The food Canadians are serving their pets reflects their growing knowledge of nutrition, their strong interest in high-quality ingredients – and the fact that pets are increasingly considered to be members of the family
It’s not much of a surprise that today’s pet food trends are strongly tied to human food trends.
“Consumers are treating pets as members of their families, and this ‘humanization’ has evolved to the point where preferences for natural health products and nutritional ingredients are growing,” notes an Agriculture and Agri-food Canada report called Consumer Trends Pet Food in Canada. “[Consumers] want to see ingredients that are recognizable, and that are similar to what they themselves are eating.”
This means the added goodies we like in our food – functional ingredients such as omega-3, 6, 9 fatty acids and antioxidants – are now almost standard in the diets of many pets across the nation. And as we also see with human food products, there are increasingly more specialty products for pets, such as senior food and food that addresses special health concerns. The strong value most of us place on our furry family members also means we want to know where the components of their food are sourced, and we have a growing willingness to pay more to have higher-quality and fresher ingredients in Fido and Kitty’s food bowl.
“Pet owners are striving to feed their four-legged family members a pet food solution that aligns with their values and interests,” notes Jaimie Turkington, Marketing director at Petcurean in Chilliwack, B.C. “They are expecting and striving to provide the best food for themselves and for their pets…[including] high-quality, premium products that address long-term health and wellness.” Turkington says the concerns people have these days about what they’re putting into their bodies is now extending to their pets’ bodies, making premium pet food “a growing segment of the pet food market.”
Svetlana Uduslivaia has hard data on national premium pet food sales trends. “In 2013, the overall value of dog and cat food grew by close to four per cent – close to $1.7 billion in retail sales in Canada – and we expect the tendency to continue in 2014,” notes the senior analyst with research firm EuroMonitor International. “Premium brands (like those marketed by, for instance, Champion Petfoods) have gained significant traction on the Canadian marketplace.” And while Uduslivaia notes that consumer demand is obviously a driver of these burgeoning sales, marketing efforts also play a role.
It turns out that location of purchase is also a strong factor in the higher sales of premium products. While mass market retailers such as grocery stores and pet food stores alike are both selling more premium pet food, EuroMonitor expects that this year, expansion of premium-positioned brands like Freshpet to mass market outlets will further help drive sales upward. The Ag Canada report mirrors the sentiment: “Canadian pet owners remain price-conscious, and are turning more and more to grocery retailers for pet food purchases rather than specialty stores…However, even in bargain retail, pet owners look for the best quality they can afford. Presence of a number of premium brands in mass market retail, with more advantageous price tag compared to specialized pet food retail, helps to satisfy those who are on a tighter budget.”
A close look at trends
Demand for “life stage” products such as senior pet food has been strong for some years, but Uduslivaia notes that demand could be even higher. She explains that at this point, many shoppers are still not clear on when their pets’ senior years begin, and what nutritional differences exist between adult and senior foods, so “It’s up to manufacturers and retailers to bump up consumer education.”
Products positioned as “natural” are also becoming almost a norm, explains Uduslivaia, due to numerous serious product recalls and marketing campaigns that encourage consumers to question where ingredients come from. Indeed, Petcurean identifies ingredient sourcing as a key consumer trend. The company points out in its marketing that the meat proteins, grains, cereals, fruits and vegetables in their GO!, NOW FRESH and SUMMIT original recipes are sourced from North America as close to the production facility as possible, with the exception of lamb, which is from New Zealand and Australia. “We are proud to confirm we are 100 per cent China-free,” Turkington adds. “Chinese ingredients don’t meet the high quality standards we have in place.”
Companies like Petcurean also never use artificial preservatives – and are increasing focused on fresher ingredients. “Our NOW FRESH diets are made with 100-per-cent fresh meat,” Turkington explains. “There are no rendered meat products.” Their NOW FRESH Large Breed Adult Recipe includes omega-3 and 6 fatty acids from fresh coconut and canola oils, New Zealand green mussels and glucosamine/chondroitin to support hip and joint health, L-Carnitine to support heart health/fat burning, pre- and probiotics to support digestion, and taurine to support vision and heart function. It contains no beef, corn or soy, nor any grains.
“Grain-free is definitely a trend,” says Uduslivaia. “It has been gaining strength for a couple of years now, with more products appearing with grain-free claims.” Some argue that a grain-free diet more closely resembles the food a dog’s or cat’s wild relatives have access to in the wild, akin to the paleo diets to which some people adhere. The ORIJEN pet food line made by Edmonton, Alta.-based Champion Petfoods is a good example of this trend, which the company describes as “biologically appropriate.” These products feature fresh whole meats, “plus liver, tripe, cartilage and marrow, all in ratios that mirror the natural diet, while excluding high-glycemic carbohydrates and plant proteins that simply don’t belong in the diets of dogs and cats.”
However, while Turkington acknowledges that there are other very good reasons to feed a grain-free diet to pets who have, for example, a sensitivity or even an allergy to grains (manifesting, for example, in itchy skin or ear infections), there is also value in feeding whole grains. “For sure, wolves do consume a great deal of meat protein, but they’ll also eat grasses, berries and other wild edibles,” Turkington says. “Grains are an excellent source of quick energy for dogs. Grains can also help to firm up a loose stool as they are a source not only of carbohydrates, but also of fibre.” Therefore Petcurean makes a wide variety of grain-free pet foods and some with whole grains as well.
Moving forward, expect that pet food will continue to mirror the trends we see in our own diets. Turkington points to gluten-free and food allergy conscious, as well as locally sourced ingredients as two of the top pet food trends to watch. Also expect raw, immune-boosting and organic pet food products, notes a recent “Supplyside Animal Nutrition Insights” report.
We want the best for our pets, as they provide “psychological and physiological benefit” in human life, as stated by the authors of Global Pet Food Market: Trends & Opportunities (2014-19), a report available through Market Research Reports.biz. “Whether it is a cat, dog, or other pet, domesticated animals are interwoven into the social and emotional fabric of individual’s and families’ lives.”This article appeared in the print issue:June 2014 edition, Pet Food in Canada section