Evolution in pet food has come a long way and new food trends emerge every year. As knowledge about pet nutrition increases more and more specific foods hit the market place. Veterinary nutrition has become a mature science that strives at discovering the essential food nutrients and their optimum dosage.
It is believed that the life span of our beloved pets has increased due to the revolution in cat and dog food. Estimates are that the life expectancy of dogs has increased by 3 years in the last 15 years because of the developments in dog food.
Nowadays there is breed-specific pet food, health stage-specific food, prescription food, and natural and holistic food. Pet food history shows us the evolution from table scraps to ultra-premium dog food based on the pet’s personal DNA profile.
The very basic objective of pet food is to sustain and maintain your pet’s body. All pet food should contain at least contain the minimum amounts of amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and fats to comply with this objective. To also deliver energy to your pet so they can run and play there must be sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and fats present. The very first commercial dog food (beginning 19th century) did nothing more than that as it was high in sugar and starch.
In the nineties, dog food was developed based on physiological differences between the different pet breeds. Also, size, age, and activity level were taken into account. In this century dog food has become more advanced. For instance, the dog genome has been sequenced and more knowledge is gained about the relation between food nutrients and disease or between calorie restriction and life span. More knowledge is gained about breed-specific diseases and nutritional requirements. And as we also see in the human food business, health food is a big business. Health and wellness is a pet food trend in itself. Nutraceuticals gain more attention and the development of these has not stopped.
On top of the basic objectives (sustain the body + deliver energy) we want pet food to help prevent certain diseases. Manufacturers enrich pet food with supplements such as antioxidants, prebiotics, and probiotics for cats and for dogs, glucosamine, omega-3, and omega-6.
As more and more different dog food products hit the market, competition grows and marketing becomes very important for a food manufacturer. Buzz words and health claims are printed on dog food bags, with beautiful pictures of healthy happy dogs running in the woods towards a bowl of dog food with fresh peas and risotto. Pet food has become a big business. The millions of dollars are to be divided by the top dog food companies whereas niche players are trying to get a bite of this by delivering super-premium dog food or specialized food for pets with health problems.
The marketing department is greatly inspired by the trend of pet humanization or anthropomorphism. Dog owners start calling themselves pet parents and are treating their canine companion as little humans with fur. This is all fine of course as long as everybody’s happy. Though there are risks involved. Amongst others: Dogs will be dogs and they have different nutritional needs than humans. That pizza that you love is certainly not the best meal for your furry friend. So ignore dog food names such as ‘Chinese take out with vegetables and chicken’ and turn around the bag to read the dog food label.
The most recent step in pet food evolution is the approach to speed up recovery from specific illnesses. Certain nutrients are now added or removed from the food recipe. So with prescription food and curative pet food, the evolution of food has progressed one step further since we got from feeding to prevention.
Another recent trend in commercial dog food is the development of natural dog food and holistic dog food. A lot of emphasis is displayed on the human-grade ingredients that are used. Holistic dog food is about looking after the well-being of the whole animal and not just the individual parts.
Perhaps the biggest competitor for commercial pet food is homemade diets. In emerging markets, most pets are still fed table scraps as their main diet. However, in developed markets, the food penetration levels are between 50 and 75% when one looks at the proportion of calories that are coming from commercial dog food. This means that there is still growth potential for ready-made dog food as convenience is also a big market driver. Home-cooked meals and leftovers will continue to compete against commercial dog food especially with the recent big recalls in mind. A lot of concerned dog owners turned to the art of canine cuisine and even dog food cooking classes emerged.
And we will probably continue to see new dog food trends. Science continues, the market changes, new food ingredients are developed and pet food recalls and environmental awareness changes the food landscape.
In other words, time marches on, things change so pay attention to what you buy for your pets.