DECATUR, ILL. — In late 2022, ADM highlighted five trends it expected to drive growth in the food, beverage and pet nutrition industries — protein shifts, traceability, sustainability, social impact and modern pet ownership. How did these trends manifest in the marketplace in 2023? Pet Food Processing followed up with Jorge Martínez, president of ADM Pet Nutrition, to find out.
“Our global consumer trends framework is based on in-depth proprietary research and a network of trend explorers around the world, which is key to understanding consumer behavior,” Martínez said. “Thus, it’s no surprise that we clearly see evidence of these trends playing out in the pet space, not only throughout 2023 but also into the future.”
Trending in 2023
The shift from traditional proteins to plant-based, cultured, fermented and insect-based proteins continued in 2023, fueled by growing consumer acceptance of alternative protein sources. These include plant components and extracts, such as ancient grains that support balanced nutrition and serve as key fiber sources in a diet, according to Martínez. Additionally, fermented yeast is making its way into more and more pet nutrition products as early entrants and startups hone their processes and approach commercial scalability.
Insect ingredients are still faced with the “ick” factor from consumers but are beginning to gain traction as a viable alternative to traditional meat ingredients. Black soldier flies, mealworms and even crickets are cropping up as digestible, palatable, nutritious and environmentally friendly protein sources for a variety of pet nutrition products and formats.
“Modern pet parents believe that pet foods should mirror their own, including more sustainable sources of protein and more natural, plant-based ingredients,” Martínez said. “With rising consumer acceptance, protein from alternative sources like yeast and insects are quickly being adopted and incorporated across pet brands.”
With an eye toward sustainability, pet food processors have continued to fine-tune their packaging and operations to lower environmental impacts. Packaging suppliers have been hard at work developing films that incorporate recyclable materials, are biodegradable, or reduce reliance on virgin plastics. Many are turning to third-party players like the Pet Sustainability Coalition to help them identify and realize sustainability opportunities through environmental and social business practices, , Martínez shared.
“In the UK, 43% of pet owners prefer to use sustainable packages to minimize negative impacts on the environment,” he said. “Manufacturers are innovating product packaging and designs to reduce the number of materials and incorporate recyclable, upcycled or biodegradable components and features. Third-party validated ethical claims and sustainability credentials are also important to today’s consumers.”
In line with demand for sustainability, corporate values are becoming table stakes in the pet industry, with consumers paying closer attention to a brand’s traceability, social impact and ethical practices.
“Modern pet parents are also more attuned to a company’s values regarding ethics and traceability,” Martínez said. “Manufacturers are therefore raising awareness of their efforts to use locally sourced ingredients, energy-efficient production processes, fair treatment of workers and charitable giving in their communities.”
As each of these trends played out over the course of the year, ADM is back with a new set of trends and expectations for the pet industry in 2024. This time around, the company expects technological advancements to be a harbinger for industry growth in the coming year.
“Building on the global trends of 2023, we expect 2024 to have a greater focus on the transformative power of technology in the food industry — for humans and their pets,” Martínez revealed.
Technology is becoming more commonplace in the pet industry as consumers seek convenience, efficacy and, above all else, to treat their furry companions as a member of the family. From tech-enhanced nutritional science and retail to the use of artificial intelligence (AI), pet owners today have more insight into the specific needs of their pets than ever before, and savvy industry members are poised to capitalize on these emerging demands.
“In the near future, DNA testing could go beyond breed identification to inform consumers of their pets’ unique characteristics and provide hyper-personalized recommendations,” Martínez said. “AI could be used to automate food and treat formulations or design new products. Precision fermentation will be used to produce nutritionally complete, nature-identical chicken, beef, fish and other meat proteins for pet food.”
According to CRB’s “Horizons: Alternative Proteins” report for 2023, producers in this space are continuing to scale, fine-tune and roll out meatless protein innovation. For example, nearly 60% of survey respondents reported they are now manufacturing their alterative protein product at commercial scale, up from 25% in CRB’s 2021 report. Additionally, 66% of respondents reported an increase in sales volume over the past two years.
Technology also speaks to function in the grand scheme of pet nutrition and, as consumers continue to seek function, tech-aided advancements are positioned to accelerate the industry’s understanding of pet health and wellness — and how best to support it through food, treats and supplements.
American consumers were early adopters of functional pet nutrition, but pet owners around the world are still catching on to this trend. According to Euromonitor International, the pet supplement market in the United Kingdom is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6% through 2026, indicating the continued proliferation of supplements and functional products globally.
“The pet humanization trend continues to drive premiumization across the pet nutrition space, with functional pet treats representing a new segment primed for innovation,” Martínez said. “Soft chew treats are a leading format, providing a rewarding, snack-like experience with the added advantage of wellness support.”
According to full-service research and branding firm MarketPlace, US pet owners who take supplements themselves are more likely to administer supplements to their pets, and 42% of pet supplement shoppers give their pets supplements on a daily basis. Martínez anticipates the pet supplement category will evolve as pet owners continue to seek products that benefit specific need states.
“We also see consumer preference for convenient, easily administered products such as powders and liquid formats that can be added directly to the pet’s food or water without affecting taste,” Martínez said. “Some of the leading priorities among today’s pet owners include products to support overall wellness, calming, digestion, mobility, skin and coat, and healthy aging.”
Additionally, further exploration of the gut microbiome is shedding light on how interconnected gut health is to digestive health, immune function, metabolic health, mental health and overall wellness. According to research by FMCG Gurus, 56% of dog owners and 54% of cat owners are looking for digestive health claims on pet products.
“We anticipate that the ‘gut-brain axis’ will be leveraged to support balanced behavior in pets,” Martínez shared. “This is an exciting area of ADM’s human clinical trials, with growing evidence of biotic support for mental wellbeing. We expect to eventually translate these discoveries to the canine and feline brains in hopes of developing solutions to common behavioral concerns.”
Keeping an eye on inflation
Supply chain challenges, raw material shortages and inflation have caused pet food and treat prices to skyrocket in recent years, fueling much of the category’s 16.2% annual sales growth to $58.1 billion in 2022. According to Packaged Facts, roughly one-third of pet owners who have switched pet foods in the last 12 months have moved to a lower-priced option, indicating persistent inflation has caused some pet owners to trade down when it comes to non-discretionary purchases like food.
However, pet parents remain committed to their four-legged companions’ health and wellness, and continue to recognize nutrition as a crucial means to those ends. According to Martínez, quality indicators and callouts on product packaging and educational materials will continue to lead consumers toward better-for-you pet food and treat products. Claims like “plant-based,” “natural ingredients” and “hypoallergenic,” as well as formulas that are free from artificial additives or preservatives, will continue to draw eyes on the shelf. Efficacy claims like “scientifically tested” or “backed by clinical studies” will turn heads as well, Martínez noted.
“We may see consumers trade down to smaller packages, switch to store brands or purchase foods with less-premium ingredients to stretch their dollar,” Martínez said. “However, pet parents may also use multifunctional products that address overall wellness to proactively prevent health concerns later. Targeting new pet owners early on will be a key strategy to gain trust and repeat customers throughout their pet’s entire life.”
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