Chad Wethal | 22 June, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked seismic shifts in consumer attitudes, priorities and shopping behaviour. With consumer trends disrupted, it can be assumed that pet food trends, which often mirror those of pet owners, will be changing, too. Pet food and treat manufacturers can pivot product development strategies to adjust to a new normal. One trend expected to be spurred ahead is the rising interest in supporting health and well-being through functional nutrition.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it is well known that nutrition and immunity are linked, as poorly nourished individuals are at a greater risk of bacterial, viral and other infections. Even before COVID-19, immune health was trending in new pet product activity, with more than 3,000 products with an “immune system” claim hitting the global pet marketplace between 2017 and 2019. As of May 2020, Mintel’s Global New Product Database showed category launches including immune health claims were up 3.7% versus the same time period in 2019, despite overall product launch activity being down.
A recent survey of U.S. dog and cat owners conducted by Kerry showed that more than a quarter are more concerned about their pet’s health as a result of COVID-19. And, 69% of these concerned consumers have considered adding immune strength-enhancing products to their pet’s diet. For consumers that have already taken steps to improve pet immunity through nutrition, 38% turned to supplements, 35% purchased immunity-enhancing food and 25% purchased treats that claimed to support immune health.
With pet consumers seeking immunity solutions beyond food, brands that can deliver unique and novel products such as immunity-boosting bone broth or even treats with an immunity-infused sweet or savoury coating have an opportunity to extend their brand’s presence and gain more share of wallet and shelf space.
Digestive health has been trending within the functional nutrition pet food category for several years but has been somewhat limited to the super-premium segment. As consumers re-evaluate their own health and nutrition as a result of COVID-19, it could spell more consumer demand for mainstream pet food and treats that support digestive health.
Probiotics are the go-to 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 ingredient attributes that matter most to U.S. pet consumers 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.
When adding probiotics to a pet food or treat, it is critical to select a strain that can survive harsh pet food processing methods. Spore-forming probiotics such as Bacillus coagulans, for example, have a protective shell that helps more live microorganisms survive the journey from processing to the pet’s gut in efficacious levels.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Mintel, 63% of American pet consumers worried that their pets got lonely when left home alone and 59% worried that their pets got nervous. As consumers emerge from their homes and phase back into normal work and social activity, once again leaving animals alone during the workday, the sudden shift in physical presence could spark a change in pets’ emotional and behavioural well-being. And, with 17% of American pet consumers already concerned about their pet’s overall level of anxiety, they will be searching for solutions to help support their pet’s mental well-being.
To help pet consumers adjust, pet food and treat manufacturers could consider innovation around products aimed to tackle anxiety and stress in pets. Cannabidiol (CBD) will likely continue to gain ground in this segment, while other ingredients such as yeast beta glucans could emerge because of their known benefits in human nutrition as a way to help strengthen the immune system to protect against the harmful effects of stress.
With COVID-19 conditions continuing to evolve, it is critical to find a partner with an understanding of consumer trends and the complexities of the pet food industry. To learn more about how Kerry’s portfolio of pet wellness and nutrition solutions can help bridge the nutrition gap between pets and people, contact us.