Pet food innovation is now, more than ever addressing pet owners’ concerns about natural and nutritional ingredients as well as sustainability. As global population growth continues to stretch the planet’s resources, more consumers are considering the environmental impact of their diets.
These ecological demands are also evident among European pet owners, who are increasingly scrutinising the sustainability credentials of pet food, from methods of production to ingredients and packaging.
In Asia, pet owners are looking for functional benefits to help reduce the risk of their pets developing lifestyle diseases.
Meanwhile, in America, functional claims are helping pet owners take preventative measures to ensure their pets stay healthy and happy.
Discover more about the top regional innovations and the opportunities they present to your business.
In EMEA: Ecoing human food innovation with clean label and naturalness
Pet owners expect products to demonstrate sustainable qualities
Pet food brands are reacting to consumer demand for more sustainable pet food. Packaging is one obvious example.
Sustainable packaging for pet food is a significant purchase driver for pet owners across generations in the UK. It is a particular priority for younger cohorts, with 80% of pet owners aged 16-24 saying they would choose a sustainably packaged pet food over one that isn’t.
Actually, of the major European markets, the UK has recorded the largest share of pet food and pet product launches that feature ethical and environmental claims. For example, 33% of new products launched in the UK claimed to have recyclable packaging, against 12% in Europe (Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Spain and the UK) between February 2020 and January 2021.
Meanwhile, Italy is notable for its focus on launches with ethical-animal claims – as one quarter of the products launched featured an ethical-animal claim over the last year.
France has seen a particular focus on biodegradable packaging innovation that represented 4% of all pet food products launched last year, versus 2% for the rest of Europe.
The following product examples highlight these trends with sustainable packaging, ingredients and production.
Beco recently launched a range of wet dog foods in Tetra Pak cartons, claiming this packaging format has environmental benefits over the traditional metal can.
Cartons remain extremely niche in wet cat and dog food, featuring in just 2% of NPD in Europe in the 12 months to January 2021, and there has been a slight rise in launches over the last couple of years.
Purina Beyond Nature’s Protein Complete Food for Adult Dogs with Insects, Chicken and Broad Beans is made with natural ingredients including 30% insect, 28% vegetable and 42% chicken protein (Switzerland).
Pet Farm Family Complete Dog Food with Wild Boar is made with entirely traceable ingredients, produced using green energy and packaged without plastic (Czech Republic).
Pet owners want assurances about the naturalness of pet food
Over the past few years, consumers have been increasingly prioritising food and drink recipes that claim to be free of unwanted ‘nasties’, such as artificial additives and preservatives.
COVID-19 has elevated food and human safety to the forefront of consumers’ minds, and familiar attributes such as naturalness and minimally processed are building trust.
In Germany, for instance, 37% of pet owners look for products with all-natural ingredients. In parallel, pet food launches with natural-style claims have generally increased in Europe in recent years.
France is notable for seeing a recent growth in launches with all-natural claims to reach 9% of new product launches in 2020, and organic claims to reach 8% (versus respectively 7% and 4% for major European markets).
The UK and Spain are also busy markets for natural pet food launches.
Nestlé Purina recently launched its first organic pet food in select European markets, under its premium Beyond pet food brand: Purina Beyond Bio Organic Complete Adult Dog Food Rich in Chicken and Rice. Among the certified-organic content is rice, dehydrated poultry protein and salmon. The certification will help to engage with pet owners who are concerned about the sustainable and natural credentials of pet food. Purina’s Beyond brand was already positioned as a natural choice, but by adhering to this recognised standard of organic content, the brand has formalised the clean-label promise.
Organic claims in pet food and product NPD have been fairly stable in recent years. However, the arrival of a big brand like Purina in the ‘bio’ sector could prompt a wider surge of organic activity, as it’s a mark of confidence in demand for the standard.
Oak’s Farm Complete Adult Cat Food with White Fish is made with green energy and organic ingredients, including superfoods such as acai berries, green tea and calendula (Lithuania).
Scrumbles Tuna Complete Wet Food for Adult Cats is made with natural ingredients and features a 100% recyclable sleeve and pot. The product bears the Ethical Award and B Corporation Certified logos (UK).
In Asia Pacific: functionality and safety are in demand
Innovation helps owners to manage their pets’ health
The continuing trend in Asia towards pet humanisation, where pets are adored and regarded as companions, friends and members of the family, is driving interest in foods that can help to prevent lifestyle illnesses and diseases.
Pet owners are increasingly looking for pet foods and products that promise to help their pets stay happy and healthy, including through aiding digestion, ensuring a healthy skin and coat, along with preventing teeth and gum issues. The fact that 41% of pet owners in Thailand look for pet food with added benefits illustrate this trend.
On the other hand, the functional pet food innovation landscape recorded a fall in 2020, highlighting the room for innovation. Indeed according to Mintel GNPD, the share of pet food and pet product launches in Asia featuring functional and plus (eg added vitamin) claims has broadly increased in recent years, but many functional claims (eg digestion, joints/bones) saw reduced activity in the year to January 2021.
