Top Trends Impacting Pet Food Packaging

Leveraging consumer and category insights to develop strategic packaging solutions creates shelf impact and drives sales.

New Values and Shopping Routines Are Changing Purchasing Behavior

By Moira Stein, Insights & Strategy at Berlin Packaging

After two years of above-average growth, pet food sales are stabilizing. Slower growth in the pet population is contributing to market-wide slowdowns following pandemic booms. While the category is normalizing, consumers are still willing to invest in their pets. Pet food sales in the U.S. grew from $33.4B in 2018 to $53.2B in 2022 according to Euromonitor International.

Pet parents want premium products that offer their furry family members a high quality of life. Changing shopping routines and new values around environmental and social responsibility also influence purchase behavior. Several trends are impacting pet food packaging this year:

Finer foods

Despite budget concerns over inflation and rising prices, premiumization is still a growing trend in the pet food market. Consumers increasingly value their pets as members of the family, and pet parents want the best quality meals for their animals. Millennials, in particular, spend more on their pets than previous generations. Premium diets are becoming the industry standard, and many consumers will cut costs in other areas of their life before downgrading their pets’ food.

Finer food products, like fresh and human-grade foods, and functional foods that proactively target specific areas of an animal’s health are on the rise. Willingness to pay for small-batch and customized meals has led to rapid growth of direct-to-consumer (DTC) pet foods. According to Nielsen IQ, the fresh/frozen DTC pet food segment is expected to grow three to four times its current value, reaching up to $6 billion in the next four years. Natural diets and whole ingredients are also trending, with Mintel noting a 41% increase in “All Natural” pet foods launched globally between 2016-2020. “Free from,” organic, and holistic claims are being used as a point of differentiation.

Packaging is keeping up with the pet food premiumization trend, and consumers are becoming more inclined to attractive packaging that focuses on product quality. Product forms and packaging graphics in pet care mimic those in human categories. This includes familiar pack structures, custom structural design, elevated brand design, and personalized labeling. DTC packaging must also be durable enough to withstand the rigors of shipping and handling. Partnering with packaging companies who are APASS certified and have e-commerce expertise is important.

BJ’s Raw Pet Food is packed in an e-commerce-friendly tub. Image courtesy of Berlin Packaging.

Preventative wellness

The rise in pet humanization has led many consumers to seek ways to ensure their pet has a long, healthy life. Owners are taking better care of their animals with a more holistic approach, concerned about emotional well-being, physical health, and longevity. As people return to the office, a newfound focus has been placed on pet anxiety and stress, with pet supplements on the rise. Consumers are looking for premium ingredients with proven health benefits. According to a recent Mintel study, 60% of pet parents would like it if their pet’s food carried a digestive health benefit to support overall wellness. And non-traditional pet foods are growing, including niche categories like raw, plant-based, and freeze-dried dog foods, which can be more vitamin-dense and nutritional.

There is greater scrutiny over ingredients, practices, and standards within pet food as consumers evaluate food for their pets the way they evaluate their own food. When it comes to packaging, benefit claims and ingredient transparency are important. Some brands are incorporating clear windows on pet food and treat packaging to show product quality and freshness and gain the trust of pet owners.

The Ion Biome Pet Supplement label includes information for people concerned about preventative wellness. Image courtesy of Berlin Packaging.

Sustainable mindset

Today’s consumers demand sustainability, and brands can show their commitment to the environment through responsible ingredient sourcing, efficient production practices, and eco-friendly packaging solutions. According to Nielsen, “Pet products identified as ‘certified human raised and handled’ grew by 110% in sales over the last two years to account for $11 million in sales. ‘Ethical’ products grew 48% to $11.7 million, while ‘cruelty-free’ products increased by 10% to account for $18 million in sales.”

Pet food packaging poses some sustainability challenges. According to the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), an estimated 300 million pounds of plastic waste results from pet food and treat packaging each year in the U.S. The PSC estimates that at least 99% of all pet food packaging in the U.S. is thrown away and not recycled. Brands can help by educating consumers on the recyclability of their packaging with on-pack messaging and programs like the How2Recycle labeling system.

Beyond recyclability, material optimization is becoming more critical. Incorporating post-consumer recycled materials, bio-resins, and other eco-friendly materials can demonstrate a brand’s commitment to the environment. Consumers are also more carbon conscious and aware of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel use, and water consumption. In addition to material selection, lighter-weight packaging and local sourcing can improve a brand’s carbon footprint.

About the Author

Moira Stein is an insights and strategy expert with Berlin Packaging. She has spent 20+ years working in brand marketing, with a focus on strategy and design for various consumer packaged goods brands. Learn more at www.berlinpackaging.com.

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