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Trends in Pet Food Converge with Owners' Personal Diets.

The humanization of pet food is leading to some major changes across the industry. Let’s look more closely at how three human dietary habits are translating into growth for some emerging corners of the pet food market.

Snack Attack


What could be more human than snacking? Whether a handful of granola before a morning run, a quick piece of fruit between calls in the office, or a criminally indulgent late-night bowl of ice cream, snacks are a fast and flavorful necessity in a hectic world. Now they’re poised to have their share of the pet food spotlight.


Most of us have a snacking regimen and a selection of vitamins and supplements, and pet owners are no different. However, pet owners that purchase health-focused snacks and supplements for themselves are more likely to purchase the same types of products for their pets. While dog chews and cat treats are nothing new, spending on supplemental pet foods is exploding—a report from Innova found cat and dog supplements were the industry’s top performing subcategory, with an increase of 84% in sales from 2018 to 2022. A recent Vericast consumer survey indicated that 38% of respondents were willing to spend more on pet vitamins and supplements, and 78% were willing to spend more on pet food and treats.


Pet treats and supplements aren’t intended to compete with meals nutritionally. Instead, they encourage a more casual attitude and carry an association of bonding with your pet—perhaps as a training tool, perhaps just for enjoyment or quality time together. This is relatable enough for pets’ human counterparts: when you rummage through the pantry at 10:30 p.m., are you really looking for fine dining? Is your mixed berry vitamin B12 gummy intended to substitute for a square meal?


Pet treats aren’t just guilty pleasures. “Some of the leading priorities among today’s pet owners include products to support overall wellness, calming, digestion, mobility, skin and coat, and healthy aging,” says Jorge Martínez, president of ADM Pet Nutrition. “We also see consumer preference for convenient, easily administered products such as powders and liquid formats that can be added directly to the pet’s food or water without affecting taste.”


Take a page out of your pet’s book; next time you’re caught raiding the junk food cabinet, just claim that it’s for a silkier, more lustrous coat.

A recent report shows sales for cat and dog supplements increased 84% since 2018, and 78% of survey respondents say they're willing to spend more on pet food and treats.
Where’s the Beef?


Despite dogs’ and cats’ carnivorous nature, alternative proteins have gained a foothold in the pet food market, particularly with plant-based proteins.


It’s true that you don’t see many feral cats tucking into a Cobb salad, but a growing number of cat and dog owners are turning to a vegan diet for their pets, claiming that not only is such a diet safe for these animals, but that it can even offer health benefits that surpass those of a meat-based diet. Vegan pet foods use a variety of natural, nutrient-rich ingredients to keep pets healthy and can add synthetic proteins and other ingredients to meet specialized health needs or help processors achieve desired flavor and texture profiles.


Pet owners wary of relying on plant-based proteins to provide balanced nutrition but still concerned about providing fresh ingredients may opt to feed their pets raw, freeze-dried meat. While not an “alternative” protein in terms of its composition, raw pet food is a growing niche that offers a novel mode of preparation to improve pet foods’ nutritional content.


For pet parents with reservations about the high carbon footprint of a traditional meat-based diet, modern technology provides some intriguing options such as cultured meat, which grows real animal cells in a lab without the considerations of raising and processing a living animal. Similarly, advances in using fermentation to create animal proteins without harvesting cells from animals provide an interesting option, with recipes that compare favorably to traditional meat-based pet food in terms of nutrition, texture, and taste.


Last in alternative protein, we look at the much-ballyhooed practice of using insects in dog and cat food. Just as insect proteins have unsurprisingly not enjoyed the warm embrace of U.S. consumers for human food, so too have they struggled to gain traction in pet food. Several factors explain this market niche’s modest growth. First, cultivating insects as a food source is very different from livestock and will take time to translate into effective industrial pet food processing. Second, only a handful of insects have been approved as ingredients, such as black soldier fly larvae and crickets. Third, insect proteins face an obvious stigma. While their status as a viable and healthy source of complete animal protein is generally accepted, it’s clear that pet owners’ personal aversions to crawling food extend to their pet food purchasing habits.

"Modern pet parents believe that pet foods should mirror their own, including more sustainable sources of protein and more natural, plant-based ingredients."
Jorge Martinez, President

ADM Pet Nutrition

Looks Good Enough to Eat


The evolution of pet food to a premium, human-grade product has also impacted its physical appearance, from shape and size to color and texture. Gone are the days when a uniform ball of dry, monochromatic kibble could completely dominate the space. In 2024, pet owners’ search for wholesome ingredients must be met with products that bear a better resemblance to those ingredients. Vegetarian pet owners are pleased to recognize blueberries, carrots, and legumes in their pets’ foods; raw food advocates appreciate products with the color, scent, and texture of real meat.


Improving product appearance extends to packaging design as well. An oversized bag with a brand name and a picture of a happy pet is no longer sufficient to compete in the retail pet space. Today’s pet owners want sleek, appetizing packaging that prominently features clear, direct messaging on nutrition, ingredients, and sustainability—not broad or unverifiable claims like “dogs prefer the delicious flavor.” When relevant, modern pet food packaging may call out common but unhealthy ingredients that aren’t in the product, including chemical preservatives, animal by-products, artificial colorings and sweeteners, and excessively processed carbohydrates.


Modern pet owners want to provide the same food experiences for their pets as they enjoy for themselves. From serving tasty snacks and ethically sourced proteins to upping the ante on presentation and flavor, our attitude toward pet food is shifting from utilitarian to one more wholesome and satisfying.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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