With a raft of new and exciting challenger brands, a greater awareness of health and the growth of millennials owning pets, the petcare industry is evolving at breakneck speed.
We spoke to a number of leading petcare specialists to help us unpack the top trends on the horizon for the pet food industry and what brands to watch out for. Experts included Billy Hoekman, Nutrition Science Director for Answers Pet Food and Chris Lock, Ex-Marketing Director for Lily’s Kitchen.
Petcare has evolved over the years to cater for everything owners perceive their furry friends need. From a lifestyle perspective, pet parents can now get every accessory under the sun and can treat their pets to grooming salons, pet only holidays and can even track their dog’s movement on their smart phone.
“What we’re seeing more from millennials is that their attitude towards having a pet – and their attitude towards having children – is increasingly the same. It’s another sentient being that they are responsible for and want to make sure every aspect of their pet’s life is the best, from food, toys, bedding, day care and insurance”
When it comes to selecting pet food, consumers are faced with an overwhelming array of choice from home-cooked to ancestral, grain-free and raw. In the absence of understanding what constitutes a ‘balanced and nutritious’ diet, consumers default to what’s good for themselves, yet pets are unique with their own dietary requirements.
Without clear advice, the sense of guilt and the fear of getting it wrong is driving consumers to seek advice and support from friends, Facebook groups or their dog walker. Therefore, the role of brands should be to support and guide consumers in how to ‘get it right’.
1. Story-time for Millennials
People are choosing to settle down later in life with the average age of marriage at around 30+yrs (ONS, 2019). As co-habitation grows so does the sense of homebuilding with 44% of millennials choosing to start a family with a pet.
As the penetration of millennials with pets grows, the need for brands to take a more emotive, personalised approach is key. We are already seeing a number of challenger brands entering the market, from Edgard and Cooper through to Scrumbles, offering a fresh perspective with more open and emotive messages.
“Millennials are looking for clean ingredients, brands that are served with purpose, a back story or a founder that they can buy into. They’re looking for something that they know will be good for their pet, and good for the planet. One that they find acceptable for themselves, not just for their pet.”
2. Pampered Pooch
Consumers are now wanting to give their pets the very best of everything, making sure they are ‘happy and healthy’. This is being seen across lifestyle products but also within pet food; driving more specialised and personalised propositions. From online subscription services delivered straight to your door to wholesome hand-crafted blends like Billy & Margot. The hyper-premium space is set to grow as consumers anthropomorphise their health needs onto their pets.
“More effort and research is going into the purchase decision process. Their (millennials) willingness to spend money has increased so they need to feel good about every aspect of their purchase.”
3. Gut Feeling
Knowledge of gut health has been growing ever since Yakult coined the term ‘friendly bacteria’. Microbiome and gut health are slowly creeping into the vernacular of major FMCG brands including Unilever’s Dove campaign. As the benefits of a healthy gut are slowly assimilated by the consumer, the opportunity exists to educate around the role it plays in ensuring a healthy and happy pet.
“I think if you had to boil it down to one thing, a healthy gut is good for every system in the body. It is the best way to ensure healthy digestion.”
Watch this space with new premium entrant Rockster, who promises to ‘nurture your dog from the inside’:
“All Rockster products are prebiotic as they contain inulin from fermented Jerusalem artichoke concentrate. This powerful superfood and organic prebiotic aids nutrient absorption in the digestive tract as well as nurtures the gut microbiome of your dog” Rockster 2019
4. Raw and Real
Much like with human nutrition, there is now a growing trend for pet food to be more natural and less processed, which has led to the rise of raw feeding.
However, there has been a lot of scepticism around raw, driven by a number of recalls and poor press surrounding cross contamination. Yet, the debate around raw feeding continues with advocates stating that the results speak for themselves.
“Adding unprocessed, fresh, raw food vs durable processed food has reduced inflammatory biomarkers”
At the forefront of raw feeding, US based Answers are pioneers in the use of fermentation within their food process. Notably, this ensures the food is safe, and produces more ‘friendly bacteria’ for a healthier gut. Some of their hero ingredients include raw goat’s milk and fermented cod liver.
Now we are starting to see a number of raw-feed brands develop in the UK including Nature’s Menu and Natural Instinct as well as Bella & Duke and Honey.
5. Holistic Health
As consumers turn to more preventative solutions for their health, this has been translated into how they care for their pet. Owners are investing in pet foods and other complimentary medicines which promise added benefits such as chamomile for calming the skin, echinacea to protect the immune system and Asian ginseng for improved heart problems. Many brands such Adored Beast in the US focus on boosts and benefits as a key selling point.
