Pet Owners Seek Healthier Food Options

Not afraid to spend more, pet owners seek healthier, safer options for four-legged family members.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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It’s been a rough year for the $15 billion pet-food industry, with the nationwide recall of 5,300 items and 60 million packages of premium to private label brand pet food.

The FDA found melamine in wheat gluten that may have gotten into pet food manufactured by Streetsville, Ontario-based Menu Foods, the largest maker of wet dog food in the Americas. Fur flew, so to speak, as pet owners mourned the death of their pets and reflected on the quality of food they give to their four-legged family members.


Not only were there safety concerns, but pet owners learned many premium brands contain some of the same ingredients as private label and that oversight of co-packers in many cases is minimal. There was a consequent drop in dog and cat food sales as consumers fed their pets people food and tried to figure out which pet foods they could trust.

Now the industry is bouncing back but the conversation is different. Major pet food manufacturers and private label suppliers have joined the “safety first” pack, reviewing their manufacturing practices, suppliers and recipes.

Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., is setting up a stringent audit process. Royal Canin USA, St. Charles, Mo., no longer will use vegetable proteins (wheat gluten and rice protein) from China. Iams, Dayton, Ohio, now has a policy forbidding suppliers from switching raw ingredients unless Iams OKs it. And some companies, like San Jose, Calif.-based Natura Pet Products, are planning to buy or build a canning facility to make their own wet pet foods.

Many consumers who saw their favorite national brands and private-label lines pulled from shelves have turned to premium, natural and organic pet foods. Sixty-three percent of all U.S. households – 69.1 million – have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. (APPMA). Americans own an estimated 74 million dogs and more than 90 million cats.

Humanization is the No. 1 trend fueling growth in the $43 billion global pet food market, according to Global Pet Food Industry Outlook, a report from New York-based Packaged Facts and survey of 500 subscribers of Petfood Industry magazine. Treating pets like family outranked packaging convenience and special ingredient foods.

Two-thirds of pet manufacturers, suppliers, consultants and marketers in the survey identified new products -- such as functional ingredients, condition-specific ingredients, human-grade ingredients, hyper-premium products and fresh/baked goods -- as the top growth trends. 

A treat for Fido

If you focus on the growth of the Pet Treats segment, it seems as though the love and devotion pet owners have for their four-legged family members is virtually without limit, reports Retail News.

A few facts that could bring you to that conclusion include:

  • Some 78 percent of dog food purchasers also buy dog treats.
  • These pet owners spend $36 per year on dog treats, making 7.4 purchases, on average. 
  • Given growth trends, the 1998-2008 period is expected to see a doubling in sales for the segment, adding $1.2 billion to the pet care category.
  • More than three-quarters of dog owners buy gifts for their pets. And the primary gift-giving season is Christmas when 53 percent of these purchases occur.













Convenience also drives pet food

Up until the late 1800s, when the first commercial dog food was invented by British butchers, dogs basically ate whatever their owners ate. Today, the pendulum is swinging back somewhat, with current consumer interest in natural and organic dog food (some 5-7 percent of the market, according to APPMA). Natural and organic sales have been rising for some time – 46 percent in 2005 versus 2004, 36 percent in 2006, and will continue to grow some 25 percent each year until 2010, according to the Organic Trade Assn. (OTA).

Both organic (free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or preservatives) and natural products (allows for some artificially processed ingredients) appeal to a price-insensitive segment, who spend some $241 annually to feed their dogs, according to OTA. Purina One Natural Blends are made with natural ingredients that promote improvements in pets’ energy level, skin and coat, teeth, gums and digestion with white meat chicken, oat meal, brown rice and sweet potatoes. No added fillers, artificial colors or flavors are included, and they are available in grocery and mass merchandise outlets.

Pet owners might not be able to get their kids to eat veggies, but they can treat Fido to Pegetables Dog Chew Treats from Kansas City Mo.-based Splintek. They are made from natural ingredients, antioxidants, vitamins A, B, C, D and E, fiber, calcium, essential fatty acids, protein, carrots (to fight macular degeneration), corn (for a shiny coat) and celery (to maintain healthy joints and detoxify the liver). Or they can fill the bowl with Doggie Dance chicken tenders, liver biscotti or barley grass powder.

To alleviate consumer concern, many pet food manufacturers are now using “natural” preservatives such as vitamin C, vitamin E and oils of rosemary, clove or other spices to preserve the fats in foods, even though they have a shorter shelf life of about six months.

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