…thanks to rising demand in emerging markets and consistently solid rates in Europe and North America.

The market is being supported by two megatrends:

  1. Worldwide growth in the # pets – +60 million dogs & cats over next 5 years, driven mostly by emerging markets
  2. ‘Humanization’: In the pet-food market, this means that pets’ diets are evolving in line with humans (eg. a preference for ‘healthy’ and ‘premium’ products), especially in affluent mature markets. We are treating and indeed spoiling our pets like never before: freshly cooked meals have become common, and a ‘doggy spa’ would not have been a viable business a decade earlier.
Players are focusing their strategies on three key areas:

‘Premiumisation’: This trend has been driving dog and cat food for several years, and includes tailor-made offerings that target a specific age, size, lifestyle, or breed. For example, senior pets have very specific needs and preventative care is taken seriously by consumers in developed markets. Premium product categories may be broken down into various segments such as gourmet, artisanal and healthy. The high protein craze is also trickling down into pet food, as pet owners increasingly seek high-protein (and grain-free) products. And even new protein types such as plant-based proteins (sweet potatoes, lentils, tapioca, peas) and insect-based proteins, which offer higher levels of nutrients and are more environmentally friendly.

Premiumisation is no longer niche either: last year we saw Mars launch CRAVE, a high-protein and grain-free pet food at a price point “for the masses”.

Health: Pet owners are demanding greater control over what is eaten, its quality and its quantity. This has led to product reformulations – changes in packaging for both convenience and portion control, and several cut-downs in ingredients such as sugar and salt. For intolerances and allergies, grain-free formulations are becoming popular, as are ‘clean’ ingredients that are considered wholesome and sourced from nature at the exclusion of artificial and/or chemical ingredients. Pea protein is non-allergenic, gluten-free, grain-free and non-animal-based. Algae is also being studied as an alternative healthy & sustainable source of protein. And organic pet food is still niche, but has the potential for high growth – though certification standards need to catch up to ensure transparency and consumer confidence.

In short, there are several new growth opportunities and the larger players are responding by diversifying their product portfolios to include additional segments such as pet-care and health, often through M&A. Mars, for example, has been on the acquisition trail: in June the group announced the purchase of two large veterinary practices in Europe: AniCura, owner of some 200 animal hospitals across seven countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland); and Linnaeus Group, which owns 82 veterinary clinics and five specialist referral centres in England.

E-commerce: Growth in online pet-food sales is strong (as with most consumer segments), and producers creating new digital routes-to-market are benefitting, especially among tech-savvy millennials who have become prominent pet owners. E-commerce provides more convenience and competitive pricing than traditional brick & mortar retailers. Also, the recurring nature of pet food sales and the delivery of these heavy products to customers makes online the most effective gateway. And as online purchases of staples such as pet food become increasingly automated, smart digital players have the opportunity to ‘lock-in’ customers.

The importance and disruptive power of e-commerce was highlighted in 2017, by the acquisition of Chewy.com by PetSmart, the largest brick & mortar pet store chain in the US.


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