“If dogs are frustrated and stressed, or if humans are frustrated and stressed, we know there’s an increased risk in cardiovascular disease and in some cases obesity and higher cortisol levels”
Pushing further into this space, we may begin to see brands adopting CBD as an ingredient. Consumers are already using this for pets with specific ailments and diseases including cancer to help ease side effects associated with ongoing treatments.
6. Get personal
As our furry friends are treated like any other member of the family, owners are starting to realise that their bodies are as unique as our own, with each pet having its own dietary restrictions, optimum calorie intake and taste preferences. A number of pet food brands are playing into this space including Tails.com.
“Tailor-made products are growing massively in popularity, but are currently relatively niche high cost online businesses owing to the persistence of ingrained behaviour in buying value, pre-packaged food from supermarkets”
Personalisation is also being seen in larger brands, with offerings for different breeds, sizes and energy levels. This will only increase as owners seek their own unique offering for their pets.
7. Paws for the Planet
Ensuring the health of our planet has shifted from being a ‘nice to have’ or CSR slogan, to becoming a fundamental part of how businesses operate. It’s well known that the pet food industry has a large impact on the environment: “Dogs and cats are responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by animal agriculture”, Forbes 2019.
In order to become eco-friendly, brands are moving to more sustainable sources of protein, for instance insect and plant protein. The success of this substitution, however, relies on consumers being able process the ‘yuck factor’ by focusing on the nutritional content. Yora pet food is leading the way here with their explorer positioning, reminiscent of the Body Shop ‘eco warrior’ role back in the day…
Although awareness and interest in this space is still very low, it is set to be big and brands need to think about the role of innovation in their portfolio and how brave they are willing to be.
One of the ways companies can help address environmental issues is by focusing on more sustainable packaging solutions. For example, Mars Petcare has teamed up with TerraCycle, a free recycling programme for empty pouches and other flexible plastic dry food and treat packaging.
“Certainly, something needs to be done with sustainable packaging, particularly in cat food as the vast majority goes in pouches, which then just go in to landfill”
8. Process and provenance
Not only do pet owners care about what goes into their pet food, they are also becoming more cognisant of how and where it’s made. The manufacturing process is currently under a lot of scrutiny as owners are seeking the freshest food for their pets and aligning it to their own beliefs, asking themselves questions such as ‘would I eat this’? Terms such as ‘lightly baked’, ‘cold pressed’ and ‘freeze dried’ are becoming a prominent claim on pack.
As consumers seek more knowledge in this space, pet food will become more scrutinised. Brands should see this as a new opportunity to innovate technologically whilst also considering new supply chain methods that are more ethical and sustainable. Answers Pet Food, is one of the brands that has risen to this supply chain challenge.
“Answers organically and locally source all their ingredients from their humane farm in Pennsylvania. Every animal is raised within a stress-free environment, eating the food they’re supposed to eat. The vegetables that are grown are also then fermented on site.”
Brands are also investing in new cooking methods to keep food closer to its natural source. A good example is True Instinct with their new freeze-dried method for protein which locks in nutrients.
9. Humanisation of pet food
The pet food industry is becoming a lot more humanised as human food trends are rapidly translated into pet food, such as Superfoods and Organic.
But we shouldn’t forget that pets are animals and their anatomy and digestive system is very different to ours. Translating the latest trend onto our pet isn’t always the necessarily a good thing to do.
Lily’s Kitchen have cracked the formula here creating pet food which reflects human occasions whilst making sure your pet gets the right nutrition too.
“ With ‘Sunday Roasts for Dogs’ you’re able to set it up as an emotional occasion. So, I think they did a very smart job in realising how integral to the family pets are, treating them like people essentially”
10. The Online boom
E-commerce has exploded over the past five years and will be one of the fastest growing channels for the future.
Online portals such as Fetch.com create a happy medium for pet owners providing both convenience and an expert voice in what can be a confusing landscape. It provides the education and support when needed and helps shoppers navigate complex decisions.
Finding the right balance between convenience, expert knowledge and conveying an emotional message will attract millennials in the future.
“For the online business, our customer care was something we invested highly in to make sure we were giving people an amazing, friendly, helpful service. If someone phoned up and wanted to talk for 30 minutes about their pet because they were worried about them, then that’s what our customer care would do”
To better understand how your brands can capitalise against these trends contact the team for an interactive presentation, where we use creative exercises to help you understand the implications for your brands.
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