Fewer Ingredients, More Sales

Some of today’s hottest pet nutrition categories are defined not by what’s in the food, but rather what is left out.



Pet owners today have so many worries when it comes to their furry friends—obesity, food allergies and even gluten sensitivity. Reading small-type ingredient lists is time consuming and may seem to require a degree in chemistry, as well as nutrition. So what is a conscientious, loving pet parent to do?

Sometimes, the only way to feel really secure about what pets eat is to go back to basics. Pet food manufacturers have gotten the message that less can be more, and a growing trend in the industry has been marketing by omission—pointing wary pet owners to products that they can be sure are free of potentially harmful or threatening ingredients.

A recent example of the less-is-more phenomenon is the adoption of limited ingredient diets (LID). Originally intended to make dinner safe for food allergic pets, LID products have now been adopted by pet owners who simply want to know, for sure, what is in the food they serve their pets. Data from GfK’s nationwide point-of-sale (POS) retail panel shows U.S. LID sales have grown by six percent in the last year alone.

Grain-free items were early to the party, and very successfully so. In fact, they now account for an amazing $3.1 billion in U.S. sales annually, according to GfK’s data. But this was just the beginning of the list of pet food omitters, which seems to be expanding every day. Here are just a few we have seen of late:

Ideal for pet owners worried about their furry friends’ obesity risks, low-glycemic foods may use chickpeas and potato substitutes, or even just sweet potatoes instead of the white variety. However, if you are feeding the right balance of cooked potatoes along with meats and vegetables, your pet will be just fine.

Chicken- or Poultry-Free
Some manufacturers are using kangaroo, wild boar or other novel proteins instead of poultry or beef. These extreme options help address one of the most common food allergies among pets.  


Carrageenan is a seaweed-based thickener that has been associated with gastrointestinal inflammation, which can cause ulceration and bleeding. Even if carrageenan is not the threat that some sources assert, why not look for products that leave it out?

Added to oils to slow deterioration, synthetic preservatives can cause dry skin, allergic reactions and dental disease. Some studies suggest they may even be linked to cancer. Alert manufacturers are switching it out in favor of tocopherols, which are natural antioxidants.  

Right now, we are only seeing a few products highlighting these ”free-of” claims—often from smaller manufacturers and predominantly found at specialty neighborhood pet shops. But that is the classic path for a pet food trend that is getting ready to make the leap from niche to mainstream. This may also be a big opportunity for the raw pet food market, which offers products that are free of any type of fillers, synthetics and preservatives.

The truth is that, for pet product makers, behind every human worry there may be an opportunity to help alleviate that concern for pet owners when it comes to their furry family members. It is compassionate and smart at the same time—a combination that cannot help but succeed.

Maria Lange is business group director of GfK’s Pet POS Tracking team. Want to find how GfK data can help drive better decisions for your store or brand? Contact me at maria.lange@gfk.com


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