ROCKVILLE, MD. — The pet food and treat industry has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, supply chain issues and inflationary prices but, despite all these challenges, the industry continues to experience significant growth, as detailed in Packaged Facts’ recent “Pet Food in the US” report.

According to the report, United States retail sales of cat and dog food nearly hit $40 billion in 2021, an 15% increase from 2020. From 2017 to 2021, pet food has amassed a CAGR of 11%. With the industry expected to continue this growth, Packaged Facts revealed a potential driving force: super premiumization.

The premiumization trend has been long-established in pet food. However, this trend is now being revolutionized with an expanding fresh category, human-grade and science-based formulations, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales.

Regarding the fresh category, consumer interest in fresh and frozen pet foods in steadily growing. For example, Freshpet is projecting $1 billion to $1.25 billion in revenue for 2025, and detailed double-digit revenue growth in its latest financial report.

Seeking to cash in on consumer demand, pet food companies are making the leap into the fresh space. Mars launched its first refrigerated dog food line, Cesar Fresh Chef, in December 2021 and acquired fresh DTC company Nom Nom Now in January 2022. Wellness Pet Company also made its first foray into the fresh space with its Wellness Bowl Boosters Freshly™ line.

Packaged Facts’ data shows that long-standing “regular” diets aren’t cutting it for today’s pet parents. According to the report, only half of cat and dog owners serve their pets regular or adult pet food formulas, as many have become increasingly aware of their pet’s health and individual needs.

To this end, product sales are benefiting from a renewed focus on science-based formulas and treats, partially due to the DCM scare that started in 2018, according to Packaged Facts, but is more likely due to increased awareness of pet health and wellness brought on by COVID.

According to the report, 38% of dog owners and 36% of cat owners are interested in the idea of science-backed pet foods. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, known for its Science Diet and Prescription Diet lines, has witnessed this interest with net sales rising 14% in 2021 to $3.3 billion. According to Packaged Facts, within the science-based segment, microbiome health is becoming ever-more popular.

Along the science-based vein, vet-formulated products are experiencing traction, particularly when paired with “natural” claims. According to Shannon Brown, writer and research analyst at Packaged Facts, the overlap between “natural” and “vet-formulated” product claims is striking, specifically when sold within the DTC channel.

With consumer interest in pet health and wellness likely to increase, interest in fresh, human-grade and science-based formulations are unlikely to wane, forcing many pet food processors to expand their offerings to include super-premium diets to stay competitive.

Keep up with the latest pet food trends on our Trends page.