How the pet food market is entering the premium space

Most Americans have heard that the clean-label food trend is picking up steam, but that isn’t simply relegated to food that consumers buy for themselves. Shoppers are increasingly scrutinizing what they feed their pets to ensure that their four-legged friends are able to consume the most nutritious foods possible.

Between 2006 and 2010, pet food spending increased 30% per household, Nielsen data indicate -- and that trend is expected to continue. Mintel projects that pet food sales will rise between 2% and 3% every year through 2023, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Several trends are bringing premiumization to the category, and pet food manufacturers are adapting with new offerings. The following breakdown profiles a few of the biggest premium pet food opportunities.

Fresh pet food

Gone are the days when the sound of a can opener signaled that a pet’s dinner was ready. Many of today’s cats and dogs are eating fresh foods with top-shelf ingredients. Purchased in stores like Walmart or Petco or via online channels, frozen and chilled pet foods are gaining traction for the healthier ingredients that people prefer to give to their pets.

In addition, meal plans have popped up for pets, offering subscription-based meals shipped straight to consumers’ homes so their animals can eat the freshest food possible, The Associated Press reports.

Sales of fresh pet foods in pet shops and groceries rose a startling 70% from 2015 to 2018, hitting over $546 million, Nielsen reports -- and that number doesn’t even include sales from the e-commerce channel.

Vegan options

When we picture cats and dogs, we often think of them as being carnivores, but this isn’t the case for every pet. Some 35% of cat and dog owners worldwide expressed interest in feeding their pets a vegan diet, according to a survey of 3,673 pet owners published in PLOS One Journal. In addition, about 27% of pet owners who eat a vegan diet currently feed their pets using plant-based guidelines, the survey said.

What’s not clear from the study is whether feeding pets using an exclusively vegan diet is good for the animals. “Dogs are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of food types so they can survive on a vegetarian diet as long as the diet is well-balanced,” the RSPCA told The Independent. However, cats are not omnivores, instead sticking to carnivorous diets, so they could miss out on specific nutrients if they switch to the plant-based way of eating. Therefore, it’s recommended for pet owners to consult with their vets before making a switch, the RSPCA said.

Clean-label ingredients

Petco made waves recently when the retailer announced that it would no longer carry foods and treats for cats and dogs that contain artificial preservatives, flavors or colors. By next month, the firm says it will have finalized the process of removing such products from its shelves, The Business Journals reported.

That decision is likely to have hit home with quite a few pet owners. Nielsen indicates that the natural pet products market grew 6.5% from 2013 to 2017, and pet foods that include no artificial preservatives or colors were up 4% during the same period.

Price tag rises

As with most other premium products, these high-end pet foods typically come with a higher price tag. Purchasing fresh pet food can cost nearly ten times the price of buying dry dog food, so it’s possible that not every consumer will take the plunge. But with the knowledge that some consumers are seeking higher-end pet foods, grocers and manufacturers can respond with fresh and innovative offerings.

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