Convenience, enjoyment and health: parallels between marketing human and pet foods

Trends help us to better understand consumers, and consequently to develop brands and products orientated towards their needs. As a rule of thumb trends are defined as lasting at least 10 years. In the food business these long-term trends shape markets for both human food and pet food.

Trends are an outgrowth of societal inclinations in a particular direction: expressions of wants or needs, or simply long-term socio-economic or sociocultural developments. Whenever a new trend is promoted it is important to ask the questions “Is it in line with consumer wants and needs?” and “Is it in line with sociocultural development or is it just a short-term fashion?”

Relevant trends


Macro-trends are long-standing cultural shifts and can be found in most highly industrialized markets like the United States, Europe or Japan. Whenever food or pet food trends are discussed they should be connected with at least one of the macrotrends. Otherwise they might simply be a passing fashion. Macro-trends affecting food markets today follow:

  • Aging society. Not only people (Eurostat, 2006; US Census Bureau, 2004), but also companion animals are living longer, partly due to their domestic roles and partly due to prepared pet food. The Purina Pet Care Center in Missouri found that a lifetime of restriction feeding can help add up to two years to a dog’s lifespan (Purina, 2002). Like people, aging pets suffer from age-related diseases.
  • Individualization. In most countries the number of people per household is declining (The Economist, 2002). One response of the food industry has been customization. Personalized nutrition (i.e., nutrigenomics) is on the brink of becoming reality, whereby foods will be tailored to match individual health needs.
  • Time constraints/multi-tasking. People today are more time stressed than their ancestors (US Dept. of Labor, 2004). They want convenience and are ready to pay for it.
  • Feminization. With more women in the work force (Eurostat, 2006), there has been a growing trend toward feminization, i.e. values like intuition, emotions, instinct or team spirit. In the conservative area of business, this trend is emerging slowly, but perceptably. Feminization tends to be holistic, promoting the concept that body, mind and soul should be in harmony.
  • Time/wealth polarization. Today’s society is polarized between wealthy people with crowded schedules and poor people with an excess of disposable time. Likewise, the food market has become polarized between high priced products and low priced products.
  • Globalization. Shipping raw materials and finished products across the globe has specific implications for food. Those who have difficulty coping with globalization often try to escape to more protected and known regionalized products.
  • Obesity. Fighting obesity has become one of the major challenges of the food industry. Mintel (2006) expects that portion control will be one of the key future food trends. A study by Sibley (1984) confirms that dogs owned by the overweight or elderly are more likely to be fat. Like the human food market, the pet food market promotes carnitine as a ‘fat burner’ for weight control.


Although not all human food trends are highly relevant to pet food, three key food trends that do apply are convenience, enjoyment, and health. Moreover, these trends also apply to other product categories such as body care (Trendletter, 2005; Rützler, 2005).

Convenience. With today’s busy lifestyles, simple solutions that save time are desirable. Ready-to-eat/ready-to-heat meals, chilled salads or frozen pizzas are classic food examples, as well as easy-to-open packaging and, of course, prepared pet food.

Enjoyment. To compensate for stressed lifestyles, people tend to reward themselves with highly indulgent food. They look for variety and new sensations, new tastes, new colors, shapes and textures, and eat cross-over or fusion food combining taste experiences from different regions of the world. In the world of pet food, premium indulgence brands like Sheba, Cesar, or Gourmet Gold have likewise become successful.

Health. Compared with our ancestors, people today frequently work on multiple tasks, have longer work days, and live longer (Eurostat, 2006). To cope with these changes, fitness and health have become more important. Healthy food offers several ways of maintaining balance and matching life stages and lifestyles. Good health in eating also requires eating in moderation. Just as more human food products are advertised as offering portion control, this trend is also becoming evident in pet foods.

The growing market segment of organic food or biofood, free from chemical additives, has become mainstream in spite of higher prices. Organic produce and health are linked in the eyes of consumers. Of European consumers, 57% believe biofood is healthier (GFK-BVE, 2005). In the 2004 European market, organic food was already worth more than €11bn (European Commission, 2005).

Some natural food products fall into the category of functional foods. Functional foods are designed to prevent or reduce diseases. Of European households, 27% regularly buy cholesterol-reducing oils or margarines and 20% regularly buy yogurts with probiotics/acidophilus cultures (GFK-BVE, 2005; Nielson, 2005). In France, the LU brand launched Petit Déjeuner Biscuits, enriched with vitamins, iron and calcium, targeting children and designed to release energy slowly to aid physical and mental stamina. In the future, more functional and nutrigenomic products are anticipated to fight obesity, prevent cancer or heart disease, strengthen the immune system, support cognitive function, or keep joints fit.

In pet foods there exist several ranges of healthy products for all life stages of cats and dogs. There are many examples of manufactured natural pet foods: the Exclusively Dog brand in America sells natural dog treats with kosher ingredients; other brands use chicory or oligosaccharides to improve gut health; yucca extract helps reduce bad odor; cranberry helps prevent urinary tract infections; and the Malaysian brand Perfect Companion has a Smart Heart range with garlic extracts to support the pet’s heart health.

