Pet parents are treating their furry pals as good as (or better than!) themselves. With human trends informing innovation in the pet industry, new ways to proactively support pets’ overall well-being continue to emerge. Pet owners are seeking out foods, treats, and supplements to help improve their pets’ physical and behavioral health, according to a global consumer trends report from ADM.
“The concept of modern pet parenting is evolving, with consumers increasingly seeking customized nutrition solutions for their pets as they come to believe that what’s good for people can also be good for pets,” says Jorge Martínez, President, ADM Pet Nutrition. “Notably, 88% of U.S. pet parents say it’s important to take preventative measures to protect their pet’s health. Furthermore, the U.S. pet supplement market is forecast to grow at 9.2% to 2025.”
When it comes to food, adds Mark Lotsch, ADM’s President, Global Health & Wellness, “Many of today’s consumers expect their pets’ foods to be made from ingredients on par with their own meals. This increasing humanization of pets is cultivating a holistic approach to pet well-being, including weight management, digestive health and customized, premium solutions. With these key consumer insights in mind, innovations in pet nutrition and wellness solutions will help satisfy pet parents’ latest demands.”
“Brands that can adapt to a more holistic approach to pet well-being will be poised for success in 2023 and beyond.”
— Jorge Martínez, ADM Pet Nutrition
Pet products are being developed to address a variety of concerns for pets of all ages with these need states and more in mind, Martínez notes. “Owners of younger pets usually want products that can support immune function and general wellness for lifelong benefits, while parents of older pets often seek out tailored solutions, such as those that address liver and kidney function. Brands that can adapt to a more holistic approach to pet well-being and a more responsible way of conducting business will be poised for success in 2023 and beyond,” asserts Martínez, who adds that ADM is invested in producing pet food the right way, benefiting pets as well as their parents, the industry, and the planet.
Just as the pandemic had an impact on how we view our own health, it has impacted how we proactively care for our pets. Nena Dockery, MS, Scientific Affairs Manager, Stratum Nutrition, explains, “During the first months of the pandemic, there was considerable panic-buying, not only of human food and household staples, but also of dietary supplements, and this extended into the pet segment of the market. Two years later, most of this stockpiling has subsided.”
Dockery notes that it’s not surprising that the categories of companion pet supplements mirror those of humans. “The most popular supplements for dogs and cats include joint and digestive health supplements. This is followed by supplements for cognition, skin and coat health, and heart health. During the first months of COVID-19, there was also a dramatic increase in interest in immune health supplements, closely reflecting the same interest in human immune health products.”
Now, a few trends have emerged. “Notably,” Dockery says, “according to a research report from Mordor Intelligence, a National Pet Owners Survey in 2021 revealed that around 50% of North American pet owners spend as much or more on the healthcare of their pets as they do on themselves. Dog ownership has seen the fastest growth, leading to substantial growth in the number and diversity of dietary supplements addressing areas such as itchy skin, dental issues, digestive problems, obesity, and joint health.”
Pet care sales drivers for 2023
ADM reports that 57% of global pet owners say health claims are important when choosing pet food to purchase. Consumers want to see evidence of treat and supplement effectiveness, too, with label claims like “clinically tested,” “scientifically studied,” and “vet recommended.”
“Close-to-nature” and other clean-label signals are also a draw. These are frequently perceived as higher quality, with 70% of cat and dog owners saying the quality of ingredients makes a product more premium. “Many pet parents are influenced by ‘clean label’ cues like ‘all natural,’ non-GMO or organic,” explains Martínez. “A perception of ‘clean label’ signals to consumers that foods and treats are high quality. As an example, pet product manufacturers can create ‘clean label’ products with the help of ADM’s ‘clean label’ preservation systems that extend shelf life without artificial preservatives. Moreover, purchasing products from a reputable supplier like ADM can help ensure the best ingredients are being used to support pet health and well-being. With an inventory of such ‘close to nature’ items, natural product retailers are well-positioned to meet the needs of discerning pet parents who are proactively supporting their pet’s health and well-being with customized product formulations.”
Of course, there has to be trust and transparency. “Like the evolution of the human food supply change that occurred decades ago, the consumer is now questioning ingredients, demanding traceability and sustainability in their pet’s food,” says James Crouch, Founder and CEO, BIXBI Pet. “This is something that is not going to change as pets assume a greater role as members of the family. Consumers are looking for trust-worthy companies to help ensure their pet lives the longest, healthiest life possible through transparent, simple nutrition.”
Analise Gonzales, Trident Seafoods/Alaska Naturals Director of Brand Marketing, also anticipates that pet parents will continue to investigate key ingredients, and certifications will be a draw. “We believe there are opportunities for products that are made in the USA, from trusted, traceable sources with 3rd-party certifications to prove it.”
