It’s no secret the pet industry is thriving despite the global pandemic, having reached a milestone in 2020 by exceeding $100 billion in U.S. sales. In the beginning of 2020, panic buying sent people running to the stores to stock up on food and supplies for themselves, as well as their pets. Barren shelves and “sold out” messages online meant essential items, like pet food, were going fast. This resulted in an impressive $6.77 billion lift in pet food spending in the first half of 2020, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey report on annual pet food spending.

Super premium has continued to be a driving trend in the pet food market and can account for a large portion of the lift in the first half of the year. This paired with the ‘humanization’ trend in the pet industry as a whole has allowed for the food market to soar. Pet owners are more conscientious than ever before about what they are giving their pets.

Joe Toscano, vice president of trade and industry development at Purina, recommends retailers show shoppers that there are super premium products on the shelf that can meet their needs regardless of their budget.

“As more and more pet owners are becoming actively engaged and informed about the health of their four-legged friends, super premium pet foods with targeted nutrition, like Purina ONE and Pro Plan, are growing in popularity,” he explained, adding that Purina believes nutrition starts with understanding nutrients, not just ingredients. The best ingredients are the ones that work together to enhance one another’s performance, and the company aims to create a nutrient blend that is more digestible and effective for a pet than a single ingredient.

Purina designs all of its products to enhance the life of pets, but one of its most unique food lines is Pro Plan LiveClear. Not only is the line backed by over a decade of research, LiveClear has been shown to reduce the allergens in cat hair and dander by an average of 47 percent starting in the third week of daily feeding, according to Purina.

In addition to consumers shifting their focus to quality products, the pandemic has forced retailers, and bands, to rethink the way in which people shop. The shift in shopping behavior has led to fewer trips to a brick and mortar store and double-digit growth in e-commerce. For this reason, Toscano suggests that retailers think of e-commerce “as a three-legged stool that includes ship to home, buy online and curbside pickup. All three of these options are necessary to meet consumers where and when they choose to shop.”

Champion Pet Foods also understands that consumer goals have shifted and Billy Frey, the company’s director of marketing, noted “as more people recognize dogs and cats as integral members of the family, the demand for premium, quality nutrition has increased.”

“Pet lovers want to make sure they’re offering not only the best, most nutritious food possible for their dogs and cats, they also want to provide them with abundant variety, understanding that pets experience flavor-fatigue the same way humans do,” he added.

In order to ensure dogs are getting a full range of flavors and exposure to different animal proteins through a rotational diet, Champion offers foods that can also double as meal toppers.

ORIJEN Premium Wet Food, ACANA Premium Chunks Wet Food and ACANA Freeze-Dried Food are newly launched dog foods that meet the growing trend of adding enticing meal toppers and also prioritize quality nutrition. Each of these foods can be fed as a fully balanced, standalone meal on its own if preferred.

The brand also applies these trends to its cat food products. Its new ORIJEN Guardian 8 cat food is made with 90 percent premium animal ingredients, including free-run poultry and wild-caught fish in WholePrey ratios.

“[ORIJEN Guardian 8] was developed by our in-house team of pet nutrition experts to address a variety of common cat ailments by leveraging those quality ingredients to support eight key functions: immune support, digestive health, skin and coat health, muscle maintenance, heart health, joint health, brain function and eye health,” said Frey.

The demand for quality, nutrient-rich foods means brands are forced to rethink their ingredient sourcing and manufacturing practices. This way of thinking spreads across each individual sector of the pet industry, not just the dog and cat market.

Over the past year, Volkman Pet Products has seen an increase in the wild bird hobby due to the pandemic, according to David Block, director of sales and marketing at Volkman.

“The Wild Bird Feeding Institute has created many articles on the benefits of wild bird feeding and watching, which is strongly associated with many positive feelings and emotions,” Block added. “Of course getting the right food is critical as any food has the potential for unwanted guests that can disrupt your bird watching experience.”

Volkman, a business that has been family-owned for three generations, formulates, manufactures and distributes pigeon, companion bird, wild bird, pet poultry and small animal diets. Known for producing high quality seeds and feed, Volkman offers an organic, clean and all-natural line called Avian Organics. The brand created four SKUs dedicated to a better method of feeding your companion bird.

