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Five pet food trends to look out for in 2023

The 2020s have been a tumultuous decade so far. As we begin another year of this unpredictable decade, it seems that uncertainty continues to be one of the abiding themes.

But it is not the only one, far from it!

Here at C&D Foods, we not only formulate and manufacture complete and balanced pet nutrition for brands and retailers, we also keep a close eye on market trends so that we can advise our customers on strategy and support both their commercial goals and the value proposition that matters to pet owners. In a volatile world, people take comfort in their pets; no matter what else in going on, their pets are faithful and valued companions. As a consequence, trends in pet food requirements, while they may be influenced by outside factors, remain firmly rooted in every pet owner’s core goal – to do their very best for their pet.

So what key trends should pet food brands and retailers look out for in 2023?

  1. Premiumisation

While the growth in pet ownership may have slowed following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions across Europe last year, the impact of the pandemic continues to influence the way we value and interact with our pets. During the isolation of lockdowns and travel restrictions, pet owners became closer to their cats and dogs than ever, and the companionship pets provide has accelerated the trend towards premiumisation in pet food.

Many pet owners worked from home during the pandemic and, across Europe, there has been a lasting shift in working routines, with many people continuing to work partly or entirely from home. More time together has further increased the bond between owner and cat or dog, which, in turn, is building on pet owners’ desire to ensure pets eat a high quality diet of food that is both enjoyable and healthy.

This trend is driving growth in the value of the wet food segment, particularly in developing pet food markets, such as Poland, while in France, there is a focus on selecting natural, healthy foods in preference to overly processed varieties.

The cost of living increases throughout Europe are putting pressure on household budgets, which will have some impact on this trend. Nevertheless, pet owners will continue to prioritise the health and wellbeing of their cats and dogs by selecting premium pet foods over other areas of domestic spending.

  1. Humanisation

Closely linked to the premiumisation trend is the continuing focus on humanisation as pet owners increasingly treat their cats and dogs as an integral part of their human family, and instinctively want to please them with palatability, reward, nutrition, and variety in just the same way.

This trend is driving innovation in the pet food market as brands and retailers seek new ways to provide pet owners with products that add variety, new flavours and new formats to their pets’ diets. It has led to the launch of new treats and mixers, along with health-focused products, often with packaging that echoes the packs we would expect to see on shelf for products made for humans.

The challenge for both the pet food industry and for pet owners is to combine the humanisation trend with a responsible approach to ensuring that pets do not succumb to human habits that can led to obesity and health conditions. Instead, at C&D Foods, we focus on considering the opportunities to leverage this trend to enhance pet health.

  1. Sustainability

Concern about the climate crisis has made pet owners consider the environmental impact of all their consumer choices, including what they feed their cats and dogs, and how those products are packaged. It is also highlighting the need for locally sourced ingredients to reduce the embodied carbon in pet food products.

In Germany, for example, where there is already a strong focus on sustainability, pet owners are concerned about making the right choices for both their pet’s health, and for the environment. This translates to a focus on natural ingredients containing no additives or preservatives, with recycled and/or recyclable packaging.

The sustainability trend is also driving product development with alternative proteins, such as insect-based products, as consumers recognise the impact of intensive farming. All of these trends are inter-connected, so it is only natural that the escalating move towards flexitarian diets in humans is influencing the way that pet owners see their cats’ and dogs’ diets, challenging pet food manufacturers to deliver on sustainability without compromising on pet health.

  1. Health

The healthy eating trend is also closely linked to humanisation, with pet owners more conscious of the role of nutrition for their own health and wellbeing, particularly after Covid, and keen to translate this to the way they look after their pets.

There has been a rise in the range of health supplements and wellbeing products for dogs and cats, along with tailored pet food formulations. While super-premium bespoke formulations to tackle specific pet health concerns may be beyond the budget of many cat and dog owners, there is a move towards functional pet foods, with natural ingredients that have been formulated to address specific health concerns, such as joint care, heart function, and even mental health.

Brands and retailers need to consider clear and concise ingredients lists that emphasise the health benefits of dog and cat food products and highlight the hero ingredients that have proven health benefits for pets.

  1. E-Commerce

Alongside the trends affecting what pet owners are selecting for their pets, the last trend to watch out for in 2023 is where they are buying pet food.

Again, Covid has had an influence here, as more shoppers turned to online purchasing during lockdowns and have adopted e-commerce or a mix of online and in-store shopping as part of their regular pet food buying habits. For product development, this opens the door to new formats, particularly multi-packs and bulk-buy ranges, because e-commerce enables pet owners to receive their pet supplies by delivery rather than carrying them home or lifting them in and out of the car.

For brands and retailers, it also puts an emphasis on packaging design, to ensure that the pack stands out on screen as well as on shelf. At C&D Foods, establishing a packaging strategy that will work across channels is all part of the product development service we offer.

Local factors

All of these trends can be seen right across Europe, and in each local market they are complemented by country-specific factors. At C&D Foods, part of our remit is to support our customers with consumer and commercial insights so that they can innovate and thrive, while keeping pets (and their owners!) happy and healthy.