This article was published in the July 2023 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our July digital edition.
The supplement market is proliferating by the minute as the role dogs and cats play in our lives transcends the term “pet.” According to Danielle Bernal, DVM, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Company, Tewksbury, Mass., current supplement trends reflect a shift toward total wellbeing as an increasing number of pet owners take a more preventive approach to their own health and, subsequently, that of their four-legged family members.
“We’ve found that pet parents approach the pet supplement market the same way they do when considering supplements for themselves,” said Yvethe Tyszka, vice president of marketing at Zesty Paws and Solid Gold, H&H Group North America.
According to Jon Copeland, research strategist at St. Louis-based MarketPlace, most pet supplement shoppers are seeking a specific benefit. For example, calming supplements that target behavioral stress are gaining traction, as well as those that address digestive health, mirroring a focus on the microbiome seen in the human nutrition space. Those that benefit skin and coat health, relieve seasonal allergies, support joint health and mobility, and boost immunity are also becoming popular.
“These are areas with benefits that pet owners can visibly observe, such as better stool quality, improved comfort while out on a walk, less itching from seasonal allergies, or reduced stress during events such as thunderstorms,” said Heather Acuff, Ph.D., director of research and development, Nulo, Austin, Texas.
In its latest research, MarketPlace asked pet supplement shoppers what attributes they equate with high-quality. “Specific ingredients” was a top contender.
“Not only are consumers looking for need states — a lot of them have specific ingredients in mind, and seeing those tells them they’re not only getting the benefit, but also the quality,” Copeland said.
For example, pet owners are seeking supplements with antioxidants, fish oil, probiotics and B complex vitamins, as they associate these ingredients with positive health benefits. Ingredients that are finding a foothold in the human food and supplement space — such as botanical flavors and antioxidant-rich ingredients like elderberries and blueberries — are also starting to crop up in the pet supplement space as the humanization of pets continues.
“When dealing with human-grade, organic pet supplements, many pet parents will notice the same ingredients are found in human supplements,” said Renaldo Webb, founder and chief product officer at PetPlate, New York. “For example, biotin and salmon oil for healthy skin, and Ashwagandha and L-theanine to promote relaxation. Additionally, you’ll find both pro- and prebiotics in digestive supplements to boost the immune system — some of the ones we use at PetPlate include bacillus coagulans, bacillus subtilis and bacillus licheniformis.”
“We’ve found that pet parents approach the pet supplement market the same way they do when considering supplements for themselves,” said Yvethe Tyszka, vice president of marketing at Zesty Paws and Solid Gold Pet.
Specific benefits are associated with specific ingredients, primarily what Bernal described as the “tried-and-true” ingredients. For example, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are common ingredients for joint health supplements because their efficacy has been clinically proven. For skin and coat supplements, ingredients that deliver Omega fatty acids are a go-to choice. Antioxidant vitamins are a tried-and-true ingredient option for an immunity supplement, and L-theanine and L-tryptophan are proven to have calming benefits.
Wellness Pet Company took this insight in stride when it developed its inaugural supplement line, which officially launched in January 2023. The company aimed to approach key need states on a more holistic level through the inclusion of tried-and-true ingredients as well as emerging, innovative ingredients with research-backed health benefits — such as mushrooms, turmeric, kelp, chamomile, ginger and so on — that address common side effects of the main need state.
“We know it’s not just about their stress and anxiety — if they are anxious, they might also experience gastrointestinal upsets,” Bernal said. “Making sure you have those elements in the formulas, such as a prebiotic or probiotics, then you’re really taking a holistic approach… It’s really having a combination where you’ll get that perfect sweet spot.”
Zesty Paws and Nulo have both opted to use branded biotic ingredients in their supplement formulas to bolster credibility. For example, Zesty Paws incorporates EpiCor® Pets in its Aller-Immune Bites™, All-in-One Functional Dental Bones and Training Bites products for dogs. The branded postbiotic is created through a natural fermentation process and contains metabolites and beneficial compounds that offer natural antioxidant benefits and support immune defenses, Tyszka explained.
Nulo incorporates Protect® Probiotics into its Functional Powder Supplement line. Protect Probiotics are designed with a proprietary applicator that evenly applies the probiotic blend to the product in question, and can be used in both human and pet nutrition applications.
In addition, the company uses more than 50 bioactive ingredients across its dog and cat supplement portfolio. This includes its latest supplements — Functional Hemp & Mushroom Chews for dogs — which are formulated with hemp seed protein, Reishi mushroom, organic turmeric and dandelion root. Combined, these natural ingredients can contribute to liver and kidney detoxification, especially for urban pets who are exposed to higher levels of pollution, Acuff said.
“Natural, plant-based ingredients have the added benefits of being clean-label and sustainable, which are attributes becoming increasingly important for today’s pet supplement consumers,” Acuff said.
Solid Gold Pet’s line of supplements features a proprietary blend of ingredients — Bioboost™ — including superfoods, antioxidants and clean plasma to target a variety of systemic health issues in pets. The company recently launched five new supplements in this line that address digestive health, allergies, antioxidant support, joint health, and systemic support, Tyszka noted.
PetPlate incorporates both active and inactive ingredients in its dog supplements. The company’s supplement line currently includes two animal health supplements targeting mobility and calming, and two food supplements targeting skin and coat and digestive health. According to Webb, the company’s animal health supplements are designed to affect a structure or health function through a combination of active and inactive ingredients, whereas its food supplements provide direct nutritional value to dogs.
