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'Personalized' Pet Food Tops Growing Category Trends

Tracking pet fitness for 2019 and beyond
Photograph: Shutterstock

Pet parents are more invested in their furry family members than ever—and as 2019 gets into full swing, their penchant for spoiling their pets is taking the category on an upward trajectory.

What’s carried over from last year? What’s new? And what are some predictions for future fitness in the pet aisle? WGB tracks the trends retailers would be wise to follow to keep pumping out profits both in the store and in their virtual pet aisles.

A Recap of 2018 

We took the pulse of pet product sales during the past year and uncovered several trends. Here are a few highlights about those proving to have staying power in 2019.

*Humanization. The tendency to treat pets as people has been and remains a constant in the category and humanization remains the overarching theme in the pet category today, including the embrace of organic products in the pet food space. As Tom Wien, director of marketing for Cardinal Pet, told WGB in January 2018, “Organic pet foods are one of the fastest-growing categories in our industry today, expected to increase by 14.6% annually through 2019, according to research by Packaged Facts.” He cited a Morningstar report that predicted the global market for organic pet food will reach $13.14 billion by 2021.

*Health and Wellness. The U.S. pet industry is in a healthy growth phase—and health-focused products are a big reason why. That goes hand-in-hand with the humanization trend. As Joe Toscano, VP of trade and industry development for Purina, told WGB for our June 2018 pet food report, “In general, people are looking for ‘cleaner’ and more natural food for themselves, and they’re seeking the same for their pet.”

*A Push for Premium. Last year, we reported findings from the American Pet Products Association (APPA) showing that interest in high-end, premium pet food and treats is a key driver for increased spending in the category. Annina Silverman, director of marketing for Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, told WGB in 2018 that the ultrapremium end of the pet food market is driving the growth. “By offering these higher-end pet products, retailers are offering the same types of food that are available in pet stores, and letting shoppers know that they can skip that extra trip,” she said.

*Technology on Tap. Pet owners who shop online spend twice as much on pet food and treats than in-store only pet shoppers, according to Nielsen, which we noted in our March 2018 issue.

A Peek into the Category’s Crystal Ball 

As WBG reported more recently, e-commerce is affecting the pet category in monumental ways: It has seen a 53% dollar growth across pet consumables, with dog food and treats up 52% and cat food and treats up 54% compared to a year ago, according to Nielsen data for the 12 months ended June 2018.

According to Packaged Facts Pet Food in the U.S., released in January, trends to watch moving forward include:

*Personalized Pet Food. As personalization factors heavily in retailers’ playbooks, so it goes with the pet category, where things are also getting personal, thanks to what David Sprinkle, director of research for the Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts, described in the report as “the ease and convenience of online sales, the desire for top-notch ingredients and clean-label foods and pet owners' desire to provide human-style variety to their pets.”

Just what does “personalized pet food” really mean? Think home-delivered, customized pet food, meal toppers and add-ins and even food prepared in in-store test kitchens. “Allowing pet owners to precraft meals that are delivered to their doorstep, customize bulk foods with broths or toppers, or subscribe to a service that provides freshly prepared meals are all ways pet food marketers can cater to pet owners’ desire to go above and beyond standard kibble and spearhead the next generation of super premium pet food,” according to the report. Examples include Petco’s JustFoodForDogs in-store kitchens, Purina’s customized Just Right brand sold online, and the partnership between canine meal service Ollie and Walmart’s online shopping site Jet.com.

*Sourcing, Sustainability and Animal Welfare. Food safety and nutrition are top of mind for pet owners today, which means they increasingly demand transparency in ingredient sourcing and claims.

As Packaged Facts reports, “A greater degree of transparency on the part of pet food marketers will be key to winning and keeping pet owner trust, with ‘clean’ labels that tout ingredients sourced in a safe, sustainable and ethical manner playing a big part in pet owners' decision-making process.”

This spotlight on ingredients directly relates to concerns about not only where but also about how those ingredients are sourced. Not only are today’s pet owners on the prowl for ingredients that support overall health and help manage specific conditions but they also are “looking to avoid ingredients that they feel are unsafe or that have been raised/harvested/created in a way that is socially, ethically or environmentally irresponsible,” according to Packaged Facts.

That means promoting sought-after ingredients, making sure labels tell a complete and truthful story and educating pet owners about how good nutrition can help their pets live longer and healthier lives is a winning formula for manufacturers and the retailers who carry their product lines.

*Premiumized Cat Food. Manufacturers are beginning to realize there’s an opening to upgrade offerings in the cat food arena and are introducing the kind of superpremium food that traditionally has been the purview of the dog subcategory. “Now that superpremium dog food has gone mainstream, it is time to turn the spotlight on our feline friends,” for which there are boundless opportunities. “Because cat owners are increasingly informed about the health and nutritional needs of their cats, they are increasingly receptive to—and willing to pay more for—better-quality products, leaving it to pet food makers to continually raise the health and wellness bar.”

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