Without a doubt, the pet food industry is part of a booming economic market. According to the American Pet Product Association , in 2015, pet food sales reached $23.05 billion. This notable increase in sales is due to a major trend in the industry – pet food humanization. Pet food companies have identified a highly profitable market, by offering products influenced by human food trends such as: organic, natural and non-GMO. These food labels resonate with consumers since they are generally linked to healthier food choices. Millennials are driving the pet food market by acquiring loyal companions and putting an emphasis on their pets’ health, which subsequently makes these labeled pet products top sellers.
The two largest pet food manufacturers – Mars Petcare Inc. and Nestle Purina Petcare, dominate the pet food industry and gross more than $29 billion in pet food revenues worldwide, according to a report from PetFoodIndustry.com. Over the past few years, these two pet food giants have seen several problems in the manufacturing of their products, such as a string of recalls. In 2007, both Mars and Nestle Purina issued a major recall after discovering that wheat and rice ingredients imported from China contained melamine, a highly toxic chemical that caused kidney failure in animals. This chemical was eventually linked to thousands of pet deaths. Since this recall, food companies have focused on offering products that are considered 100% grain free, natural, gluten free, organic and non-GMO. In addition, some non-traditional product offerings have emerged such as: raw, vegan, paleo and holistic.
Due to the wide variety of pet related products on the market, qSample conducted a survey with its veterinarian panel to truly understand if these trending pet foods are providing better quality ingredients or jeopardizing the health of pets. The survey was deployed to more than 130 veterinarian professionals with specialties ranging from: general practitioners to internal medicine. The veterinarians indicated that on average, they see 86 patients weekly with the most frequent species being canines and felines. The increase of pet owners who are trying to find better diet alternatives for their furry friends have influenced veterinarians to offer special diets and premium ingredients for sale in their clinics. About 83% of respondents indicated that they sell food supplies in their clinics. The veterinarians were also asked what factors they considered when choosing a brand to sell in their establishments. Roughly 35% considered the quality of the ingredients as a decisive factor, while 24% indicated that brand affiliations dictated their product offerings. The increasing presence of health trends in the pet food industry illustrates that many consumers are interested in adopting better health practices in their pets diets.
Another important factor in veterinarians pet food recommendations is related to where the pet food is being manufactured. About 95% of respondents indicated that they would only recommend pet food manufactured in the US. The main reason for this is to avoid low quality manufacturing standards since some countries lack regulatory agencies such as the FDA and AFFC. This was problematic before as pet food companies had to recall ingredients manufactured overseas.
Despite emerging pet food trends, veterinarians still recommend pet food with basic nutritional principles. Scientifically formulated foods are regarded as the most beneficial for pets’ health. However, many consumers have a big misconception of what the scientifically formulated label means. Scientifically formulated does not mean the food is unnatural, it simply means that natural ingredients have been carefully chosen to increase nutritional content. Despite these misconceptions, consumers seem to gravitate towards labels that mirror human food trends. This is evident as more than half of respondents (60%) indicated that the main trend is “all free from: wheat and grains.” Respondents were also asked the likelihood of recommending pet foods that are branded as vegan, vegetarian, organic, paleo, holistic and raw. More than 45% indicated that it will be extremely unlikely for them to recommend pet foods branded as such.
Marketing pet food through the guides of human food trends has been profitable for the companies but misleading for pet owners. Consumers are purchasing food that aligns more with human dietary trends than with pets’ nutritional needs. Marketing tactics that can link consumers understanding of their pets’ nutritional needs with language that can sell the product would be an optimum opportunity for both companies and consumers.
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