ATLANTA — Personalization, naturalization and sustainability — these are the key, emerging trends to keep an eye on, according to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel. During the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE), Dornblaser spoke on these trends seen throughout the global pet food industry at the American Feed Industry Association’s (AFIA) 2024 Pet Food Conference on Jan. 30.

Dornblaser began her presentation by briefly sharing insights on the new nutritional products entering the market, revealing the dog and cat food market shows more innovation and brand strength compared to the human food and beverage industry. Breaking down product formats, dog snacks and treats take up most of the pet food category, followed by wet cat food, then dry cat food, wet dog food, cat snacks and treats, and, lastly, dry dog food.

Of these new product launches from 2019 to 2023, about one-third came from new companies or new brands within the pet space, a trend that is much higher than in human food. Breaking these down by launch type, entirely new products are followed closely by new varieties or line extensions, then by new packaging, relaunches and, lastly, new formulations. For reference, in the human food space, Dornbalser shared new packaging sizes or graphic changes are more common launches than an entirely new product.

From Mintel: Global pet food, treats and other products by subcategory from 2019 to 2023Source: Mintel GNPD

Wet formulas for dogs and cats have the greatest number of product introductions globally. According to Dornblaser, wet foods for dogs and cats tend to see more product launches than those for dry, with the greatest percentage of pet food launches occurring in Europe. From 2019 to 2023, new wet cat food products dominated markets in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East, and Africa, whereas new wet dog food products dominated the North American market.

Overall, dog and cat foods tend to be branded, not private label, according to Dornblaser. However, Europe has the largest percent (about 25%) of private label dog and cat food, with North America close behind at 20% private label. Asia Pacific has the smallest percent of private label dog and cat foods, with Latin America also boasting a small percentage.


Taking it personally

As the term “health” evolves for pet parents, the nutritional solutions for pets have evolved as well. According to Dornblaser, pet parents are seeking formulas that provide specific health benefits to their four-legged companions, and among these is addressing weight.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), more than half of all dogs and cats were classified as overweight or obese in 2018, deeming pet obesity an epidemic. Many pet parents are aware of this issue and have become determined to help their pets slim down, driving demand for more functional pet foods.

Additionally, according to Dornblaser, pet parents are taking a more personalized approach to address the “pet obesity crisis” throughout the globe. For example, in France, about 33% of pet food purchasers believed their pet would benefit from losing some weight. This belief is also more popular with younger pet owners, as 41% of consumers aged 16 to 34 think their pet would benefit from weight loss. Taking this a step further, in the United Kingdom, 62% of pet food purchasers who agreed their pet would benefit from losing weight expressed interest in personalized meal plans.

As well as a focus on weight management, other popular health claims include high or added protein, high or added fiber, low or reduced fat, low or reduced calories, and high satiety.

Personalized pet foods have gained popularity throughout the global market. According to Dornblaser, 45% of Chinese pet owners are likely to repurchase formulas that have been specifically designed for their pets, and 31% of German pet food purchasers are interested in personalized diet plans. Personalized formulas may also assuage US consumers, as 54% of these pet food purchasers claimed there are too many options in the pet food aisle, making it difficult for them to choose the right product for their pet.

With consumers gaining more understanding on pet health and wellness, many have taken to switching their pets’ diet. According to Dornblaser, in the United States the top reason for switching a pet’s food in 2022 was to improve health and wellness, with improving palatability second and saving money at a low third.

Looking to the future in personalization, DNA testing may prove opportunities for heightened innovation. Pet DNA testing continues to gain popularity with consumers seeking to discover additional insights into their pet’s health, and many may begin to seek formulas that take genetics into account. According to Dornblaser, 31% of French pet owners are willing to pay to have their pet’s DNA tested in order to find out the healthiest diet for their pet, rising to 45% for pet owners between ages 16 to 34. However, the high price of genetic testing can be prohibitive.


Keeping it natural

In addition to personalization, naturalization is also a burgeoning trend in pet food. This trend tends to hone its focus on doing away with artificial ingredients, and has fueled growth in refrigerated/frozen formats, according to Dornblaser.

According to Mintel, 38% of US pet parents are seeking all-natural pet foods. But this trend isn’t just seen in the United States, its proliferating in all areas of the globe. For example, 49% of pet owners in China claimed they would repurchase a pet food product if it was all-natural.

Naturalization can take on many forms, from the number of ingredients to the specific exclusion of “bad” ingredients. In the United States specifically, 23% of pet parents look for pet nutrition products that offer limited ingredient lists. However, the global focus remains on avoiding “bad” ingredients, like additives or artificial ingredients.

The most popular naturalization claims are “no additives or preservatives” and “free from” claims including free from added/artificial colors or flavors. Additional claims include “GMO-free,” “all-natural,” and “organic.”

To provide more natural foods to their pets, many consumers have turned to fresh formulas, as these refrigerated/frozen products are more likely to feature some kind of natural claim compared to their shelf-stable counterparts, according to Dornblaser. Despite popularity growing in these fresh pet foods, only 1% of product launches throughout the globe are refrigerated or frozen.


Advancing sustainability

Sustainability is far from an emerging trend in the pet food industry, and various new sustainability claims are cropping up, especially those related to packaging, according to Dornblaser. Pet food products touting environmental and ethical claims continue to grow with a key focus on packaging, ingredients and resource usage.

From Mintel: global ethical/environmental claims on new pet food products from 2019 to 2023Source: Mintel GNPD

Environmental stewardship can be seen around the globe. In the United States, 61% of pet food purchasers want brands to limit their impact on the environment. In Colombia and Mexico, 62% of consumers claim they consider environmentally friendly packaging when choosing any human or pet food and drink. In Italy, 79% of pet parents want to learn more about the footprint of the pet foods they purchase. And in Germany, 54% of pet owners prefer ethical alternatives to regular pet products.

Most of the sustainability initiatives in the pet food industry revolve around packaging, whether reducing the usage of plastic or turning toward recyclable, reusable or compostable alternatives. However, packaging isn’t the only thing consumers are focused on.

In trying to understand their pets’ environmental impact, consumers are looking into sustainable ingredients, from alternative proteins and interest in GMO-free formulas to less usage of pesticides/hormones and more ethical sourcing and farming practices.

Regenerative agriculture is a popular trend in human food that  is slowly making the leap into pet nutrition. In line with this, 74% of US consumers believe companies should be more transparent about their farming practices, according to Dornblaser.

Upcycled ingredients are also a thriving trend in both human and pet food. Sixty-eight percent of French consumers think that food made from “leftover ingredients” makes a positive impact on the environment, and in Poland 58% of pet food purchasers are interested in pet foods made with ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.

As the pet food industry goes beyond sustainable packaging and alternative ingredients, Dornblaser anticipates that the next focus will be resource usage, with an eye on reducing water use.

Overall, these trends will undoubtedly continue to shape the pet food industry, showing promise for advanced innovations that not only meet consumers evolving demands, but also support pet health.  

Read more coverage from the 2024 Pet Food Conference

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