Of the major markets in Asia, Japan and Thailand have recorded the highest share of functional claims in pet food, with China and South Korea recording the lowest.
In Japan, Unicharm recently launched AllWell cat food products. The recipes feature a patented formula that claims to be the world’s first ‘dietary fibre blending technology’ to reduce the regurgitation of meals. The brand claims that by reducing regurgitation, it is ensuring that cats are able to absorb all of the nutrients present in the cat food, thus avoiding malnutrition.
The Unicharm AllWell range is available in variants that are appropriate to a variety of ages, lifestyles and functional needs. The prevention of regurgitation and consequent loss of vital nutrients is something that could appeal strongly to cat owners who are concerned about the physical wellness and resilience of their cats.
Coté’ Seoul Chi-ka Gum Collagen Stick for Skin & Coat contains flaxseed and collagen to help improve skin and hair, along with vitamins, calcium and iron (South Korea).
Yakult Eats On Pets Petkult Liv Probiotics for Dogs & Cats is formulated with 10 types of live probiotics including Yakult and patented HyPet probiotics (South Korea).
Concerns about the safety of pet food and products inspire innovation
Just as the quality and safety of human food is of a heightened concern to Asian consumers as a result of COVID-19, pet owners have become more anxious about the safety of pet food.
For example, in China 94% of pet owners consider food safety a top priority when purchasing pet food.
They are prioritising pet food and products that reassure them that the product has been manufactured in a clean and safe environment, with quality ingredients.
Pet brands in the region are responding to these kinds of concerns by adopting ‘clean-eating’ trends from human food innovation, such as reducing additives and preservatives; formulating with natural, organic, and GMO-free ingredients; and highlighting toxin-free formulations.
Among all of the pet food and pet product launches in Asia to feature a natural claim, the no additives/preservatives claim is most prolific, especially in the Chinese and Japanese markets.
India has recorded a significant number of all-natural launches, while organic claims have a relatively sizeable presence in South Korea and Thailand – although organic claims represent a relatively small share of overall launch activity.
Woofur Gourmet Chicken Finest Jerky Treats for Dogs is 100% natural and made from hand-picked, human-grade, ethical and safe ingredients that are free of any toxic or unhealthy elements (India).
Juspet Kuang Ye Dried Beef for Dog contains 98% beef and beef organs including heart, lung and liver (China).
In Americas: All about naturalness and preventive health
North America leads the natural pet food space and enhances preventative health focus
While the all-natural claim is an important purchase driver for pet owners, other clean-label ingredient claims have garnered a bigger focus in launch activity over the past year.
For example, brands have ensured that meat is the primary ingredient in recipes, have limited the length of ingredient lists and have also highlighted the absence of animal by-products.
North America leads globally for natural pet food and pet products, just ahead of Europe, and significantly more than is seen in APAC and other regions.
Natural claims are most likely to be found in dog snacks and treats and are notably niche in wet cat food.
The no additives/preservatives claim dominates and has recorded modest growth over the past five years. The GMO-free claim, though very niche, has also witnessed a rise in share of activity.
As most pet owners are committed to ensuring that their pets live a long and healthy life, they look for a variety of functional health and wellness benefits in the pet food and treats they purchase.
With veterinary bills typically high, 88% of US pet owners are saying it is important to take preventative measures to protect a pet’s health. This ‘spend a little to save a lot’ approach is even more appropriate, considering the widespread unemployment and economic instability because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pet food and treat brands are responding to this interest in preventative health by launching products that feature multiple health benefits.
One innovation spotted by Mintel is the Nulo Hydrate Pork Tenderloin Flavor Water Enhancer for Dogs that features electrolytes to support hydration, amino acids to help maintain muscle health and B vitamins to support healthy energy.
Latin America capitalises on superfoods to enrich nutritional profiles
The pet humanisation trend has also influenced pet food in Latin America, which now uses more ingredients that can also be consumed by humans.
Ingredients that are trendy in human food may prove popular in pet food, when complemented with ingredients that are proven to benefit pets. Botanicals and other ingredients that are often promoted for their ‘super food’ or ‘adaptogenic’ properties in human food and drink are transitioning into pet food.
PremieRpet PremieR Nattu Chicken, Cassava, Beetroot, Linseed & Cranberry Flavored Super Premium Food for Puppies is made with super foods, which are natural ingredients that contain high nutritional density (Brazil).
Pet Delícia Assados Super Greens Dog Snack with Spirulina, Alfalfa and Spinach is rich in proteins, calcium, fibre and iron. It contains superfoods and active fibres from flaxseed, chia, oats, spirulina, alfalfa and spinach (Brazil).
Origem Natural Healthy Dog Snack with Vegetables is a natural and grain-free superfood that includes pumpkin, carrot, spinach, ginger, olive oil, peas and MOS prebiotics (Brazil).
With pet owners behaving more like ‘pet parents’, there is exciting innovation in clean label and functional foods, while more sustainable products still have strong potential.
Looking forward, as Millennials forge stronger bonds with their pets, brands will balance nature and science, foster emotional connections and reduce the ecological paw print.
Consumer data source: