The recent recall of select canned dog food, as well as other pet food, has again put consumers on alert. In January alone, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced seven recalls — 15 if you count December 2018. In fact, 60 percent of pet parents are concerned about the safety of pet food, reports Packaged Facts (packagedfacts.com).
In the aftermath of the “Great Pet Food Recalls of 2007” — in which more than 100 pet food brands resulted in deaths of thousands of dogs and cats — stringent new pet food safety initiatives were signed into law, says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. Authority for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered mandatory product recalls, Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations for all animal feed facilities, more frequent plant inspections and a zero-tolerance policy for pathogenic bacteria.
The 2007 recalls caused pet owners to trend up to pet food varieties they considered to be safer, such as those marketed with claims like natural, organic, limited ingredient, human-grade, made in the USA, free-from China-sourced ingredients, non-GMO and “clean.” As a result, sales surged, and most with these claims continue to outperform regular pet food, the report reveals.
Despite improvements and upgrades, the pet food market still faces safety concerns due to contaminants such as Listeria, Pentobarbital and Salmonella, among others. However, the most recent wave of recalls involved not a pathogenic bacteria but rather an oversaturation of vitamin D — an essential nutrient for dogs that can be toxic or even fatal in large doses.
While it is always top of mind to keep up on the sector, consumers are losing trust in many companies. And, small and large pet food manufacturers are realizing that consumers expect more from pet food, and they are taking measures to offer more natural ingredients, nutrition information on front of pack and transparent packaging because of it. Grain free and whole meats (with no byproduct “meals”), with fruits and/or vegetables and vitamins and minerals are most popular.
Better Ingredients, Better Pets
One such brand is Supreme’s Science Selective brand, offering pet food and treats for rabbits, rats and mice, guinea pigs, and hamsters. The range was developed to meet consumer demand for products tailored to the needs of each species and age group of small pets. The Selective range is recommended by veterinarians as it provides optimum nutrition for small pets.
The packaging that was designed by Cowan London (cowan.com/london) comes in resealable pouches and offers a clear window strip showing the food pellet product inside. The small-pet food comes in 12 oz. to 8.8 lb. packages.
The brand needed a modern design for improved shelf standout without alienating Supreme’s loyal customer base. Cowan London created a clean and contemporary brand mark that communicates a balance of science and nature that the products are known for, while incorporating “science” into the brand mark for the first time.
British pet food company Butcher’s is using a new can by Ardagh Group (ardaghgroup.com) for its wet dog food. The company wanted to highlight the food packaging’s recyclability to consumers. Butcher’s also replaced plastic shrink wrap on multipacks with biodegradable paperboard.
The 400- and 1200-g metal cans are at the heart of Butcher’s environmental pledge, which states: “Our cans are infinitely recyclable forever. These metals can be easily and sustainably turned into new materials, like car parts, bicycles or even more cans!”
Every dog deserves naturally nourishing food, every day — a mantra that has contributed to the success of the leading family owned pet food manufacturer since its formation in 1987.
Butcher’s pet food is made with natural ingredients, including tripe, chicken, beef, lamb, salmon or liver, whole grains (also grain free), sweet potatoes, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and other beneficial oils, prebiotics, garden vegetables and other ingredients.
Redbarn Pet Products, a leading manufacturer of premium pet food, treats and chews, offers all-natural Filled Bones, one of its most popular products. Thanks to a proprietary process that keeps the filling semi-moist, it is tastier for pups and allows the filling to adhere to the bone walls rather than sticking to carpet. The beef femur bones are bathed in industrial steel vats, allowing them to naturally clean themselves without bleach or harsh chemicals.
The Filled Bones come in resealable pouches in various sizes for small, medium and large dogs. Flavors include Bully Stick and Cheese and Bacon.
Redbarn also came out with an educational video series starring real animal talent and the company’s most popular products, including Bully Sticks and Protein Puffs. It is part of the company’s commitment to manufacture safe, quality treats as well as to educate the pet community on the importance of feeding treats and foods with health-promoting, energy-boosting benefits.
The Nature’s Bounty Co., a global leader in human health and wellness for more than 70 years, launched Mac+Maya, a new line of premium supplements for dogs. The line of soft chew supplements contain a selection of products that are formulated to help support joints, digestive health, glossy skin and coats, relieve occasional stress and overall nutrition.
Mac+Maya supplements are developed by veterinarians and made in the U.S. with globally sourced ingredients. They are wheat-free and contain no artificial flavors or colors. The five products are: Joint Support with Glucosamine, Daily Multivitamin with Breath Support, Omega Skin & Coat with Salmon Oil, Digestive Health with Probiotics and Calming Aid with Melatonin.
The clear jars come in different sizes with a wood-grain closure and a paw print on the top, in the same color as the label for easy differentiation.
How Consumers Purchase
The internet is taking sales from brick-and-mortar retailers, yet online sales are driving incremental growth in the market as a whole by promoting in-demand brands and auto ship renewals. Millennial pet owners are willing to pay more for quality products, especially those featuring sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients.
Other opportunities reside in specialized diets targeting the aging pet population and in high-quality, freshly made pet food prepared in-store or ordered online for home delivery. Many companies offer this service, such as Chewy.com, Petflow.com, Drs. Foster and Smith (now a division of Petco), PetSmart and Tractor Supply Company.
If you want to keep ahead in the pet food sector, provide premium products with natural ingredients and be clear about what’s in the food, as well as the packaging that surrounds the product.
Pet Food at a Premium
We got with Bill Kuecker, vice president of marketing of Mondi Jackson (mondigroup.com) to get his take on recent pet food trends. Here is what he shared:
Packaging Strategies: What are the drivers of recent pet food packaging growth?
Bill Kuecker: The pet food category as a whole has seen very dramatic change and growth in consumer spend over the last several years, most notably within the premium segments of the market. While there are many contributing factors, a predominant driver is the decades-long evolution in consumers’ minds toward viewing pets as true members of the family. Consumers who are farther along within this continuum have showed willingness to significantly increase spending on all aspects of their pets’ lives.
What recent packaging innovations have you noted in pet food packaging?
BK: 2018 saw a large focus in sustainability advantaged materials across the flexible packaging industry. There have already been several examples on store shelves of pet food brands being early adopters of these developments. The pet food sector also has been receptive to developments within convenience features such as reclosing and easy opening and others. As in other premium categories, pet food brands have often been open to developments that allow appearance differentiation such as new coatings and finishes and the newly released ultra HD flexographic print.
Do you believe pet food will continue to grow in the coming years?
BK: While pet food as a whole is forecasted by most sources for continued growth, the premium and super premium sub-segments are now a hypercompetitive market, and it will be difficult for brands to maintain the same rapid growth that many of them have enjoyed. If growth slows within these sub-segments, I do expect more brands to increase focus on packaging as a tool to differentiate their offerings.
What about ingredients — are new ingredients (such as plant-based or unique additions) being used?
BK: Reviews of store-shelf offerings continually show new ingredients and new categories in the premium pet food segment, as well as a seemingly continuous expansion of SKUs. With this continual growth, the difficulty for brands is how to distinguish themselves within this “sea of product.” I expect progressive brands to partner with their packaging suppliers as they undertake this challenge.