U.S. retail sales of dog and cat food approached $40 billion in 2021, up 15 percent over 2020, according to Packaged Facts’ just-released Pet Food in the U.S. (September 2022). Over the 2017-2021 period, dog and cat food garnered a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11 percent.
Recent inflationary prices for pet food only partially spurred that growth. If the pet food market is not wholly proof against hard times, it’s very hardily resistant, as proven in the wake of COVID.
Double-digit sales growth in the pet food market — large and ostensibly mature as it is — is driven by ongoing product premiumization, if not “superpremiumization.” This long-running trend is currently epitomized by the success of the fresh (refrigerated/frozen) pet food category. Fresh pet food tilts toward human-grade in formulation and to direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales in distribution, albeit now trending rapidly into brick-and-mortar as well. This is market revolution, not evolution.
The writing on the wall for fresh pet food is more like a flashing neon Times Square billboard. Refrigerated pet food pioneer Freshpet is projecting 2025 revenue in the $1 billion to $1.25 billion range. Sealing the deal on the future of fresh, Mars launched its Cesar Fresh Chef refrigerated dog food line in December 2021, and acquired DTC fresh pet food marketer NomNomNow in January 2022.
More broadly speaking, “regular” formulation isn’t cutting it for pet food sales growth. Only half of dog and cat owners use regular/adult formulation pet food, in tandem with heightened pet owner attention to the health and wellness needs of pets.
In this vein, pet food sales are benefiting from a reinvigorated focus on superpremium, science-based diets and treats — partly in the wake of the DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) dog food scare, but more broadly due to increased pet-health consciousness in this age of COVID.
Moreover, Packaged Facts reports that 38 percent of dog owners and 36 percent of cat owners like the idea of pet food backed by scientific research. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the pioneer of veterinary clinical nutrition with Hill’s Prescription Diet pet food, saw full-year net sales for the pet food rising 14 percent to $3.3 billion. An important focus for Hill’s, and a buzzword pet industry-wide, is microbiome.
One of most striking aspects of the current wave of science-based pet foods, according to Pet Food in the U.S. author Shannon Brown, is the overlap of the “natural” and “vet-formulated” themes for product positioning, including in the DTC space. Vet’s Kitchen dog and cat foods — “Fresh. Wholesome. Vet-Approved” — exemplifies this product innovation current.
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