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The Pet Food Market is Changing: Grab it by the Paws

Rita Kochmarjova-stock.Adobe.com

The relationship between dogs and humans can be traced as far back as 30,000 years ago. But our four-legged friends no longer help us hunt, and instead we send them Valentine’s cards (Moonpig reported a 30% year on year increase this year).

Pets have never had a bigger role in our lives. Not only are we welcoming more furry friends into our homes, with 3.2 million households adopting a pet over the pandemic alone, 85% of us now see them as part of the family.

Like all family members, we want to do the best for them, but how we do that is changing more rapidly than in living memory, as we live through unprecedented times: adapting to the cost-of-living crisis; digital reshaping everyday behaviour; sustainability; the shift from health to holistic wellbeing; and a more diverse and complex food landscape than ever before.

This is a massive opportunity for ambitious pet food brands ready to seize their moment — and a threat to those who stand still.

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The Digital Landscape and Direct to Consumer

Like all FMCG markers we’ve moved to a world where the consumer calls the shots and competition continues to intensify, thanks to the rise of subscription services and direct to consumer models, with brands no longer competing against a few big names. Now countless digital brands are vying for market share, able to cater for growing instant gratification and meet every specific need and preference (of which there are many) — and the list keeps growing.

The Cost of Living Crisis

As most households look at every aspect of their spending, many are trading down on favourite brands to make ends meet. Every product must justify its existence and add value like never before. There are opportunities to deliver moments, not just food, as families sick of tightening the purse strings are looking for little ways to make dark days a little lighter, with family film nights, hump day celebrations, Saturday brunches and having uncomplicated fun in a serious world. All occasions and moods the pet is now a part of, but there are more ways to add value.

Sustainability

Not only are we all more anxious about food miles and packaging, the impact of meat consumption is also a growing concern. Many of us are trying to limit meat consumption and, as it is still the primary ingredient in most pet food, this concern will only grow in this market. As humans adapt to more flexitarian and even meat-free diets, expect more of this in pet food. We’re already seeing brands with an insect base and other alternative proteins, and there is more to come.

Wellbeing

As we increasingly optimise every part of our lives for greater wellbeing, demands for less processed, more natural ingredients and even raw products are rising in the pet food market. This is only the beginning though. We’re seeing mood-enhancing ingredients, boosted protein and cutting-edge science to balance the gut. As fasting, avoiding glucose spikes and fermented food go mainstream for humans, the demands for pet food to enhance every aspect of wellbeing will only rise.

Wider Food Preferences

But the explosion of new pet food preferences won’t be limited to health. The human diet has never been more interesting, with more international cuisine and the rise of street food. The enduring ‘at home gourmet’ trend is here to stay, best exemplified by the success of Saturday kitchen. Our increasingly diverse and sophisticated palates are already being projected onto our pets with gourmet offerings, but moving forward, expect more textures and flavours that stimulate all the senses, not just the tastebuds.

Real vs. Virtual Life 

For a while now, as life gets more digital, there is more anxiety about keeping it real. Parents get more tense about kids on screens and many of us see getting back to nature as more aspirational. So we’re seeing more pet food that’s more accessible with the feel of ‘wild instincts.’ More natural food with an ‘outdoors’ feel can relieve tension around an increasingly pre-programmed digital life. Just as most people who drive a Land Rover feel a bit adventurous…even though they rarely go off-road.

So, in summary, family life is changing faster than it has for generations. As pets become part of the family, ambitious pet food brands have an opportunity to embrace change and grow by being more in all these moments that matter. Those that stay the same risk being consigned to history, as relevant to today as those first hunter-gatherer dogs.


Andrew Hovells is Strategy Director for Live & Breathe. He has over 23 years’ experience as a strategist focusing on FMCG and retail, with clients like Wm Morrison, ASDA, Greggs, Yorkshire Tea and Carlsberg. His experience spans brand strategy, media, digital, PR and shopper. He’s done things like launching ASDA’s first sustainable  store and taking Wm Morrison from regional player to national powerhouse.

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