KANSAS CITY, MO. — Global Pet Expo was no exception in the long list of things that continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, like many other events that were adapted to this “new normal,” the show must go on – and it did.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) and Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) hosted an entirely virtual Global Pet Expo experience this year, Global Pet Expo Digital Access, highlighting both new and longstanding industry members, their product innovations, and the latest market data behind this $100 billion industry.

More than 250 companies exhibited virtually at Global Pet Expo Digital Access, representing roughly 700 brands and more than 10,000 products. The New Product Showcase featured nearly 300 up-and-coming product innovations, including in the pet food, treat and supplement space.

In total, 4,200 buyers were registered for the event, representing 73 countries. Exhibitors uploaded 1,300 “Show Specials” for these buyers, according to show organizers.

Originally scheduled from March 24 to 26, Global Pet Expo Digital Access was extended through Monday, March 29, to allow buyers and attendees extra time to access the platform and connect with brands. Additionally, the 23 hours of presentations given through the Global Learning Series are available on-demand through April 5.

“We found the 2021 Global Pet Expo to be very productive” said Rick Ruffolo, chief executive officer and president of Phelps Pet Products, which announced plans for a line of Disney-themed dog treats, Table Scraps, during the show. “Although it is next-to-impossible to recreate and replace the in-person experience, the chance meetings, and the camaraderie that make the pet industry so special, we found the virtual show platform offered a great opportunity for interested buyers to learn more about our latest proprietary dog treat innovations such as our 100% plant-based jerky, our upcycled ingredient recipes, and the launch of our Disney-licensed dog treats line without feeling pressured by time or the need to speak to someone at the booth.

“As a former retail CEO and marketing executive, there is no doubt the virtual show was far easier to navigate in a much more efficient and stress-free manner than walking the show floor,” Ruffolo added. “My only suggestion would be to find a way to enable exhibitors to virtually visit with each other during the show which is a critical opportunity for networking and shared learnings during the in-person shows.”

Charlie Bachkora, “chief pooper scooper” at JAC Pet Nutrition — which launched three new products at the show — added, “The virtual Global show was better than I expected. We were able to connect with  a lot of buyers, but they could not touch, feel or smell the products, which is a big part of treats and food. Overall, we added a lot of new retailers and we got new product placement with existing stores."

Gary Sheets, director of sales for the eastern United States at Mid America Pet Food, the manufacturer of VICTOR and Eagle Mountain products, said he was pleased with the outcome of the expo this year.

“We finished with twice as many connections than we expected, exceeding the number of associations we made in physical attendance previous years," Sheets commented. "Furthermore, we were thrilled with the attention our new products received and therefore the response we got from numerous contacts. That said, you can’t beat the in-person environment. Our team loves seeing familiar and new faces, and we will look forward to getting together face-to-face next time.”

First-timer Get Joy + Co. showcased its latest dog food to the industry at the show.

“As a DTC [direct-to-consumer] start-up, Global Pet Expo provided us a welcome introduction to the community, where we had the chance to introduce our new Fresh Freeze-Dried product," said Brian Eckert, head of product development for Get Joy + Co.


Trends seen at the show

In today’s increasingly proliferated pet food and treat marketplace, brands are answering consumer demands for better nutrition, a variety of tailored options and more eco-conscious products. This year’s New Product Showcase gave us a glimpse of where industry innovation is headed. Below are the top trends seen this year.


Solutions-based and veterinarian-formulated

This is arguably the most widespread trend seen in the industry today as pet owners look to nutrition to address common pet health and wellness concerns. Around every corner is a treat, a topper or a complete-and-balanced diet marketed to support digestive health, anxiety or stress, mobility, skin and coat health, food sensitivities and allergies, or overall wellness.

This segment of the market is currently heavy in dog products but, as the historical record for pet food innovation would show, health and wellness-focused cat products are likely to follow suit in the coming years.

SquarePet launched a line extension of its solutions-based premium dry dog food products, SquarePet VFS®, each formulated by the brand’s team of veterinary professionals to deliver all-natural support now in five areas of canine health and wellness: Skin & Digestive Support and Low-Fat Formula, plus three new options ― Active Joints, Ideal Digestion and Low Phosphorus Formula.

Dogswell Nutrisca functional dry dog foods

Dogswell also introduced Nutrisca, a line of non-GMO dry dog foods targeting hip and joint health, digestive health, and skin and coat health. Wellness Natural Pet Foods launched a line of functional meal toppers, Bowl Boosters, leading up to the show. They address digestive, joint, skin and coat, and heart health for dogs.

Under new ownership, Natural Balance has unified its existing solutions-based products under a new brand — Targeted Nutrition — and added two new dog food formulas for anxiety relief and mobility support to the brands existing line.

On the treat side, Bocce’s Bakery rolled out a new line of function-focused Dailies for dogs. The line includes five formulas intended as daily supplementation to support dental, skin and coat, immune system and digestion health, plus a calming formula called “Sweet Dreams.” Additionally, Bocce’s Dailies Dental Sticks won first place in the Natural category of the Global Pet Expo Digital Access New Product Showcase Awards.

