As people align their furry friends’ needs with their own, the pet food industry is seeing an influx of human food trends.
The growing humanization of pets is one aspect shaping the evolving pet food market, which is set to expand by 11.11% annually to reach $224.5 billion (€210.9B) in 2027. Which human food trends have been transferring into the pet food world? While sustainability, organic, clean-label ingredients and veganism are broader areas of interest, there are a lot of other fascinating crossovers to explore within this space.
With the increased importance placed on pets’ digestive and holistic health, ingredients that especially cater to these needs are continuing to grow in popularity. Nutritionally dense, good-for-you ‘superfoods’ are being hailed across the category. In addition to common fruit and vegetable examples like beetroot, squash, spinach and berries, Mark Hirschel, co-founder of plant-based pet care brand Hownd, highlights chia, hemp and flax seeds. These seeds have numerous benefits for pets, including fiber content, improved digestion, enhanced brain functioning and a better immune system. They also contain a higher amount of certain omega-3 acids than seafood.
“Superfoods are found in some pet food formulas for the same reasons they’re used in human foods,” explains Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a vet based in Idaho, US. “They provide some similar benefits to pets as they do to humans, and most are considered safe in the proper amounts.” Products like Hownd’s hemp & moringa kibble and papaya, chia & lentil dal signal the popularity of this trend. Meanwhile, US start-up Neo Bites combines insect protein with flax seeds in its functional dog food topping.
Allied Market Research forecasts that the functional pet food market will grow by 8.8% each year to reach $4.68 billion (€4.40B) in 2030. While mushrooms – which are the focal ingredient in pet supplements from Pawse and FreshCap, for instance – have long been a dominant part of the conversation, other ingredients are now also moving into the spotlight.
For example, Canadian manufacturer Orijen’s Guardian 8 cat food formulation features elements like taurine (an amino acid that supports heart health), prebiotics like chicory root and fiber (boosting digestion), and omega-3 fatty acids (which promote healthy skin, shiny coat and joint strength). Similarly, the Skin Health and Allergy Support Chews for Dogs by US hemp brand Charlotte’s Web boast functional ingredients like biotin, nettle leaf, burdock root and marshmallow root. Formulations that incorporate such ingredients – including those derived from the Ayurveda alternative medicine system – are clearly set to thrive.
With plant-based pet food on the rise, novel protein sources have been a key focus when taking inspiration from human food trends. According to Future Market Insights, the global pea protein market is expected to grow at a yearly rate of 11.8% until 2032. Similarly, Mordor Intelligence predicts that the hemp protein sector will expand by 3.9% annually between now and 2026.
The interest in novel proteins is visible in multiple pet food formulations. Apart from Hownd’s hemp-based offering, products from UK brands Omni, The Pack and Butternut Box all feature pea protein in varying proportions. Another burgeoning trend in this space sees plant proteins being blended with animal ones to offer a new source of nutrition to pets. For example, Butternut Box’s meatless Ready Steady Veggie meal for dogs combines formulated eggs with potato and pea protein.
It seems that manufacturers have identified insects as offering a big opportunity. Like Neo Bites’ dog food topping, many companies are offering insect-plant protein blends to obtain a slice of the pie. German manufacturer Green Petfood produces 2 varieties of dog food comprising insect and potato protein, and another that blends chicken, insect and potato protein. Similarly, UK brand Yora’s Dreamers dog treats pair insect meal with chickpea flour. Meanwhile, in the cat food realm, Dutch start-up Lovebug’s kibble combines insect meal with cereal and soy protein.
The popularity of insects in pets’ diets could also be mirrored in human diets, especially since the European Union approved the sale of certain protein-rich insects for human consumption in January. This marks another interesting intersection between food for humans and pets.
The cell-based meat industry has been unstoppable since its regulatory approval for sale in Singapore in 2020. In fact, the market could be worth $25 billion (€23.5B) globally by 2030, according to McKinsey. So far, London start-up Good Dog Food is the world’s only company developing cell-cultured meat specifically for pets.
There has been similarly rapid growth in 3D-printed and precision-fermented meat (which are both plant- based). Made in labs, these iterations bear a striking resemblance to conventional protein, catering to meat-eaters, flexitarians and vegans alike. Reflecting this flourishing interest in realistic-looking meat, Dr. Bonk has noticed a shift in pet food products that look more like human food. Hirschel agrees that foods emulating the appearance of meat is a major trend crossing over from human to pet food, with products such as ‘chicken and beef strips’ and ‘air-dried meaty and fishy-looking snacks’.
In the UK 2 examples can be found: both Rosewood’s chicken and cheese dog treats and Great&Small’s vegetable treats are shaped and colored to mimic bacon. Nestlé-owned Lily’s Kitchen, meanwhile, makes various dog treats that look like the meat humans consume – such as its crackling pork & apple and duck & venison sausages, as well as its mini beef burgers.
Commenting on this marketing trend, Dr. Bonk says: “The packaging has also changed to be more like human foods with clear windows to see the food. There’s nothing wrong with making a more visually appealing food as far as humans are concerned. But our pets don’t really care what their food looks like.”
Perishable and refrigerated foods
“Shaping and coloring pet food can lead to additional processing,” she adds. This is at odds with preservative-free, clean-label eating, which has been a priority for many consumers since the start of the pandemic. In fact, the global clean-label ingredients market is set to grow by 17.6% annually by 2030.
“Pet food [brands] are also focusing more on simple ingredients, to a point,” says Dr. Bonk, referring to the fact that most pet food recipes will include simple proteins and carbohydrates with limited other ingredients. However, she adds: “Unlike most [human] food, pet food needs to be more shelf-stable, which requires the use of preservatives. This can go against what people consider simplifying.”
In the context of avoiding preservatives in pet food and offering a less-processed product, Dr. Bonk, therefore, believes brands will produce more and more perishable or refrigerated pet foods in the future. The biggest proponent of this is US giant Freshpet, whose range of fresh dog and cat food needs to be refrigerated. The company claims its “all-natural” offerings improve digestion, energy and weight management, and maintain shinier, softer skin and coats.
So, as the humanization of pets continues, we’re likely to see more human trends transferring over to the pet world – and vice versa.
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