A species-specific diet is essential in maintaining your bird’s optimal health. While most birds follow a base nutritional requirement, there are certain birds that need a diet that is specifically tailored for their needs. Volkman created Avian Science, its legacy brand, for this reason.

“We offer an African Grey mix that has added calcium and Vitamin A to combat common deficiencies in those areas,” said Block. “We are also one of the only companies to offer a blend specific to the Eclectus whose uniquely long digestive tract cannot handle added vitamins.”

Consumers may need help when picking out food for their feathered friend, as some problems, such as behavioral issues, can be linked to nutritional deficiency. Volkman has launched an educational platform on its website to serve as a one-stop data center for all Avian Care questions. Bird owners, and retailers, can visit the site to learn more about avian care.

Birds are not the only animal that needs specific diets. Science Selective recognized this, which has led it to design a line of food that meets the nutritional needs of indoor bunnies. Fortified with Vitamin D, which may be deficient in house rabbits due to insufficient access to daylight, Science Selective House Rabbit food also contains high levels of fiber in the form of Timothy hay, as well as other forage ingredients such as grass and thyme.

Science Selective marketing director Claire Hamblion elaborated that the ingredients “are not only beneficial to the dental and digestive health of bunnies, but can also promote natural foraging behaviors.”

She added, “It’s designed to specifically support house bunnies, giving them a flavor of the outdoor diet of a wild rabbit.”

The Science Selective food range consists of extruded pellets, an increasingly popular offering in the pet food market as they offer a range of benefits to small animals. Made via the process of extrusion, where they are cooked at a high temperature under pressure, the pellets have a crunchy texture, improve pellet digestibility and ensure the animal retains all the vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy.

Additionally, the process requires no added sugar to make the high fiber food palatable and each pellet is made up of a single-component diet which prevents selective feeding. The portion of food that can be offered to the pet is larger, as it has a much lower energy density.

“This means that herbivores like rabbits and guinea pigs can spend longer grazing on their food, enjoying more behavioral enrichment, with a longer chewing time to help support their constantly growing teeth to keep in good shape,” said Hamblion.

For brands that are trying to meet the demands of pet owners, listening to their concerns about better food that is also less harmful to the environment will yield positive results. Nature’s Logic aims to apply the logic of nature to everything it does.

“This means creating 100 percent natural pet food and treats with no synthetics and being a voice for sustainability,” said David Yaskulka, CEO of Nature’s Logic.

The company uses 100 percent renewable energy to produce its kibble and bags and it is the first in the industry to introduce Certified Plastic Neutral bags. Nature’s Logic partners with farmers who focus on ethical and sustainable farming practices to bring consumers 100 percent natural products with no synthetic vitamins. Creating a product line that is sustainable does not mean sacrificing nutritional benefits or taste.

“[Our] Lightly Cooked Frozen Recipes are savory blends of free-range New Zealand meats and our exclusive concentrate of vegetables and fruits. It’s a complete and balanced diet for dogs and cats of all ages, sizes and breeds. The diets are gently cooked then immediately frozen to lock in flavor and nutrients. This is a great option for pet parents who are interested in raw [food], but haven’t yet taken that step,” said David Yaskulka, CEO of Nature’s Logic.

Raw food is a thriving trend in the pet food space with several brands supplying consumers with this form of nutrition. ZIWI, a family-owned business headquartered in New Zealand, was founded with the purpose of bringing joy and peace of mind to pets and their guardians. The goal of its founder was to combine the nutrition found in raw diets with the safe convenience of dry foods.

“For pets that have protein specific allergies, we have single protein recipes to eliminate potential food related allergens from their diet,” explained brand and relationship manager Andrew Tippin. “Because our recipes are complete and balanced, ZIWI makes a great flexible feeding solution – as a tasty training treat, a nutrient-dense meal topper or a complete meal.”

Having recognized the desire for more minimally processed food in the market, all of ZIWI’s products are minimally processed without additional additives or fillers. Its air-dried pet food recipes are complete and balanced for all breeds and life stages.

Raw food is no new feat for Instinct Pet Food. Since its start nearly 20 years ago, the company has been crafting and perfecting raw pet food to bring positive changes in animals, such as softer, shinier coats, lean muscles, stronger body formation, better oral health and better reproductive health.

