6 Takeaways from Global Pet Expo

Several key current and emerging product trends were apparent within aisles of the pet industry's largest annual trade show.



Global Pet Expo (GPE) always provides a chance to see, in person, the products and trends that are driving the pet marketplace—new items and brands taking flight, what leaders in the industry are talking about and developments that may shape future offerings.

Part of the GPE experience, though, is separating what is hype from what is real; great advertising and promotion does not always guarantee traction and revenue. After walking the floor and speaking to many colleagues, I noticed a number of recurring themes—potential trends in the making that could give guidance for retailers making their plans for 2015 and even 2016. Here are my top six GPE takeaways:

1. Freeze-dried blends could be the next premium success story.
Now that natural is a solid category, and grain-free is an established trend, what is the next premium to watch in pet food? There may be huge potential in freeze-dried blends—dry kibble with raw, freeze-dried pieces mixed in. This could be an important transitional category, allowing customers to upgrade to premium kibble while exploring nutrient-rich raw products in a safe and convenient package. In addition, while pure freeze-dried food can be over $30 per pound, these new blends are closer to $4 or $5 per pound. So, you get the health benefits of the raw trend, but without the high prices and high maintenance. Some notable new offerings in this category at GPE were TruFood by Wellness, Wild Pursuit by Natural Balance and Backcountry by Merrick Pet Care—and there are more.

2. Refrigerated/frozen SKUs may be taking a back seat.
Demanding special equipment and space—and suffering from some bad PR—refrigerated/frozen options seem to be in a lull. There were few new offerings in this category at GPE, although sales continue to grow in GfK’s POS retail data.

3. Calorie counting and labeling is another important example of humanization.
There were a variety of products focusing on weight control—low-fat and low-calorie products, especially treats. Everyone wants to reward their pets, but there is always a concern about how much is too much. Manufacturers are trying to make the choices easier for pet owners. Examples that stood out at GPE included Zuke’s Skinny Bakes, Get Naked Low Calorie and Fruitables’ Skinny Minis.

4. Pet food is getting fruity.
Fruit ingredients and flavors are taking center stage in a variety of pet products—from pomegranate to blueberry to pumpkin. Whether these are more healthful for pets seems to be beside the point; the fact that humans like them appears to be enough. Examples include Greenies’ new Blueberry dental treats to K9 Granola’s Pumpkin Cruncher.

5. Environment-friendly products are taking center stage.
The natural trend is no longer just about taking care of your cat or dog; it also extends to the environment. At GPE, cat litter and related products with natural labeling and/or ingredients had a strong presence. Manufacturers are taking almost as much care with litter ingredients—from walnut shells to corn kernels to pine—as they do with pet food recipes. In addition, some manufacturers have partnered with recycling innovator TerraCycle to make pet food packaging green.

But as with natural products across the spectrum, prices can be higher—and do pet owners care as much about the environment as they do about the health of their dogs and cats? There was definitely a push taking shape behind natural litters at GPE, which could signal heavier promotion and growing product lines in the months and years to come. And a new reality show about TerraCycle could give fresh momentum to recycling in the industry.

6. Value brands could pull in deal-loving Millennials.
Halfway between generics and name brands, value brands offer substantially lower prices but with high-quality and recognizable manufacturers. At GPE, Canidae launched its new Under the Sun line of lower-priced SKUs for cats and dogs; and a year ago, Merrick relaunched its Whole Earth Farms products with a big splash. These items seem tailor-made for Millennials, who like the comfort and quality of known brands but also seek out bargains whenever possible.

Maria Lange is senior product manager for GfK’s Retail & Technology team; she can be reached at maria.lange@gfk.com. A special thank you to GfK’s Sharon Hope for her substantial contributions to this month’s column.

Want to learn more about pet owners and shoppers? Write to GfK about becoming a member of its POS database, and receive regular reports on retail trends in the pet space. Contact Dave Stevens at dave.stevens@gfk.com.

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