VetriScience and Pet Naturals also launched several new products in the dog supplement space, including a new line of senior supplements and two new calming supplements.


Tailored nutrition

Along the same vein as solutions-based and veterinarian-formulated pet foods, brands are tailoring products to meet certain personalized pet needs, whether that be a life stage, a protein level, a performance diet, or a transition diet for rescue dogs.  

Canidae CA tailored protein dry dog foods

Canidae recently introduced its CA line of dog foods, each offering a specific protein content based on activity levels and lifestyles. For example, CA-20 formulas are designed with less protein for less active dogs; CA-30 formulas cater to moderately active dogs and feature more protein; and CA-40 formulas offer a high-protein formula for very active dogs.

VICTOR x Realtree dry performance dog food formulas

Champion Petfoods introduced a transition diet, ACANA® Rescue Care, specifically for dogs adopted from animal rescues and shelters.

Additionally, VICTOR recently partnered with Realtree, a leading brand of outdoor and lifestyle products, on a line of performance-based dry dog foods for active hunting dogs. The formulas feature added glucosamine and chondroitin to support mobility, as well as increased levels of essential nutrients to promote energy and stamina.


Feline focus

Nutritional products for cats seem to be exiting the doghouse and entering the limelight. Historically, innovations for cat food and treats have been driven by tailwinds from successful dog food and treat innovations. Several of these new cat products cross over into other trending categories, such as functional and solutions-based formulas.

Evanger's EVx Restricted Diet wet food for cats

For example, Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company released a line of functional wet cat food products, EVx Restricted Diet Dinners, addressing common cat health concerns including weight management, joint issues, kidney disease, renal failure, pancreatitis issues, urinary tract health and digestive support.

Just before the show, Blue Buffalo released its new BLUE Tastefuls, which will replace the company’s existing Healthy Gourmet wet cat food portfolio. The line offers three formats: BLUE Tastefuls Patés, Flaked Entrées and Tender Morsels.

Nestlé Purina PetCare and Wellness Natural Pet Foods each launched wet cat food offerings at Global Pet Expo.

Catit's Nuna insect protein cat foods

Purina introduced a new Fancy Feast Petites formula in single-serve packages. Wellness promoted its top-selling wet cat food formulas in a Paté Favorites variety packs, each featuring three of its best-selling canned cat food formulas.

In the dry cat food space, Hagen Group’s Catit brand released Nuna, a complete-and-balanced sustainable protein diet and one of the first cat products we’ve seen incorporating insect larvae protein as the primary protein source. The diet features insect-based and plant-based protein sources.


Not just kibble

Get Joy + Co Fresh Freeze Dried dog food

According to NielsenIQ, new pet food and treat formats are coming of age in the pet specialty space. These include dry kibble alternatives such as freeze-dried and dehydrated pet foods, as well as frozen/raw products, refrigerated/fresh diets, and premium meal toppers.

Get Joy + Co. launched its first Fresh Freeze-Dried dog food formula during the show, designed to support gut and digestive health. Boss Dog Brand continues to add to its dog and cat nutrition portfolio, most recently launching a line of Raw Frozen Complete and Balanced Meals for dogs in patty and nugget formats, as well as Frozen Raw Entrées for cats.

Catit also released gently air-dried dry cat food formulas under its Gold Fern brand, which feature high-quality ingredients sustainably sourced in New Zealand.


Got milk?

Simply Kind Hearted and Tailspring milk replacers for puppies and kittens

Pet wellness beverages have been seen at previous Global Pet Expo shows, gaining popularity as the premium end of the market continues to expand and evolve.

This year, milk replacements seem to be the focus for two new brands: Tailspring by Meyenberg and Simply Kind Hearted, the North American offshoot of German pet treat company Gimborn. In fact, Tailspring’s powdered Kitten Milk Replacer was awarded third place in the Natural category of the Global Pet Expo Digital Access New Product Showcase Awards.


Honorable mention: human-grade and wet pet food

The trend toward human-grade nutrition for four-legged companions continues, with a few companies capitalizing by launching new products in this space.

Lord Jameson added to its already extensive line of organic, vegan dog treats with its new Farm Stand Collection. Cookie Pal, a Canadian pet treat company, launched a line of limited-ingredient, human-grade granola bites for dogs that also offer functional benefits, such as joint support, dental health, and skin and coat health.

As one of five finalists participating in this year's Purina’s Pet Care Innovation Grand Prize Pitch Event on March 25, A Pup Above was given the opportunity to present its human-grade, sous-vide dog food products to industry members and investors.

A Pup Above sous-vide fresh dog foods

Additionally, wet pet nutrition products are staking their claim of the market with Chicago-based market research firm IRI reporting wet dog and cat food sales were up 7.7% and 7.2% respectively between August 2019 and August 2020 in the grocery, drug, mass market, military, select clubs and dollar retail channels.

Read more of our Global Pet Expo Digital Access coverage here.