“In recent years, there has been increasing scientific support of raw; this deepens our commitment to providing even more raw options to meet the needs of a variety of pets and pet parents,” said Gordon Dumesich, chief growth and marketing officer at Instinct.

Like ZIWI, Instinct provides solution-based products with recipes tailored for gut health or skin and coat health, or recipes tailored to a pet’s life stage. Its newest and most advanced recipe line, Instinct Raw Longevity, takes raw nutrition to the next level.

“The ingredients in these enhanced raw recipes were selected with purpose by our pet nutrition scientists to create a blend of high raw meat protein with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to deliver guaranteed health outcomes at each life stage,” said Dumesich.

Though those at Instinct are no stranger to the raw food diet, the company understands not every retail worker or consumer is as knowledgeable. To help educate store associates, and in turn pet owners, Instinct offers training via its online training portal, Instinct University. Industry experts created courses that cover a wide range of topics from pet nutrition to Instinct products to the science behind raw.

Dumesich explained, “Instinct also offers digital support for retailers to create an omnichannel strategy and drive consumers into stores. These tools and resources will make it easier for associates to confidently recommend raw and make a successful transition for pet parents who are new to raw.”

For the pet parents who are not looking to switch to a raw diet, but are looking to introduce their dog to a new product, Fromm Family Foods has released a new addition to the Four-Star Nutritionals collection of gourmet food for dogs. The newest recipe comes from a company with seven decades of experience in the business.

As a fifth generation family-owned company, Fromm is committed to providing high-quality pet products. The brand’s team aims to bring innovative cat and dog food products to assist with health ailments and lie stages. The new Four-Star Nutritionals Trout & Whitefish Recipe Dog food features a grain-inclusive blend of trout and whitefish, which provides pet owners with a fresh new diet option for even the pickiest of pets.

“Our Four-Star Nutritionals product line provides premium, diverse recipes for pets that are inspired by flavors from around the globe,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm, in a July company press release. “The launch of Trout & Whitefish Recipe for cats was very well-received, and we’re thrilled to be bringing this recipe to our Four-Star canine offerings.”

Health and wellness trends are booming and brands continue to capitalize on the growth by expanding their offerings. One brand, however, wanted to make natural pet food more accessible to pet parents over 10 years ago. Launched in 2009, Whole Earth Farms is a natural value pet food line from Merrick Pet Care.

“The industry has changed a lot over the last decade. Although we quickly cemented our position as a pioneer in the value natural pet food category we also recognized that we need to continue to evolve and change to meet the need of today’s pet parent as well as their pets,” said Jilliann Smith, director of communication at Merrick Pet Care.

In order to stay competitive in today’s market, Merrick updated its Whole Earth Farms Recipes for Dogs. Developed with a team of veterinarians and nutrition experts, the new kibble recipes were created with natural ingredients with added vitamins, minerals and probiotics to help support digestibility, less shedding, shiny coat, strong nails and healthy skin. Additionally, the packaging was designed to help pet parents better understand a dog’s unique nutritional needs, with a food pyramid, similar to that for humans.

An interesting trend Smith notes is the “kibble plus” craze. Merrick has recognize that although this trend is up and coming, it most likely is here to stay.

For this reason, according to Smith, “[Merrick] had a lot of success with our Merrick Backcountry line which has freeze dried raw pieces of meat. It’s an inclusion of freeze-dried raw within the kibble.”

Another product that falls into the kibble plus category is the new Healthy Grains Freeze-Dried Raw-Coated Kibble. The kibble dog food provides the convenience of kibble with the added nutrition and taste of raw. High-quality proteins like deboned beef, chicken and salmon are freeze-dried to preserve essential nutrients before being crushed and used to coat every piece of kibble.

“I think you’re seeing a lot of innovation in that kibble plus category and we will continue to see a push for food that features high-protein levels, which is something that is core to our Merrick recipes,” said Smith.

As with most pet categories, innovative brands will be the ones that set the trends, often motivated by nutritionists and consumer demand. As these new trends arise, the pet food industry will evolve and adapt to bring pet parents additional high quality diets that benefit the companion animal while pleasing the consumer. After all, the goal for pet manufacturers is to provide consumers with food options that will enable their companion animals to live a long, healthy life.