When it comes to pet supplements, it’s not just what’s on the inside that counts. Pet supplement shoppers are savvy and, aside from specific benefits and ingredients, they are keen to look for other attributes that reflect quality, safety and efficacy.
“In a nascent industry such as pet supplements, consumers look for validation,” Tyszka said. “Quality claims help to provide reassurance to the consumers that the products they’re buying have gone through quality control and regulatory standards, are being certified through third parties, and are made with proven and high-quality ingredients.”
“It’s not only the formulation — we also make sure it’s endorsed by the right people,” said Danielle Bernal, DVM, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Company.
According to MarketPlace, 24% and 22% of pet supplement shoppers consider supplements with “veterinarian-recommended” and “veterinarian-approved” claims to be highly effective, respectively. “Clinically supported,” “veterinarian-formulated” and “science-backed” are also associated with high efficacy. A veterinary endorsement can build on a product’s credibility, transparency, the scientific commitment behind its development, and its efficacy, Bernal added.
“Top asks from our customers are focused on safety, efficacy, and sourcing transparency,” Acuff noted. “To help deliver in these key areas, we developed our supplements in collaboration with veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and companion animal dermatology specialists… In addition, we selected ingredients that have been evaluated through scientific research to support their intended functions.”
Other popular supplement claims mirror those seen in the pet food industry — made in the USA, organic, all-natural and grain-free. Webb noted pet owners are also seeking supplements with non-GMO ingredients, which isn’t a far cry from how they shop for their own health and nutrition products.
“There’s a mix of things that really matter to the pet supplement shopper, so I would encourage brands to cast a wide net when it comes to those things,” Copeland suggested. “Don’t just expect to put a specific ingredient or target a specific benefit and expect it to do all the work.”
A better pill to swallow
The experience of administering supplements also plays into pet owners’ purchasing decisions, and taste plays a key role in facilitating an enjoyable experience from palm to snout.
“The shift to supplements as a preventive measure makes taste and texture important too,” Bernal said. “What we’ve seen through our research is, when it comes to driving daily usage of supplements and making it fun, having that treat-like experience is really key.”
Pet supplements have come a long way, from pills and tablets — which may or may not be successfully ingested with help from a pill wrapping or a slice of cheese — to something that resembles more of a treat. A spoonful of sugar, if you will.
“With flavors like carrot cake, banana bread, mixed berry cobbler, and peanut butter carob, we ensure dogs are actually excited to eat their supplements,” Webb said.
When this balance between palatability and purpose is struck, pet owners can feel like they’re treating their pets while knowing they’re also receiving a benefit — and the dog or cat on the receiving end isn’t likely to debate the point.
“There is some ambiguity between supplements and treats that contain functional ingredients to support health — it’s an interesting distinction,” Copeland said. “One of the things we’re hoping to get a better understanding of is how consumers see that difference between a treat and a supplement, because dogs don’t seem to.”
A function-filled future
Bernal projected continued growth for the pet supplement market, including more and more brands launching into the category as an increasing number of owners incorporate supplements into their pets’ regular regimens.
“In the last five to 10 years, we’ve seen the supplement category move from deficiency and medicinal to wellbeing, and I think that’s going to accelerate further as we move into the future,” Bernal said. “We now know that preventive health — keeping pets physically healthy for as long as possible — is so important.”
Webb noted record-high dog ownership paints a promising picture for the supplement segment.
“We’ll start to see supplements supporting health issues we didn’t even know were common,” he said. “I do believe we’ll also see more regulations come down on the supplements market, which will also help customers determine which products have the best active, functional ingredients to support their dog.”
Tyszka said she expects an increased emphasis on functional benefits over the next five to 10 years, with the category’s evolution continuing through emerging ingredients such as CBD, mushrooms and insect protein. However, ingredients rooted in science are most likely to capture the attention of this preceptive pet owner audience in the near term.
“As the category becomes more saturated, customers and retailers are requiring clear articulation of how our products are differentiated from others in the same space,” Acuff said. “Some of the strategies we’ve taken include prioritizing our quality and safety program for our supplements, launching formulas with solutions that are in high-demand from consumers, and most importantly, choosing ingredients that aren’t just trending — they have scientific support that they deliver the benefits pet owners are looking for.”
As of this year, younger pet owners now make up half of the pet-owning population in the United States. As Gen Z pet owners come into their own understanding of what it means to own a pet, supplements are likely to become a part of that lifestyle.
“When you look at the Next Gen pet owners — Millennials and Gen Zs — the receptiveness of that group for this category is much higher,” Bernal said. “They’re thinking about their pets aging, and making sure they’ll have the longest health span as well as life span is key to them. This mindset makes them more likely to administer supplements even when their pet isn’t showing clinical signs yet.”
This shift toward preventive pet care is expected to take the pet supplement category to new heights in coming years. But as with all emerging trends, science and education will play a key role in how this market develops under the watchful eyes of existing supplement shoppers and prospective purchasers alike.
“We’ve conducted multiple surveys over the years that point to pet parents knowingly and lovingly spoiling their pets daily and feeling like their pets are their soulmates, so we’ve found that within this type of connection, if the pet parents are taking supplements for themselves, there is a high likelihood they are or want to provide their pets with supplements as well,” Tyszka said. “This is a huge opportunity for pet supplements to expand and grow.”
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