Revenue in the global pet food market amounts to a whopping US $147.30 billion in 2023, with the market expected to grow annually by 11.11% (compound annual growth rate 2023-2027).1 With the rapid growth of this sector, it’s important veterinary professionals stay updated on the latest pet food trends to inform clients on the best available options. At the 2023 Fetch dvm360® Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, “America’s Pet Advocate,” highlighted some of these trends—and their caveats—to be knowledgeable about this year.2
Pet owners want sustainable, environmentally friendly options for their pets that also mimic trends in human nutrition, and this is where the demand for plant-based pet foods comes in. Not to mention, these diets can also benefit pets with food allergies or sensitivities to animal proteins. There is concern when feeding a plant-based diet that it may not provide all necessary nutrients, but if the diet is still complete and balanced, there is evidence it can function the same as a meat-based diet. In fact, Ward highlighted a research study3 in which 12 sprint-racing Siberian huskies were fed either a commercial diet recommended for active dogs, or a meat-free diet formulated to the same nutrient specifications. Blood samples and veterinary health exams were conducted at regular intervals, and revealed that the hematology results for all dogs, regardless of diet, were within the normal range throughout the study and the consulting veterinarian assessed all dogs to be in excellent physical condition.
Ward also noted an emerging trend in this realm to read up on is insect-based pet foods. “I think a lot of veterinarians don’t have any idea where mealworms come from, how crickets are sourced,” he added, “And I encourage you to just do a Google search on insect-based pet foods, and you’re going to be surprised at the number of media sources.”
Personalized nutrition plans
The preference for online shopping options has made its way into the pet food world and with this has come a rise in online pet food delivery services, and accordingly, personalized nutrition plans. These diets are made to meet a pet’s unique nutritional needs, breed and health conditions. Though Ward’s an advocate for this concept of an individualized diet, he warned attendees of the cunning marketers who may appeal to their client’s emotions. He advised researching the popular pet food companies offering these services to determine whether they are legit. He said clients tend to be more enticed by the personalized aspect, rather than if the diet will genuinely benefit their pet.
“[Clients] go and fill out an online assessment of [their] dog, and the website spits out something. Now they only spit out about 4 different [pet food] varieties, but guess what, it’s personalized.” However, Ward continued, “I’m still fighting for the other way. I’m fighting for real personalized nutrition. These are all websites, this personalized nutrition message, is driving on emotions, not science…So I must necessarily turn that emotion back towards health outcomes, because that’s always the biggest focus of emotion.You want things to be better, you want things to be healthier, you want things to be improved.”
Veterinary professionals are familiar with the power of functional ingredients and research supporting their benefits for digestion, skin and coat health, and much more. Additionally, clients are now in search for these ingredients in their pets’ food, so manufacturers are including them to meet their needs. However, Ward noted, “Every company now touts probiotics, omega-3s, glucosamine, right? It’s in everything. And I do think there’s a bit of danger of diluting that message. Because I think some of these products are lousy, I think some of the percentages of active [ingredients] aren’t delivering any health improvements whatsoever.”
He recommended master deciphering pet food labels with functional ingredients to help clients make the best decisions regarding these products.
- Pet food – worldwide. Statistics. Accessed April 19, 2023. https://www.statista.com/outlook/cmo/food/pet-food/worldwide
- Ward E. The future of pet food: top 5 trends for 2023. Presented at Fetch dvm360 conference; Charlotte, North Carolina. March 24-26, 2023.
- Brown WY, Vanselow BA, Redman AJ, Pluske JR. An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs. Br J Nutr. 2009;102(9):1318-23. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509389254.