The pet food industry often follows trends similar to that of the human food industry, as many pets are considered a vital part of the family.
Owners require the same food for their pets
Pet food manufacturers have been swift to notice the humanisation trend and have come up with a range of pet foods paralleling human food. But do these trends translate into the actual nutritional needs of dogs and cats?
Many owners treat their pets as children, making humanisation one of the key trends driving the pet food market. Pet owners are looking for the same quality meals as they want for themselves.
Consumers look for foods that provide desired health benefits, for example, foods that address weight management, digestive health, heart condition, joints or bones state. They look for food that they believe is beneficial to maintain their own good health and/or prevent disease, so it is a natural step for them to do something similar for their pets.
Focus on health and transparency
Today’s pet owners are looking for ingredients that support overall health and help manage health conditions. But they also want to avoid ingredients that they feel are unsafe or that have been produced in a way that is socially, ethically or environmentally irresponsible. Such ethical claims – like animal welfare, humane raising, sustainable packaging – have risen, despite any scientific or regulatory backing.
Grain-free – the science behind the trend
Gluten-free labels have become popular in grocery stores worldwide. Similarly, sales of grain-free pet food have risen. As human diets have moved away from carbohydrates and gluten, pet food manufacturers have replaced grain with legumes and potatoes.
However, the nutritional value of a grain-free diet has failed to gain consensus among veterinary nutritionists.
For example, some dogs benefit from the high-fiber content of grains, while others may truly have a dietary hypersensitivity. Moreover, grain-free products may be a factor in the number of atypical cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy being investigated by the FDA and veterinary experts recently. The topic will continue to divide experts until studies are conducted to measure long-term effects on pet health.
What about the carbon paw-print?
Recent findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE, reveal how our four-legged companions’ consumption of meat and other animal products adds sizable, and largely overlooked, climate costs.
The author of the study estimated that pet food is responsible for 25-30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption regarding use of land, water, fossil fuel and biocides.
Consumers are increasingly becoming more climate conscientious. One of the ways in which they reduce their pet’s carbon footprint – or rather paw-print – is through feeding a vegetarian or vegan diet. But such diet requires careful nutritional formulation and one should remember that not every dog would benefit from it.
Most human food trends sooner or later will have their equivalent in pet food industry. Ideally, only new products with scientifically proven health benefits should be launched.