Coronavirus Forges New Avenues for Pet Food Fortification

Pet food markets around the world have already proved a certain resilience to the disruption brought along by Coronavirus (COVID-19). Despite the pandemic, global value sales are expected to achieve 2% year-on-year growth by the end of 2020, and to grow again at a faster pace over 2021-2025.

For pet owners, pet food is an essential product; there is a valid comparison with baby food, as pet owners can be expected to compromise first on the perceived quality of their own food before that of their pet, if economic conditions worsen and necessitate such a choice.

The ongoing pet humanisation trend has meant that as people increasingly look to nurture their health preventatively through diet, so do pet owners when it comes to the health of their pet. COVID-19 will refocus owners on the importance of their own health and that of their pets.

The role that pet food fortification plays in preventive health will become even more important, also helping offset the cost of an unplanned visit to the vet. Shoppers’ demands since COVID-19 are also firmly geared to more personalised fortification, especially through online retail, as well as consumer preferences which are more natural and environmentally-aware.

Accelerated shift to digital enables more personalised fortification

Antioxidants, Omega-3 and protein are the most common claims on pet food packaging, as essential nutrients promoted by leading brands such as Hills Science Diet, Royal Canin and Purina Pro Plan. But fortification is increasingly shifting from a nutrient focus – which often serves several health functions – to specific health positioning.

The COVID-19 outbreak has emphasised that trend, with immune system health – already among the top health claims in 2019 – likely to gather momentum in pet food. In Colombia for example, Chunky Menu Natural was launched in 2019 with immune health claims. Digestive health for pets is also a strong attribute in pet food, which is bound to be explored further.

Most Common Claims Made on Pet Food Products Globally in 2019

Source: Euromonitor International, Product Claims and Positioning Module

Lockdown measures and social distancing following COVID-19 have also caused pet owners to increasingly seek products online; something potentially transformative for pet food fortification. With the acceleration of e-commerce, subscription-based pet food retail models have multiplied; offering more and more product customisation to a pet’s particular needs.

Fortification is now expected to cater to parameters such as the animal’s breed, pet size and weight, life stage, activity levels and particular health conditions. For example, Nestlé’s fast-growing pet food subscription service Tails.com in Europe proposes added prebiotics and fibres to promote digestive health among dogs with pancreatitis.

More natural fortification for greater immunity and wellbeing

The importance of clean label claims, such as grain-free, in certain markets, has not diminished throughout the pandemic. COVID-19 has, in a way, given pet owners more specific reasons to shift to more natural products and to seek claims such as “superfood” or “not genetically-engineered”; namely boosting immunity and also mental wellbeing.

 

Most Common Health Benefits Cited in Pet Food Product Claims Globally in 2019

Source: Euromonitor International, Product Claims and Positioning Module

The path to fortification is increasingly through using specific ingredients which are selected for their natural benefits, while the greater focus is also given to the retention of nutrient qualities through less processing.

For example Purina Beneful Superfood Blend was launched in the US in 2019 with antioxidants for enhanced immune health and the on-pack claim “with natural, nutrient-rich ingredients”. In the UK, premium dog food brand Pooch & Mutt offers a Calm & Relaxed dry product for anxious dogs that contains L-tryptophan rich British turkey and chamomile.

Fortification can help pet food become more sustainable

Finally, COVID-19 has further exposed the realities of the wide sustainability challenge; and fortification can act as a tool to aid the transition to more sustainable pet food products. While carbon emissions globally have decreased as a result of industries such as travel and tourism is largely held to a standstill, packaging waste has become even more evident to consumers eating at home more.

The move to plant-based alternatives which is sweeping human food markets is also reshaping pet food. Newer ingredients are creating novelty such as kale, pumpkin and microalgae, invariably considered to have a lower carbon footprint than meat-based products.

In reality, the environmental impact of any ingredient also largely depends on how close to the end market its source is and whether it’s in season. Fish and increasingly insects are also pushed as ingredient types that can lower a pet food product’s environmental footprint. In Italy, 21bau claims to be the first to produce 100% made-in-Italy pet food with edible insects.

The move towards more plant-based foods is however causing uncertainties in matters of pet health; notably around potential deficiencies that can be caused by a lack of meat in a pet’s diet. Fortification can further help a plant-based product reach a more balanced nutritional profile, and thereby make products with a lower carbon footprint a reality.

Fortification needs to be personalised, natural and sustainable

Premiumisation will continue to characterise pet food markets despite COVID-19, as pets are increasingly considered full family members. Standing out from the competition with fortification will require consideration of sought after health benefits such as immunity and mental wellbeing and also natural ingredients, with a good sustainability profile and customised offerings, especially through online subscription models.