Savor the Flavor

Pleasing the pet palate is big business, and manufacturers are stepping up with a veritable smorgasbord of new flavors to meet the diverse demands of pet owners.


Would you serve your family something called “meat” for dinner? And for dessert, would you offer a dish named just “pie”—a crust with bland, generic filling?

As we know, today’s pet owners want to give their dogs and cats all of the amenities that they themselves enjoy, which explains why flavored pet foods are surging in popularity. The days of selling pet dinners as “Original Flavor” or “Classic Recipe” are over. In the new pet marketplace, dog and cat food must not only be natural and healthy—grain-free, gluten-free, even locally sourced—but also appeal to the human palate and appetite.

Products like Bocce’s Truffle Mac & Cheese with Bacon or Grammy’s Pot Pie from Merrick are taking humanization to the next level, maybe an all-time zenith. Dog owners can pamper their pooches with “coffee,” in the form of Yappuchino or Pup-kin Spiced Latte treats from Three Dog Bakery—other options include Pup-permint Mocha and Beg Nog Latte. For coffee abstainers, there are canine supplements in the form of tea from The Honest Kitchen.

Although chicken remains the main pet food protein, accounting for about four in 10 dog and cat SKUs, sales of once-rare protein flavors have been growing. Among dogs, rabbit recipes are up 46 percent year over year (for data ending in October 2014), while salmon has jumped 15 percent, and exotic has achieved an eight-percent boost. For cats, pork recipes are up 98 percent, rabbit has leaped 71 percent, and duck is taking flight with a 17-percent gain. We have also seen a three-percent year-over-year drop in sales of foods with a “not specified flavor,” including a seven-percent dive among cat items.

A good deal of the flavor-full activity in pet food has centered on another trend—holiday-themed items. Sales of Halloween SKUs with pumpkin flavoring have doubled compared to last year, now totaling $20 million annually. Cranberry-flavored foods have also doubled in revenue, accounting for $10 million in yearly sales in our latest data. And gingerbread revenues quadrupled compared to last year—though these items remain a very small segment of the market (less than $100,000 annually).

We have seen sales of some flavored items, such as vanilla and peppermint, post declines year over year; but the latest new product launches—such as Christmas-themed SKUs—may turn these trends around late in 2014. And for every loser, there was at least one winner, such as peanut butter-flavored dog food, which grew eight percent year over year.

What can a savvy retailer do to stay on top of this trend? Display some of the more ingenious items, such as Three-Dog Bakery’s cup holder, to capture the wow factor. Don’t be afraid to try new flavors when you order, as your customers may be way ahead of you in their readiness to experiment. And keep your ears open; word of mouth remains a powerful tool for learning what your clients and their friends are talking about and want to try.

Maria Lange is senior product manager on GfK’s Retail and Technology team, helping clients make the most of GfK’s pet specialty data and insights.

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. For more information, contact Dave Stevens at

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