Chad Wethal | 17 March, 2021
Within the pet nutrition industry, pet supplements are often overshadowed by the excitement and innovation taking place in the pet food and treat categories. But 2020 revealed a seismic shift and a burgeoning opportunity for pet supplement manufacturers.
Unsurprisingly, new product development (NPD) within the North American pet nutrition market dropped by 28% in 2020 versus the prior three-year average, according to Innova, likely due to challenges from COVID-19. But one rising star was pet supplements, showing a staggering 116% growth from 2019 to 2020, with more than 150 NPD activities within the North American marketplace.
The billion-dollar pet supplement business in North America has historically been driven by joint health as well as skin and coat health, with a steady transition from brick-and-mortar purchases to online sales. However, the events of 2020 disrupted trends in this product category, leading to a steep rise in immune system and digestive health products for pets and a dramatic shift to online purchasing.
COVID-19 undoubtedly has accelerated awareness of the importance of proactively supporting immune health. A survey of U.S. dog and cat owners conducted by Kerry found that more than a quarter report feeling more concerned about their pet’s health as a result of COVID-19. And, 69% of these concerned consumers have considered adding immune strength-supporting products to their pet’s diet. For consumers who have already taken steps to improve pet immunity through nutrition, 38% turned to supplements. Pet supplement manufacturers took notice of this consumer trend: there were 236% more immune health claims amongst pet supplement NPD in 2020 versus 2019.
Notable immune health pet supplement trends in 2020 include novel ingredients like cannabidiol (CBD), hemp oil, krill oil and silver. Appealing product forms such as nutrition bars and meal toppers and natural flavours like peanut butter and banana can help solve palatability and pet acceptance challenges with administering supplements. As the category continues to grow and new ingredients are introduced to the market, brands may see consumers seeking more specific ingredient claims or pet supplements with the branded immune health ingredients they already know and trust in their own food and beverages.
Digestive health pet supplement claims rose by 173% in 2020 compared to 2019. Probiotics are the go-to pet health ingredient to support pet digestive health because they are generally understood and accepted by consumers in their own food and beverage. When asked about the functional pet ingredient attributes that matter most to U.S. pet owners regarding keeping pets healthy in the wake of COVID-19, probiotics ranked second, just behind immunity ingredients, further signalling their perceived link to pet health. Bacillus coagulans in particular has seen the most significant growth within this product category, with Innova reporting a 41% CAGR from 2016 to 2019.
As the humanisation of pets continues to drive growth of the pet food, treat and supplement market, consumers are opting for the ingredients they know and trust in their own diets. Mintel recently reported that 59% consumers are already sceptical of health claims made on pet nutrition products. This can create an opportunity for pet supplement manufacturers to leverage branded digestive health ingredients, which provide consumers with a clear point of reference when browsing shelves and helps to deliver on transparency and build trust.
Pet owners have been steadily shifting from brick-and-mortar to online retail for food and treats, but according to Euromonitor Passport data, a foundational move towards online pet supplement retailing only happened in 2020. In 2019, store-based retailing made up 66% of all pet supplement purchases in North America—this dropped to 53% in 2020. At the same time, e-commerce pet supplement retail rose substantially—from 29% in 2019 to 42% in 2020—further closing the gap with store-based sales.
With consumers opting to shop for pet supplements online, further fragmentation of an already highly competitive market will likely occur. Online retail has removed one of the largest barriers for brands—securing retail shelf-space. Without this obstacle, new players with unique and novel ingredients and claims will be able to stake their share of this large and growing market.
To remain competitive, pet supplement manufacturers should focus on appealing to trending demands with functional ingredients that are safe for pets and backed by science. Pet owners are seeking more specificity in product claims, so the industry is likely to see a shift away from generic claims and embrace listing specific ingredients or technologies along with their proven health benefits.
As the pet supplement category continues to grow, finding a partner that understands the nutritional needs of pets as well as consumer trends is key. Contact us to learn how Kerry’s portfolio of pet wellness and nutrition solutions can help bridge the nutrition gap between what pets need and people want.