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What Drives Pet Food Purchases for Today's Animal Owners?

Parents of all kinds can understand the unique pressure of feeding a little one. The responsibility comes with a myriad of questions and concerns. What combination of foods will be healthiest? What if I can’t cook? What if they won’t eat it? How is this tiny creature so expensive?

Recent research indicates that the same concerns that motivate and inform our personal food choices are driving pet owners’ purchasing habits. As public discourse increasingly intertwines our understanding of diet with the domains of medicine, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare, pet parents face greater stress in caring for their fur babies.


A recent article on Pet Food Industry’s blog identified three crucial factors driving consumer purchasing patterns for pet food: closer scrutiny of ingredient lists, greater support for sustainability, and the pursuit of foods that prevent and treat health conditions.

Just the (Nutritional) Facts, Ma’am


Consumer interest in the nutritional impact of specific ingredients has been named one of Innova Market Insight’s top trends for 2024 in human food, and the same pattern is occurring in pet food.


LuAnn Williams is the co-founder and Global Insights Director of Innova Market Insights. In a recent webinar, Williams noted that the food industry has “come full circle in terms of ingredients—from early attention on functional foods in the 1990s to the first concepts of clean label”. Today’s focus, Williams says, is on what she terms “hero ingredients.” For pet food, such ingredients often center on protein, and with good reason—depending on life stage and reproductive potential, dogs require a diet that’s 18–22% crude protein as dry matter, while cats require 26–30%. Lean meats, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, and even the occasional egg are great protein sources. But just like us, pets need glucose to sustain cellular activity, and complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, lentils, peas, barley, and quinoa can provide this while also being safe and easy to digest for pets. A balanced pet diet will focus on key ingredients that cover the full range of nutritional needs.


Even so, too narrow a focus on individual ingredients can obfuscate the truth about products’ overall impact on pet nutrition and health. “Ingredient misinformation has been hyper-inflated to suggest many health implications, when nutrition science and health is about nutrients,” notes a recent article from Pet Food Industry.


The best advice for food and beverage manufacturers, states Williams, is to “feed into positive consumer attitudes toward ingredients by promoting a product’s star element,” rather than building fear through the demonization of common ingredients.

"Health of the planet is really at the top of consumer concerns. Consumers think that businesses have to go beyond just sustainability, that they also have to play a role in making a positive difference to protecting nature."
LuAnn Williams, Global Insights Director

Innova Market Insights

More “Green” in the Diet


In addition to a desire to be more  ingredient-aware, modern pet owners have similar ethical concerns for their pet food purchases as they do for their own foods and beverages: traceability, sustainability, and social impact.


With this in mind, many pet food processors are fine-tuning their packaging and operations to align more with consumers’ environmental impact demands. Such packaging as recyclable materials in films; biodegradable ingredients; and less reliance on virgin plastics are all part of pet food manufacturers’ commitments to the social consciousness of their younger pet-owning customers.


“We’ve seen a 40% increase in food & beverage launches that have some type of water usage claim…and a 37% increase in launches that have a forest protection claim,” says Williams.


Many companies are turning to third-party players like the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) to help them identify and realize sustainability opportunities through environmental and social business practices. The PSC is dedicated to creating a more sustainable pet industry with assessment tools, strategic support, accreditation, and events. The coalition’s website even outlines a “pathway for sustainability in pet food packaging by 2025.” 

The Pet Sustainability Coalition, and other similar third-party entities, are working to raise awareness of and reaction to sustainability opportunities via environmental and social business practices.
The Benefit of Being Proactive


According to Pet Food Industry, the final factor driving consumers is the desire to use food as a preventative health measure. In the U.S., most pet owners take their pet to the veterinarian just once a year, which leaves a lot of ground to cover over the rest of the calendar. Buying specialty pet foods, such as those designed for urinary health and weight control, or non-prescription supplements provides pet owners a daily opportunity to address and rectify problems without going to the vet. Consumer priorities include products that claim to support overall wellness, digestion, mobility, skin/coat health, as well as healthy aging and calming ingredients.


Ingredients that reflect recent research into the gut microbiome are especially sought-after among pet owners. Such exploration has shed light on the interconnectedness of gut health to not only digestion, but immunity and metabolism as well. In fact, research by FMCG Gurus states that 56% of dog owners and 54% of cat owners seek digestive health claims on pet products.


Consumers also continue to seek functional pet nutrition. According to Pet Food Processing, American pet owners who take dietary supplements are more likely to give supplements to their pets. It is likely that the pet supplement category will evolve as pet owners continue to seek products that benefit their pets’ specific conditions or life stages. While U.S. consumers were early enthusiasts concerning this trend, pet owners around the world are catching on—and catching up. In fact, according to Euromonitor International, UK’s pet supplement market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6% through 2026.


People love their pets and see them as family members. As such, what they seek for their own families’ health and wellbeing, they extend to their pets. Strip away all the marketing language, product packaging, and competing claims, and you’re left with the common sense knowledge that the quality and content of an animal’s  diet largely determines the quality and longevity of its life. As pet owners digest the latest food trends and in the informational sphere, one trend that won’t go out of style is devoting the love and attention that their animals need—from early morning jogs to late-night belly rubs and all the morsels in between.

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

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