Millennials may be putting off getting married, buying houses, and starting families, but according to AdWeek, there’s one milestone they’re not missing: adopting their first pets. Not only do around 75% of Americans in their 30s own a dog, but 44% of Millennials see their furry companions as “practice” for being a parent. And this is transforming the pet health ingredient market from one that’s specialty to one that’s increasingly mainstream.
According to Packaged Facts’ most recent “Pet Supplements in the U.S.” report, published in April 2017, 38% of Millennials purchase pet health supplements, making them 41% more likely than average to do so. Thanks to their enthusiasm, sales of pet supplements have seen increases ever since the Great Recession, at a compound annual growth rate of 3.5% through 2016. Dog owners make up the most active share of the market, buying three times as much product as cat owners.
If you ask Nena Dockery, technical services manager at Stratum Nutrition (Carthage, MO), single-person families and empty-nest Baby Boomers—two groups who, like Millennials, see their pets as family—are also driving sales across the pet health market, and “pet food advertising has capitalized on this movement, focusing on nutrient-rich and more natural pet food ingredient formulations,” she says. Additionally, the veterinary community has mirrored the physician community in that it’s increasingly receptive to recommending supplements as part of a healthy-living plan. All of this has only further served to spread the word about natural solutions and supplements for pets.
“Many consumers consider their animal companions to be family members, so are equally concerned about their pets’ health and wellbeing,” says Shaheen Majeed, worldwide president of Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), which offers a number of ingredients for pet products under the brand name VetVitals. As a result, he explains, consumers extend their own self-care practices—which increasingly includes supplements—to their pets.
As interest in the pet health supplement market grows, so too do opportunities for brands. “As companion animals live longer lives, their health needs will continue to expand,” says Dockery. “This will provide both challenges and opportunities for those companies who commit to providing safe and effective foods and supplements for pet owners who desire to support the health needs of their animal friends in the best way possible.”
As in the human supplement market, clean-label trends are putting pressure on pet health supplement brands to reformulate. According to Majeed, consumers want to know exactly what goes into the supplements they feed their pets, and are looking for brands that can put that information right on the label. Specifically, Majeed sees demand to eliminate artificial colors and flavors, grains, gluten, and corn from pet products. “Suppliers need to ensure that their ingredients are free from all of these,” he says.
Jon Getzinger, chief marketing officer at Puris (Minneapolis, MN), is also seeing trends from the human supplement market bleed into the pet sector, especially trends towards using less corn and soy, and beefing up formulations with more protein. He has noticed that ingredients like Puris’s pea starches, which would not have been top of mind for pet formulators in years past, are increasingly in demand as alternatives to corn starches.
But, with better ingredients comes a bigger price tag, and that’s one of the biggest challenges that Getzinger sees in the pet market today. The solution? “Talented marketers are finding ways to pass along these additional costs to purchasers by properly positioning the end products as premium,” he says, which also increases margins. Another possible solution to offset rising costs is bundling ingredients from the same process—for instance, pea proteins, starches, and fibers. This helps suppliers “spread overhead across all the products, and not just the protein,” says Getzinger, which results in “not only lower overall costs, but provides a great story for consumers tracing our ingredients from the U.S. farmer to their pets’ dinner bowl, while sustainably using all parts of the pea and not just the protein.”
The key for this, explains Bill Bookout, president of the association the National Animal Supplement Council, is for brands to reach out to consumers directly to tell their stories and, therefore, justify pricing. Selling products through a veterinarian’s office can build advocacy, but it adds a layer between the company and its consumer. “I’ve always been of the opinion that the company that reaches out and educates the end user will be successful at the end of the day,” he says.
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