The rule of thumb in the pet food industry: If it's trending in human food, expect it soon for pets. That's what 2013 has in store for natural and organic pet food. Wellness, transparency, gluten free (grain free) and social media all stake their claim in the growing pet marketplace.
Stay on trend with tips from pet trendologists to predict how consumers plan to shop for their furry (and scaley) friends this year.
1. Wellness products for pets take center stage.
Just as consumers demand transparency for their food, so too for pets. "The biggest driver of growth is that wellness products for pets will continue to stay front and center in pet stores and in the media," said Brad Kriser, founder and CEO of Kriser's, a natural pet food chain in Chicago, California and Colorado. "It is more important than ever to make sure that pet parents know what is in their pet's foods and treats so that [their pets] are getting the best quality."
The market demand is encouraging more big box stores to carry a wide variety of organic and natural pet food, offering additional competition (or opportunity) for pet food manufacturers and retailers. Robbin and Joseph Everett, pet trendologists and creators of TPPC.tv, the global choice in pet-related new media entertainment, predict that pet foods containing all organic proteins, vegetables and rice will continue to grow in the marketplace. Products offering balanced diets and less fillers will dominate. "Consumers want to be able to pronounce the ingredients in their pet's food," they said.
2. High-end, gluten-free nutrition leads market change.
Gluten free is hot in pet food, but doesn't resonate as much as it does for humans. Nonetheless, "this is probably one of the most important drivers of change in the pet food marketplace," said the Everetts. "We will see educated upper-income consumers purchasing gluten free when given a choice."
Because grain free will show no signs of slowing, Kriser said to watch for increased use of ingredients such as chickpeas, lentils and peas as more manufacturers move away from allergen-inducing grains.
3. Sports nutrition now for dogs.
As owners become more active to shed excess pounds, their pooches won't be far behind. Nestle's latest endeavor capitalizes on the trend with the first "sports" dog food. Its Purina Pro Plan Sport line claims to "optimize oxygen metabolism for increased endurance" for dogs, including amino acids to nourish muscles after exercise.
The concept may be leading edge, but the nutrition lacks. The non-natural formula's not corn- or wheat-free, which is a major selling point of many natural pet foods. According to DogFoodAdvisor, "judging by its ingredients alone, Purina Pro Plan Sport dog food looks like a below average dry product." Can a natural "sports" food for dogs be far behind its conventional counterpart?
4. More manufacturers offer dehydrated foods.
Expect more brands to compete with The Honest Kitchen's pioneering dehydrated raw dog food in the coming year. "The dehydrated and freeze dried market will continue to grow as more and more companies are entering this market with their product offerings… such as Dr. Harvey's," said Kriser. These products must still deliver on convenience, so rehydration times of one to five minutes will appeal more than products that must thaw or rehydrate overnight.
5. Pet supplement sales are slowing.
Although U.S. retail sales of pet supplements and nutraceutical treats totaled $1.3 billion in 2012, the market is moderating according to Packaged Facts' "Pet Supplements and Nutraceutical Treats in the U.S." report.
Delivery formats will continue to resemble treats such as soft chews or in gravies and powders to be added to pet food. Key drivers: aging, joints and cognitive dysfunction. Key ingredients: mainstays glucosamine, omega-3s, probiotics along with trends in bee pollen, green tea and elk velvet antler.
6. Hamsters and reptiles need nutrition love, too.
A new report from market research firm Packaged Facts called "Pet Population and Pet Owner Trends in the U.S.", finds that dogs and cats aren't the only pets beloved by Americans. Some 116 million fish, birds, small animals and reptiles occupy U.S. households—and all these pets need to eat. The report suggests that marketers and retailers target parents and children, who will be critical to the post-recession recovery and long-term growth of the pet industry.
7. Is your dog or cat on social media?
While pets may or may not have a social media presence (see Dogster.com and Catster.com), their owners certainly do. Manufacturers and retailers that connect with pet lovers online will reap the benefits as more people go there to find out about pet nutrition and wellness.
"A socially conscious company educating their social media influencers and in turn, allowing their influencers to educate their tribes, will continue to change the way people purchase pet food in 2013," said the Everetts.