Functional, targeted ingredients
Functional treats (made with food ingredients that offer nutritional benefits) and pet health supplements (which support a specific structure or function of the body), are segments expected to grow rapidly, ADM reports. Crouch notes, “At BIXBI, we’ve seen considerable growth in our supplements and functional jerky as pet parents look to proactively address common health issues like skin and coat, and joint health.”
A growing opportunity here: Cat nutrition. “We know that every pet is one-of-a-kind and cat owners in particular seek benefit-specific formulas to meet the unique needs of their furry +1’s,” says Lindsey Rabaut, CMO of “I and love and you.” “Whether those concerns are around weight gain, allergies, or skin & coat, functional ingredients can deliver the nutrients your cat needs to live a healthy, happy life. This is why at ‘I and love and you’ we ensure every product has a functional benefit woven in.”
Aubre Tadmori, ‘I and love and you’ Senior Insights Director, points to a survey by Packaged Facts: “The majority of cat owners believe that felines are ‘sometimes treated as second-class’ in the pet industry compared to their canine counterparts. We’ve begun to see more and more companies focus on cats, expanding premium offerings. I anticipate a rightsizing will occur, with more space being allocated to cat products, reaching consumers who felt underserved in the past. And since 1 in 5 cat owners also own a dog, this will lead to increased conversion of dog households as well, and higher basket rings overall—a winning situation.”
As with human nutrition, “one-size-fits-all” solutions may not be ideal for maintaining lifelong wellness for pets. Dockery predicts significant growth in the area of personalized, targeted pet nutrition. “Much like personalized nutrition on the human side, where supplements and vitamins are delivered directly to your front door tailored to your personal needs, we could see a boom in more companies that provide customized nutrition based on the diet, lifestyle, and individual needs of your fur-babies.”
A few of the areas of top interest:
A reported 60% of pet owners would like the pet foods and treats they purchase to have a digestive health benefit, according to ADM. In the U.S., 27% of pet supplement shoppers looked for information about their pet’s microbiome in the past 12 months. Notably, bacterial strains used for human wellness can be useful for pet care, too.
“Digestive health remains a top concern for pet owners, and supplement claims rose by 173% in 2020 compared to 2019, reflecting the increase in interest in this category alone, even before the pandemic,” says Dockery. “Most pet digestive health products are probiotics and prebiotics. However, the rise in popularity of postbiotics has made this new category of ‘biotics’ particularly attractive. Postbiotics are defined by the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) as a ‘preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.’ These preparations have the unique advantage over probiotics in gastric survivability and shelf stability without compromising efficacy. In addition to an expansive human clinical study portfolio, one postbiotic, LBiome (Lactobacillus LB) has been studied in animal species for its benefits in supporting digestive and overall gut health. Research into these benefits continues with a recently completed canine clinical trial. Because of their manufacturing and storage stability, a digestive health postbiotic, such as LBiome, can be easily incorporated into pet treats and other supplement formats.”
Martínez also emphasizes this category. “Many consumers are aware of the role the gut microbiome plays in wellbeing, and now they are gaining insight on how the gut microbiome can affect animal well-being. High-fiber diets and some biotic strains, such as BPL1 (Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT8145) and BPL1 HT, may help pets maintain a healthy weight. Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics may also support digestive health, oral health and help calm stressed animals. Additionally, health-oriented blends may be tailored with functional ingredients associated with certain benefits, such as immune function and skin and coat condition. Scientific breakthroughs are leading the way for proactive solutions that can help care for pets’ minds and bodies.”
Here, too, don’t forget the felines. “Digestion is hands-down the top concern for both dogs and cats, because it’s one of the most visible indicators if something is off with our pets,” says Tadmori. “Similar to humans, the approach is about a healthy microbiome. At ‘I and love and you,’ we ensure our food is packed with prebiotics, probiotics, and easy-to-digest ingredients to support gut health and impact overall well-being.”
“Joint health remains one of the top health concerns for pet owners,” says Dockery. “Cats and dogs are living longer with their human families, and as a result, their joints can begin to experience the same type of wear-and-tear damage. Dietary ingredients, such as curcumin and glucosamine, have been mainstays for joint health products, though research continues to build for viable alternatives. One such ingredient is NEM, a partially hydrolyzed eggshell membrane ingredient (ESM Technologies). This ingredient has been broadly studied in humans and in several animal species, from companion animals to exotic mammals and birds. NEM’s joint health benefits in dogs was demonstrated in published research which showed that not only did NEM significantly reduce joint discomfort and inflammation, but it also provided a chondroprotective effect, revealed through a reduction in levels of CTX-II, a recognized biomarker of cartilage breakdown. NEM can be easily incorporated into animal food as the flavor is bland enough to be added to food intended for finicky kitties. It is also a stable ingredient that won’t interfere with the taste, texture or functioning of other ingredients.”
Stress and mental wellness
“While most treat offerings have focused on dental care for dogs and cats, we foresee three pet supplement areas with the greatest potential in 2023 as digestion, immunity, and anxiety and calming,” says Martínez, adding that the ADM research shows 33% of U.S. pet owners would like to see calming and anxiety relief benefits.
