and so many other areas, including for some, pet food.

Among the many fast-growing pet food categories, customized options and products (usually home delivered) are one of the standouts, recently attracting new investment, even during a pandemic. Some are also drawing on the rising field studying the pet microbiome and all that influences.

For additional clues, the Innova survey showed that for their own nutritional experiences, consumers most want them tailored according to their nutritional needs, lifestyles and/or body composition.

Rounding out Innova’s top 10 human food trends list for 2021

One or two of these might also apply to pet food: “plant-forward, new omnichannel eating, in tune with immune, mood: the next occasion, product mashups” and “modern nostalgia.”




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