Which Pet Food Claims Drive Sales?

Pet product companies must understand the impact of ingredients and the level of scrutiny that consumers apply to the products they purchase.



With more discerning and knowledgeable consumers shopping for pet food, attributes on consumable pet products are certainly front and center. Mirroring the health and wellness movement that has dominated trends in people food, over the past year, pet food has made great strides to include fresher more natural ingredients—especially as consumer’s opt to feed their pets the same healthy ingredients they feed themselves and their families. In fact, according to Nielsen data, over the past year, consumers purchased $33 million worth of food with human-grade products.



 Carrot   $3,427,580,516
 Beet  $1,851,949,271
 Ancient Grains  $1,803,579,289
 Sweet Potato  $1,075,236,217
 Blueberry  $761,521,368
   *Based on total dollar sales in the U.S. All retail outlets combined,
excluding pet specialty and e-commerce, during calendar year 2018.



Beyond fresh, premium offerings such as food with freeze-dried claims are heating up, too. In fact, air-drying/dehydrated full meal pet food dollar sales have more than doubled over the past three years—from $23 million in 2015 to $53 million in 2018—and now make up 1 percent of total dry food sales.


Consumers are attracted to these products because they are usually free of added preservatives and, in some forms, offer enhanced benefits (e.g., for digestion, skin and coat, immunity, etc.). However, these products come with a premium price tag. Pure freeze-dried pet food costs the average consumer approximately $33 per lb. if fed exclusively, and air-dried or dehydrated pet food ranges from about $10 to $11 per lb. That said, there is a growing community of consumers willing to pay for this premium offering, and it’s already popping up on shelves in regular kibble products—either as a coating on a kibble or mixed into the dry food as an enhanced offering.


For brands looking to ride this trend, it will be important to invest in education. Consumers will need to gain a deeper understanding around the differentiating benefits of the freeze-drying and air-drying/dehydrating method, and why it’s worth a higher price tag.



Meal Enhancing Claims Making a Mark

The sub category of meal enhancers will continue to grow as pet owners continue to seek out convenient ways to add nutritional/health benefits to their pet food. Already a $93-million category with 25 percent annual sales growth, meal enhancers are appearing more and more with functional claims to help pets with their digestion, skin/coat or brain health, for example.




In 2018, Petco made headlines when it announced plans to discontinue sales of food with artificial ingredients. This move was in lockstep with the preferences of pet-food consumers. In fact, free from artificial colors is the top attribute in terms of absolute dollar growth over the past 52 weeks.



Claim $ Sales $ Growth YOY % Growth YOY
 Free from Wheat  $4,895,414,167  $331,650,138  7.3%
 Free from Soy  $4,428,241,251  $213,446,031  5.1%
 Free from Artificial Colors  $4,203,924,667  $383,469,515  10%
 Free from Filler  $4,090,935,168  $353,776,172  9.5%
 Free from Corn  $1,518,723,553  $325,592,580  27.3%
*By greatest absolute change in dollar sales year-over-year.
All retail outlets combined, excluding pet specialty and e-commerce.



Public Embracing Private Label

Lastly, we have seen private label products become an ascending player in pet. More and more retail banners in every channel are launching their own brand across all categories. In fact, the number of privately labeled items per store increased from 110 in 2015 to 130 in 2018 (18 percent growth). Distribution of private label items went from selling in 35 percent of all pet retail shops in 2015 to now being offered in 55 percent of all shops in 2018.


So, who’s actually winning the claim game in today’s pet arena? Any and all brands that are tuned into the needs of today’s consumers and creating products that truly meet those needs are best equipped to persevere. Companies need to evaluate their product portfolios and then understand the impact of ingredients and the level of scrutiny that consumers apply to the products they purchase. Today, consumers are looking for exceptional products which fulfill a purpose, products with superior value propositions (inclusive of the right price, availability, sustainability and convenience), and brands that are able to connect on a personal level.


In 2019, consumers will continue to keep a keen eye on product claims. To all brands looking to remain at the top of the game, it is imperative to leverage data to stay in tune with the needs of today’s pet loving consumer.



James Restivo is a client director and pet lead at Nielsen, the purveyor of the industry’s most holistic view of pet retail across both specialty and non-specialty channels inclusive of pet specialty stores, grocery stores and mass merchandisers.


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