Purina ONE Natural Blends from the US support digestive health using antioxidants and omega fatty acids from natural sources, including canola and soy oil. There are functional foods to clean teeth, reduce tartar, develop a shiny coat, or control cat hairballs. Eukanuba, Hill’s and Royal Canin are highly segmented health-positioned pet food brands. Affinity and other manufacturers offer breed-, size- or performance-specific products or a rather extreme segmentation by length of cat hair. Doglovers/Catlovers Gold is a natural health product range containing a natural fortification with vitamins, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and Yucca schidigera, which is beneficial for skin disorders. Similarly, Hill’s j/d is a nutrigenomic product supporting joint health.

In addition, there is ‘clean’ food (e.g., food free from gluten) that prevents allergies. Several hypoallergenic pet food brands, like Gelert or Stuzzy, are already on the market. What is missing is a more holistic approach to health food. Perhaps with the growing macro-trend of feminization this approach will become more prevalent.


A notable, emerging trend is origin labeling, which has historical roots in commodities such as wine or olive oil (e.g., Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)) and cheeses (e.g., Stilton, Rocquefort, Grana Padano). Within the context of the Slow Food movement, in recent years increasing value has been placed on regional products and cuisines that were otherwise becoming scarce. Just as natural foods’ lack of chemical additives is a counter-reaction against globalization, which demands long-term preservation, so too, regional foods are a counter-reaction to globalization. Ethnic foods are also connected to origin foods (Rützler, 2005).

Examples of pet foods that address the origin trend are cat food containing Nantucket Bay scallop (Greenies), haddock from Sweden (Bozita), and Stuzzy beef from New Zealand. Nutro Products sell Orleans Seafood Jambalaya as part of their Gourmet Classics cat food brand.

Pet food


For nearly every human food addressing a trend there is a matching pet food. This phenomenon stems from the fact that today most cat or dog owners regard their pets as family members or even as children or partner replacements, being perceived as and treated like human beings.

When it comes to creating pet food, developers should look for meaningful analogies in human food and enrich these analogies with pet-specific qualities. In this way pet owners can easily understand the benefits of a new pet food proposal. Developers should be wary of proposing products that are not comprehensible to ordinary consumers or of blindly copying human food trends. Enthusiasm for product development can run the risk of being excessive.


Simply copying a human food trend in a new pet food worked at one time, but contemporary product development is more complicated now. Human food and pet food markets are now saturated. For example, there are hundreds of convenience foods on the market. Convenience has become generic, a basic necessity to accommodate the needs of modern lifestyles.

The same applies to health foods. There are dozens of health product ranges on the market, making it nearly impossible to provide differentiation with a new product. The same is true with enjoyment. Pet food must be palatable. Origin cannot stand alone, either. It needs enrichment, as do the other trends. The solution is to offer a useful combination of trends to provide the consumer meaningful differentiation.

Example: health & origin – traceable health

Two other trends that invite combination are health and origin. An example in this category, although not fully exploiting it, is Affinity Dog Menu Receta Mediterranea, a product stressing the healthy lifestyle known around the Mediterranean Sea, containing, for example, olive oil for longevity and parmigiano cheese.

Globalization evokes insecurity in people and also bears the risk of shipping toxins worldwide. Corn, wheat, and rice are imported from other continents and along with them a collection of impurities and mycotoxins. To reduce food safety risk people often rely on well known food products with traceable backgrounds (e.g., DOC wine or olive oil from Tuscany or Crete). Today more than 600 food products in Europe claim a protected regional origin (Rützler, 2005).

Although organic food is perceived to be healthy, there are several organic pet food products on the market like Yarrah Organic or Whiskas Organic, that stress only the organic produce in general and not a specific origin. Health and origin trends could be combined by promoting the health aspects of an ingredient of specific origin found in pet food. Likewise, pet food could be developed that is free from toxins to avoid the negative effects caused by lengthy transport or storage. Similarly, pet foods could be offered with a traceable regional origin.

Thus, the market still offers opportunities. For example, pet food positioning could stress yucca extracts from Mexico, marine algae or spirulina/AFA algae from Oregon.

In these instances, the origin should be connected with a specific and believable health connotation.


When developing a new pet food, developers should make certain it is in line with at least one of the prevailing socio-cultural macro-trends. Due to the humanized role of cats and dogs, the product should also meet a useful and meaningful combination of the key human food trends: convenience, enjoyment, and health.

To provide differentiation from the many pet food product lines already on the market, the new product should cover an emerging trend area like origin, for instance.

And last but not least, a new pet food product line should be checked with pet owners as to whether the new proposal meets wants and needs in an understandable and motivating way.


by Uli Pesi Pesi, Research & Consult GmbH

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