The pandemic plays a role here. “It is very likely that products designed to manage anxiety in pets will continue to increase as more pets are left alone for extended periods of time after having almost constant companionship,” Dockery explains. “Outdoor walks and stimulation from all the sights and sounds will diminish, which could also cause some depression in pets, particularly in dogs that have become accustomed to these outdoor adventures with their human companions.”
Rabaut adds, “Similar to humans, our pets are feeling so many emotions as we leave the house more and more, returning to offices, etc. It’s a lot to go back to work; it’s exhausting and emotional for us and for them. We are likely to see a rise in calming ingredients, long-lasting chews to occupy their time, and high-protein/high-fiber food to ensure pets stay satisfied all day. Additionally, we think we’ll see a rise in things like toppers and treats, as we all look to give our pets a little something extra to ease the transition, and potentially bridge the ’guilt gap’ we may be feeling.”
Innovative products and flavors
New product launches present the opportunity to create an elevated, enjoyable experience for consumers and their furry companions. Notably, two-thirds of global pet parents like to see products with new and unusual flavors for their dogs and cats, and more than 80% of owners monitor whether their pets like the taste of the products that they purchase, according to ADM. Fun and playful foods in eye-catching colors, exciting flavors and interesting shapes are on-trend for pets and the people who shop for them. ADM points to dog-friendly ice cream, squeezable, lickable cat treats, and biscuits inspired by seasonal holidays as just a few examples of the humanization of pets.
Another way to catch pet parents’ attention is with bright colors and culinary flavors sourced from nature. For example, orange and yellow kibble can signal pumpkin, chicken, or honey flavors, while rich browns suggest meaty and gravy flavors. Custom color blending can achieve an infinite number of shades tailored to the application. Beyond the basics, some pet owners are turning to food toppers and mix-ins to enhance sensory appeal and pet pampering, according to ADM.
“Consumers have a heightened focus on sustainability,” says Martínez. “Modern pet parents are shopping for high-quality, responsibly produced products that are better for their pets and better for the planet. In fact, 72% of pet owners say they will pick one product over another if they deem it to be more environmentally friendly. The pet industry has several opportunities to enhance its sustainability efforts. Solar powered facilities, industrial symbiosis models that repurpose waste heat and water, recyclable packaging, and prolonging product shelf life are just a few possibilities.”
The pet nutrition industry is buzzing with innovations that help conserve natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including PetDine’s solar-powered operations, Innovafeed’s industrial symbiosis model to produce black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), and Bond Pet Foods’ animal-free proteins cultivated by precision fermentation technology. In addition, more environmentally oriented product packaging is on the horizon, like 100% recyclable packaging that maintains kibble quality and safety, preventing oxidation or spoilage to prolong shelf life. With these solutions and more innovation to come, the natural pet industry is primed to help meet the evolving needs of pet owners around the world.
“Convenience is a major concern for almost everyone in almost every area of life,” Dockery says. “Pet care is no exception. Foods and supplements that are easy to administer and palatable to the intended animal are much easier to market, and newer technologies have made it possible to incorporate even difficult ingredients into multiple formats. For example, Vitasperse and VitaDry are unique microemulsion technologies that enable the dispersion of water-insoluble ingredients into water-based liquid formats, such as drinking water.”
Marketing and merchandising success in the pet care category
“Unlike many other products in the aisle, the end-user has no say in what is picked,” says Crouch. “Consumers shop at natural product retailers because they trust and understand that the products on the shelves have met a high standard from reputable manufacturers. Retailers, consumers, and pets all benefit when this standard extends into the pet aisle. It is imperative that, just as they ensure the ingredients and processes that make the human products are of a high quality, both retailers and consumers understand what goes into their pet products.”
Dockery’s advice: “The most important thing for natural product retailers to remember is that different animal species metabolize and utilize nutrients in different ways. An ingredient that has been extensively studied in humans for an intended purpose, may be dangerous to a dog or cat. Retailers marketing to the companion animal segment of the dietary supplement and functional food industries need to be aware of the types of ingredients and products that are safe for consumption by the targeted species and insist on reviewing the research to ensure safety.”
In addition to the science, know the story. “We believe it is important to speak to the consumer, and communicate in a way that resonates with them,” maintains Gonzales. “It is imperative to know the stories behind the brands, what drove them to create the product, what need does it solve, and how can the ‘why’ behind it drive the purchase. One of our mottos at Trident Seafoods is “From our Family to yours.” This is something we live by, and believe is important to provide consumers with products we can stand behind, and confidently serve to our own furry friends.” WF
“It is very likely that products designed to manage anxiety in pets will continue to increase as more pets are left alone for extended periods of time after having almost constant companionship.”
— Nena Dockery, Stratum Nutrition