Pet food is hot, smoking hot. The past several years have seen pet food progress from a food industry afterthought to a portfolio necessity. The world’s largest food manufacturers have scrambled to acquire pet food companies over the past decade, with Smucker’s® recently announcing it will purchase Big Heart Pet Brands®, owner of Milk-Bone®, Pup-Peroni®, Kibbles ‘n Bits®, 9Lives® and Meow Mix®.
Last year Mars Inc. bought Iams® and Eukanuba® from Proctor & Gamble, while Nestlé® and Colgate® respectively own Purina® and Hill’s® brands. Join me as I peer into my crystal food bowl and spot the hottest trends in pet food for 2015.
Premium pet foods
My top pet food trend for 2015 will be continued growth in premium pet foods. Pet owners are increasingly aware of pet food quality and understand the connection between pet food and pet health. Even in emerging markets such as Brazil, over 30% of all pet food sold last year was in the premium category. I expect to see more pet foods that are grain-free, high-protein, low-carbohydrate and containing limited ingredients. While veterinarians will argue the merits and merchandising of these trends, pet owners expect and demand these characteristics in pet foods and the market will prevail in 2015.
Increased interest in how pet food is made
How pet food is made is also a vital trend for me in 2015. I encourage pet owners to ask about a company’s humane treatment policies, sustainability strategies, environmental impact guidelines and ingredient diversification systems. The decisions pet food manufacturers make today will affect future generations of animals and humans. My goal is to let pet food companies know these issues matter to pet owners. Nestlé Purina and Mars Inc. have both made bold moves to answer many of these concerns and I expect others to follow suit this year.
Alternative and exotic protein sources
The next trend I see in 2015 is for alternative and exotic protein sources. Feather proteins have been used for years in human infant formulas and are beginning to appear in hypoallergenic pet foods. Over the next few years, I anticipate varied plant and algae types, unique species of wild and farmed fish and even edible insects as primary pet food protein sources. This trend makes sense on many levels and my contacts in the industry validate my ideas.
Shorter ingredient lists
Smaller, more familiar ingredient lists will surge on pet food labels in 2015. Pet owners have become frustrated with the “chemistry experiment” they encounter on many pet food ingredient lists. Look for shorter lists with an emphasis on limited additives, colorings, flavorings and preservatives. I also expect ingredient graphics and icons to accent labels this year, hopefully reducing confusion and complexity.
Organic, natural and GMO-free pet foods
Organic, natural and GMO-free will be pet food buzzwords in 2015. Freeze-dried, fresh, wild and raw frozen will also be featured on many pet foods. Once again, regardless of the veracity of claims, reality of any health benefits and physiological need of any these features, pet owners are demanding them and the industry is answering.
Custom pet food
Customized pet foods will come online this year in a big way. We’ve been deliberating this for years, maybe decades, and this year technology and consumer demand begin to intersect. Nestlé Purina is forging ahead with its Just Right® pet food and others are set to follow. I foresee a time soon when your pet will be fed an individualized pet food based on his unique needs. Exciting times ahead in personalized pet food!
Treats will boom in 2015. I see meat treats leading the pack, especially those sourced and produced here at home in the U.S. I expect savvy producers to become more transparent about where and how they acquire ingredients. I’ve also seen several intriguing gummy-type treats that may be available in pet stores later this year.
I’m extremely excited about the advances in pet food we’ll witness in 2015. Pet food has reached the point where big business and big science are colliding and the real winners are our pets. Stay tuned, keep informed and remember the most important decision you make each day for your pet is what you feed.