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4 North American Pet Food Trends to Watch in 2021

Chad Wethal | 4 March, 2021

happy dog and owner eating side by side

New product development in North America pet food, treats and supplements was down 28% in 2020 when compared to the prior three-year average, according to Innova. But despite fewer products being introduced to the market, there was no shortage of innovation in the pet category. A review of more than 1,800 products introduced into the North American pet food market in 2020 revealed four key trends and three emerging areas to watch out for in 2021.

Key trends shaping 2021 innovation

Meaningful mealtime

For many pet owners, simply pouring food into a bowl isn’t enough. After meticulous product research, consumers want to transform mealtime from mundane to meaningful. Brands have begun to answer the call, with examples from 2020 including packaging technologies that allow food to be heated in-pack before serving, unique flavors such as a line of poke bowls for pets, a DIY dog biscuit mix and even a bone broth “brew” in an aluminum can that allows pet owners to “share a brew’ with their best (furry) friend.

In addition to creating more authentic feeding and treating experiences, pet food manufacturers can build upon this trend by giving mealtime both meaning and purpose with functional ingredients to support digestive health and boost immunity.

Primal proteins

As consumers continue to avoid diets high in grains, many are looking for novel ways to add more protein into their pet’s diet. Adventurous consumers are opting for meats that can connect pets back to their wild origins. To meet this market need, in 2020 brands introduced pet foods and treats that featured gamey proteins such as venison, bison, wild boar and rabbit. Exotic meats are checking the unique and novel box, and pet owners also perceive these proteins as a healthier alternative to traditional proteins like chicken and beef.

With “no additives/preservatives” a top nutrition claim among 2020 new product launches, pet food manufacturers can take the primal proteins trend a step further by replacing synthetic preservation ingredients with kitchen-friendly, clean label alternatives inspired by nature.

The calming effect

According to a recent Mintel survey, 17% of American pet owners have concerns about their pet’s overall level of anxiety. In 2020, brands responded to this need with a range of solutions. Products within this calming trend include ingredients such as hemp oil and cannabidiol (CBD) and come in product forms and flavors that are appealing to pets such as peanut butter-banana and beef flavored chews. As pet owners phase back into normal work and social activity after COVID-19, once again leaving pets home alone during the workday, this trend is sure to continue.

Despite its relaxed appearance, the pet anxiety relief market is becoming crowded and competition is fierce. Brands can stand out on-shelf or online by safely including the ingredients people are seeking to support their own functional foods and beverages.

Meaty mix-ins

Mintel reports that 61% of U.S. pet owners are willing to pay more for food customised for their pet’s specific dietary needs and this trend is significantly higher for younger shoppers. One simple and affordable way pet owners can put a personal spin on their pet’s commercial diet is by adding meat and savoury flavors through mix-ins and toppers. Examples of this trend in 2020 included freeze-dried chicken breast, shredded tuna and salmon and lamb liver flakes.

Brands seeking to standout in the rapidly growing meal topper category should consider elevating the experience for both pets and their owners. Natural aromatics can help make a product more appealing to pet owners without compromising palatability performance and clean label preservation solutions can help preserve product colour and maintain freshness over shelf life.

Emerging trends to watch out for over the next 2-3 years

Water bowl makeover

Traditionally, innovation has been focused on the food bowl, but we’re seeing brands find whitespace in the water bowl. Adding savoury flavours or functional ingredients to water are two newer examples of innovation in this area, and more is sure to come.

Got (goat) milk?

This trend is on our watch list following the 2020 launch of several products that included goat milk, likely because of its perceived health benefits and status as a more digestible solution than cow’s milk. Product launches included flavoured goat milk toppers, freeze-dried raw dog treats, wet food and milk powder. For consumers concerned about digestive health, fortifying a goat milk product with probiotics could be a compelling brand differentiation.

More plants, please

With more consumers seeking plants in their own diets, pet owners are warming up to the idea of plant ingredients for pets. There’s a perception that a plant-based pet diet may have greater health benefits than meat, and sustainability and welfare of animals  used for production are two other drivers of this trend. Based on 2020 product launches, the plant-based category appears to be a strong opportunity for dog treats and wet and dry dog food.

It’s an exciting time for innovation as the humanisation of pet food and treats continues to shape the market. Kerry, the leading taste and nutrition company, can help your business bridge the nutrition gap between what pets need and people want. Browse our pet wellness and nutrition capabilities to see how our team can help, or contact us to discuss ways to partner.