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Pet Food Brands Deliver What Consumers Want

Glenn Polyn//September 9, 2020//

Pet Food Brands Deliver What Consumers Want

Glenn Polyn //September 9, 2020//

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It’s well known that the pet food industry is considered recession resistant, and this year it has been challenged by the coronavirus pandemic. In its April 2020 forecast, Packaged Facts originally predicted 4% expected growth for pet food, but after an increase in pet acquisitions and a related sales of pet products during the COVID-19 crisis, the market research publisher adjusted its expectations and now expects pet food to grow by 7 percent this year.

One could even say that the pet food market was benefited by the coronavirus pandemic, due to the stay-at-home orders combined with retailers working to ensure that consumers were able to stock up on pet foods. In addition, such essential items as bowls and toys have also been in demand.

Considering popular sentiment says that the pandemic is far from over, the pet food market is expected to maintain its current growth trend, bolstered by the infusion of new pets and today’s pet owner willing to spend on their fur baby even in the midst of an economic crisis. In fact, Packaged Facts sees a promising 2021 for the entire pet care industry, with pet food seeing a 5.5 percent increase.

One thing that is not changing is the enormous variety to the pet foods on the market. And with the shadow of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2019 report on dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) still looming over the industry, grain-inclusive recipes, especially ones that include ancient grains, are becoming more prevalent on store shelves.

Merrick is a brand that began more than 30 years ago, and its current lineup shows that it’s staying true to its roots, with the company still hand crafting its recipes in its original kitchen in Hereford, Texas. The company offers a wide variety of high quality dry and wet foods for dogs and cats across its portfolio, which includes the Castor & Pollux and Whole Earth Farms brands alongside its signature Merrick brand.

Merrick continues to be popular with consumers for its famous stews for dogs that are crafted with chunks of real beef or chicken and vegetables in a savory gravy. With names like Grammy’s Pot Pie and Carver’s Delight Dinner, these signature canned foods are top sellers, and the bone-in recipes for options like Wingaling and Smothered Comfort use a slow-cook process to make the chicken wing or thigh bone mushy and safe for dogs to enjoy.

The newest addition to the Merrick lineup is its Slow-Cooked BBQ recipes, which start with beef, pork or chicken as the first ingredient, plus whole vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots in a savory broth that adds flavor and moisture to a dog’s diet. The regional-inspired wet dog foods feature Kansas City, North Carolina, Memphis and Texas barbecue flavors.

Nulo is one of the fastest-growing premium pet food brands in the country. It was founded on the concept of species-specific pet food recipes that contain a patented probiotic for optimal immune and digestive health.

Headquartered in Austin, Texas, the company launched two of its most popular grain-inclusive food lines, Frontrunner and Challenger, at SuperZoo last year and, according to CEO Michael Landa, they outperformed expectations. Both recipes fit into the brand’s nutritional philosophy.

“In all our recipes, we seek high-meat, low-carb, low-glycemic outcomes with functional ingredients that are viable and contribute on an as-fed basis, not simply shoved in a premix at 0.01 percent to make the label,” Landa explained. “For me, it’s all about the nutrition that ends up in the bowl, period. Pets rely on us to get this right.”

Founded by Scott Freeman in 2006, Nature’s Logic promotes itself as the first premium pet food that uses only 100 percent natural ingredients and no synthetic vitamins and minerals. Nature’s Logic kibble, canned and raw frozen diets are 100 percent natural, with all the nutrition coming from whole foods. The brand’s mission is to apply the logic of nature to everything it touches, which means creating all-natural nutrition from whole foods and being a voice for sustainability.

The brand was recently named a Top 20 positive impact brand by the Pet Sustainability Coalition. For every pound of food that the brand sells, it purchases 1 kWh of renewable energy to help power the future.

“We aspire to apply the logic of nature to everything we touch,” said David Yaskulka, CEO of Nature’s Logic. “Supporting environmental efforts is a cornerstone of our business.”

In addition, the brand’s Distinction line is only available at local independent specialty stores and natural food retailers. The first ingredient in all Distinction recipes—Chicken, Beef, Pork and Sardine—is whole meat. And staying true to the Nature’s Logic mission statement, Distinction contains millet, an ancient seed that’s grown without genetic engineering. Millet is gluten-free and lower in sugar than potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca and peas.

Committed to independent pet retailers, SquarePet has built its brand around the notion of solution-based nutrition. SquarePet’s pet food lines are formulated by a veterinarian with responsibly sourced, high-quality ingredients to ensure optimum nutrition. SquarePet offers four new and unique products lines: Veterinarian Formulated Solutions (VFS) provides premium veterinary inspired nutritional diets at a value; High Meat Low Carb (H.M.L.C) formulations mimic the nutritional benefits provided by raw feeding; SquareEgg, the perfect protein food for dogs; and an all-natural true limited ingredient formula, Squarely Natural, is crafted for dogs and cats that may have food sensitivities.

