BELOIT, WIS. — It won’t come as a surprise to any member of the pet food industry that consumers are increasingly prioritizing function and quality when shopping for dog and cat food. As the concept of preventive health and wellness becomes more prevalent in the human nutrition space, pet owners are transferring this idea to pet nutrition as a central tool for supporting their furry family members.
Recent research conducted by Kerry, an ingredient supplier to the pet food and treat industry, showed a significant portion of US pet owners are looking for high-quality pet foods, science-backed ingredients and functional benefits in the pet food aisle.
For example, 78% of dog and cat owners surveyed said they agree that science-backed ingredients are important in a pet food formula, and 85% agree that high-quality nutrition can be an effective form of preventive pet healthcare.
The industry is meeting these demands with a wide array of nutritional offerings, from food to functional treats to nutraceutical supplements. There are certain ingredients, claims and callouts pet owners associate with quality and science, and manufacturers must juggle several of these priorities to meet the demands of the modern pet owner and stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
According to Kerry, the top pet food purchasing drivers for dog owners are ingredient quality, cost and health benefits. For cat owners, the top pet food purchase drivers are their pet’s personal preference, ingredient quality and cost.
By and large, dog and cat owners are looking for similar claims when shopping for pet food. High-protein diets are sought by 47% of dog owners and 45% of cat owners, whereas multi-benefit claims are sought by 47% of dog owners and 44% of cat owners. Additionally, 26% of dog owners and 25% of cat owners are looking for products with limited ingredients.
Nearly one-quarter (22%) of dog owners are seeking probiotic claims in the pet foods they buy, whereas 35% of cat owners are looking for formulas that will support indoor cat lifestyles.
Overall, half (50%) of pet parents surveyed said they are willing to pay more for products that tout functional benefits. Two key focal points emerge from this category — digestive health and joint health.
According to Kerry, digestive health was listed as the second-biggest concern for dog and cat owners. As science solidifies the link between the microbiome and overall health and wellness — not just for pets, but for people, too — supporting gut health through nutrition has emerged as an obvious approach to achieve this. Kerry noted probiotics are “the go-to-ingredient to support pet digestive health” due to their recognizability among pet owners and their effectiveness.
Joint health is also a key concern, with 40% of dog owners currently administering a supplement or vitamin to support their pups’ mobility. Glucosamine and chondroitin are the star ingredients for this need state, and have already been widely accepted by pet parents to address joint health.
Kerry also identified “Next Gen Need States,” detailing up-and-coming attributes pet owners are seeking as part of a more proactive approach to pet health. For example, 33% of dog owners said they have purchased products that claim to support health coat maintenance, while 12% of all pet owners surveyed said they currently give their four-legged companions immune-supporting supplements. Kerry also noted oral care as an emerging concern among pet owners, with one-third of pet parents making this a priority.
The idea of pet wellbeing as being purely physical is shifting as well, with an increasing number of pet owners becoming more attuned to their pets’ emotional, cognitive and behavioral health. Kerry noted 15% of pet owners are prioritizing their pets’ brain health, while 11% are focused on how they can support their pets’ cognitive health. Keeping pets comfortable in stressful situations is also key, with roughly 11% of pet owners surveyed reporting they give their pets anti-anxiety or calming supplements.
Standing for sustainability
According to Kerry’s survey, 62% of pet owners said they are concerned about minimizing food waste. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of pet owners who read pet food labels say they are looking for an expiration date, showing concern for products’ shelf life. This speaks both to economic strain and environmental impact.
Synthetic preservatives have been used historically in the industry to preserve the shelf life of pet food products, but now manufacturers are turning to more natural preservatives to meet demand for cleaner ingredients. Kerry also noted pet owners are starting to avoid pet foods with unfamiliar or artificial ingredients, making it crucial for manufacturers to strike a health balance between clean label and shelf stable.
Kerry also measured pet parents’ willingness to purchase pet foods formulated with upcycled ingredients. According to the survey, 13% of pet owners noted they care about upcycling food waste and reusing foods that would otherwise end up in landfills. Manufacturers who adopt the use of upcycled ingredients and make those inclusions well-known on-pack are likely to catch the attention of this growing pet owner cohort.
The survey, conducted by Kerry in January 2023, included 1,868 US-based pet owners, including 1,259 dog owners and 1,258 cat owners (some of which owned both dogs and cats). Results from the survey were published in Kerry’s whitepaper, “Navigating the Modern Pet Parent.”
Read more about product development, ingredients and formulation.