Unpacking the Future: An Exploration of Pet Food Labels

An Exploration of Pet Food Labels

There’s no arguing that the average consumer is more educated on pet nutrition than ever before. In fact, recent surveys show that more the 53% of pet owners are looking for healthy ingredients in pet food.

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Unpacking the Future: An Exploration of Pet Food Labels

There’s no arguing that the average consumer is more educated on pet nutrition than ever before. In fact, recent surveys show that more the 53% of pet owners are looking for healthy ingredients in pet food1, and a whopping 63% of dog owners are actively seeking products with branded health ingredients2.

Compounding this growing health focus among consumers is a clear desire for sustainable packaging solutions. When surveyed on their green activities, 53% of pet owners were actively trying to reduce their use of plastics and 42% reported a desire for sustainable packaging1.

This awareness of ingredients and sustainable manufacturing processes means that, for pet food, packaging and presentation are more important than ever. To dive deeper into these evolving consumer trends, the experts at ADM set out to round up and evaluate the latest claims being made on pet food packaging.

Consistent growth in health claims

The top three health claims made on packaging (Figure 1) not only remained on top from 2019 through 2022, but they also grew in prevalence across SKUs. This tells us that pet brands are seeing consistent growth in health-oriented products.

Humanization is the likely driver in this health claim growth as consumers continue to familiarize themselves with the benefits of healthy eating in their own diets. Various human foods promote their protein content on packaging, and grocery stores are dedicating shelf space to “all natural” and “health food” products.

It’s easy to speculate that increased interest in healthy diet trends for humans has translated to on-package health claims in pet food. Given the longstanding prevalence of these human health trends, we expect this growth in pet food health claims to continue long into the future.

Alternative proteins are shaking up the industry

When it comes to specific ingredients, alternative proteins continue to expand both in humans and in pet food. Plant-based and cultivated proteins have been scientifically explored in human food over the past few years and created a growing market for these types of ingredients. Manufacturers and suppliers often promote these alternative proteins as healthier and more sustainable than animal proteins, striking a chord with health-focused and environmentally conscious consumers.

ADM recently performed an external survey of 5,000 respondents and found that 49% of adults fall into the “flexitarian” category, meaning they are actively seeking plant-based protein as a replacement for some, but not all, animal protein in their diets. Recent humanization trends suggest that when a pet owner chooses to adopt a diet for themselves, they are likely to mirror their dietary habits in their pets.

On the other side of this alternative protein trend is insect-based proteins like Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL). Not commonly found in human food products, this type of protein is actively being explored for pet food by pet brands. The insect farmers that supply this type of protein promote their products as highly digestible and better for the planet, hitting on current consumer demand for high-quality nutrition and sustainable ingredient sourcing.

Given the innovation and growth in this market, we anticipate an increasing number of pet food brands will promote the benefits of alternative proteins and other ingredients on their product packaging.

Sustainability in packaging materials

Finally, we move from nutrition and ingredients to the packaging itself as we are now seeing products enter the market with claims like “100% Recyclable Packaging.” This is in line with research on consumer demand for sustainability.

In fact, this demand for sustainability in pet products may actually be higher than in other industries. There appears to be a difference in attitudes between pet owners and non-pet owners regarding climate change and impact through responsible action. When surveyed, 66% of pet owners are worried about climate change while non-pet owners were more than 6% less likely to state the same1.

While there are many variables that influence consumer buying habits, it appears that sustainable packaging is quickly becoming an important aspect of CPG manufacturing for pet brands. Innovation is likely to bring new packaging to market such as compostable materials and reusable packaging. This is an area where we expect to see significant growth and innovation in the coming years.

Wrapping up our packaging research

Packaging has long been a major driver in sales for CPG brands, and we expect label claims to continue catering to consumer trends. Humanization, premiumization, and sustainability require pet brands to adapt their packaging or be left behind. Innovations in ingredients such as alternative proteins help to set health-oriented claims apart.

In this multi-billion-dollar industry, competition is fierce, and brands will continue to position their products in a way that connects with consumer demands. At ADM, we will continue to monitor these trends, so brands can keep their edge in a crowded market.

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This content is based on United States laws and regulations applicable on the day of publication of this content. We point out that customers are required to ensure that any labeling and claims made by customers for their finished products must be based on the regulatory requirements and scientific standards of the country in which the final products are offered for sale. Not all products are available in all regions.