“Our entirely new product line, Squarely Natural, fits a true need for an all-natural, high quality, energy dense formula that is comprised of three primary ingredients—one primary protein source, one primary carbohydrate source and  one healthy oil,” said Travis Atkins, co-founder of SquarePet. “Squarely Natural is positioned perfectly as an elimination diet option, a great transition diet or as an elevated standard for everyday feeding at a great value.”

Fromm, the family-owned and operated pet food manufacturer based in Wisconsin, has been devoted to product innovation and a meticulous approach to manufacturing. In 2016, Fromm acquired its third manufacturing hub, a canning facility in Eden, Wisconsin, just a short drive from both the company home office and manufacturing plant in Mequon. This facility is dedicated exclusively to the manufacturing of canned recipes. This has allowed Fromm to expand existing lines and create new ones to provide complete and balanced nutrition in wet diets.

Earlier this year, Fromm introduced the newest Four-Star Nutritionals recipe for dogs: Fromm Zealambder. Inspired by the rustic landscape of New Zealand, the entrée brings together the goodness of lamb, salmon, venison, wholesome grains and select fruits and vegetables including kiwifruit and pumpkin. Zealambder is distinctive in that it is chicken- and potato-free and its ingredients provide a diverse profile of nutrients including protein, fat, high-quality complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Because joint health and support is so important for all breeds and sizes, Zealambder also includes green-lipped mussels which are packed full of nutrients including glucosamine, chondroitin, zinc and magnesium.

And most recently, Fromm unveiled a new packaging design for Fromm Gold recipes for cats, including Kitten Gold and Adult Gold, while also launching a new formulation that supports less active and senior cats with the new Healthy Weight Gold. The recipe is formulated with lower caloric, protein and fat levels, while also featuring Miscanthus grass and L-carnitine to help the body utilize fat for energy and promote healthy weight loss. An excellent source of fiber, Miscanthus grass aids the body to feel full and can benefit the GI tract as well as promote bowel movement regularity, which may also help reduce hairballs.

“The nutritional needs of a cat will vary from birth to maturity, just as they do in dogs,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods. “I think there’s often a perception that a cat’s changing nutritional needs may not be as distinct or unique as their canine counterparts. The Cat Gold packaging redesign, as well as the introduction for new Healthy Weight Gold, serve as an excellent springboard to keep the conversation going about life stage-specific nutrition for cats.”

Boasting more than 220 veterinarians, nutritionists and food scientists using evidence-based clinical nutrition to develop its vast assortment of recipes, Hill’s Pet Nutrition is another brand that’s at the forefront of pet food innovations.

“We have innovative foods for both healthy pets and sick pets, and we believe that every pet needs the right nutrition, so we formulate our foods with the precise balance so that dogs and cats get all the nutrients they need and one that they don’t,” said Kathy Gross, Ph. D., worldwide director of clinical nutrition at Hills Pet Nutrition in Topeka, Kansas. “Our most recent innovations are focused on helping pets have a healthy gut.”

Hill’s Prescription Diet Gastrointestinal Biome is for dogs and for cats, which contains a proprietary blend of prebiotics shown to rapidly activate the gut microbiome to support digestive health and well-being. The innovative therapeutic nutrition actively promotes regular healthy stool in as little as 24 hours. With a veterinarian’s guidance, it helps reduce the risk of future GI episodes in pets suffering from fiber responsive GI conditions.

One of the newcomers to the pet industry is Alphia, which was formed this year by the unification of C.J. Foods and American Nutrition. The company also includes milling company LANI , which allows it to investigate new ingredient options that will help determine the next “it” ingredient.

According to Robert Lee, vice president of strategic sourcing for Alphia, health-conscious pet owners are interested in unique ingredients and sustainable proteins, such as tilapia and green beans. And while peas, chickpeas and potatoes have fallen out of favor as ingredients, he points to ancient grains like millet, oats and pearl barley as viable replacements as they are less processed than mainstream grains like corn.

“The growing popularity of unique ingredients is partly due to the humanization of pets,” Lee explained. “Some dog and cat owners, who follow a healthy, sustainable diet, want their pets’ diets to mimic their own nutrition choices. Sustainability in the raising or farming process for proteins and other ingredients is driving popularity for some new ingredient options, including insects. Sustainable agriculture is often defined as low-carbon food production, with reduced growing or raising time, less water and space needs and a lower emission of greenhouse gases. More brands are focusing on sustainable ingredients as part of their value statement to consumers.”