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Consumers play the ‘claim game’ with pet food

Nielsen reports growing trend of human-grade ingredients, more “free-from” options in pet food

Pet owners are increasingly feeding their pets the same ways that they’re feeding themselves — or perhaps even better, a trend borne out by a recent Nielsen report.

“Discerning and knowledgeable consumers are just as focused on the health and wellness of their pets as they are on themselves,” according to Nielsen’s “Who’s Winning the Claim Game in the Pet Food Arena?"

“So it should come as no surprise that ingredients and product attributes have become key focal points among consumers as they wander through the pet food aisles — both traditional and virtual. Including fresher and more natural ingredients parallels trends across human food, and the sales at the shelf are proof points.”

According to Nielsen data, consumers spent $33 million on pet food with human-grade products over the past year, with carrots, beets and ancient grains ranking as the top three fresh food ingredients in pet food.

In addition, premium offerings, such as food with freeze-dried claims, are increasing as well. Dollar sales of air-drying/dehydrated full-meal pet food have more than doubled over the past three years, growing from $23 million in 2015 to $53 million in 2018 (making up 1% of total dry foods). The premium price tag for these pet foods — which are usually free of added preservatives and offer benefits ranging from improved digestion to shinier coats — can be as high as $33 per pound for pure freeze-dried, while air-dried or dehydrated pet food runs from $10 to $11 per pound. Despite the exorbitant price, Nielsen reports “there is a growing community of consumers willing to pay for premium offerings — and they’re actively popping up on shelves in regular kibble products, either as a ‘coat’ on a kibble or being mixed into the dry food as an enhanced offering.” 

Also, as with human food, shoppers are shifting away from food options with artificial products or colors and unwanted ingredients such as wheat and soy. The meal enhancer also continues to grow as pet owners seek out convenient ways to add nutritional and health benefits to their pet food. Meal enhancers already generate $93 million in sales, according to Nielsen, and they saw more than 25% growth year over year.

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