What’s Next in Pet Food Packaging?

Consistent growth in the premium pet food category is largely driven by the changing relationship between people and pets according to research by Mondi and Dow.

‘Sustainability without compromise’ is essential according to consumer research

Bill Kuecker, Vice President of Marketing at Mondi Consumer Packaging

Pet food and pet food packaging have been a dynamic consumer sector in the last several years, and industry experts expect this to continue. Pet food packaging has enjoyed one of the highest compound annual growth rates of any consumer flexible packaging sector in North America since 2010.

At the same time, there has been dramatic growth in side-gusseted packaging styles and a decline in multiwall paper. While pet food packaging encompasses both wet and dry formats, focusing on what is happening at the consumer and brand levels for the dry kibble segment in North America enables us to estimate how market trends are likely to affect packaging for the category.

Whenever evaluating the future of a consumer packaging category, we must start with the consumer. Mondi and Dow have worked together to conduct and publish consumer research on premium pet food based on 750 consumers surveyed nationwide, and we discovered impactful consumer insights.

Pet food packaging has enjoyed one of the highest compound annual growth rates of any consumer flexible packaging sector in North America since 2010. At the same time, there has been dramatic growth in side-gusseted packaging styles and a decline in multiwall paper formats. Photo courtesy of Mondi Consumer Packaging.

Which pet food segment is growing?

The premium pet food category has enjoyed consistent growth, and this is largely driven by the changing relationship that humans have with pets.  As humanization of pets has become the norm, consumers have been willing to spend considerably more on their wellbeing.  This has transferred to pet food where a plethora of new premium offerings enter annually into what is already a hypercompetitive market.

How are consumer packaging expectations changing?

While consumers have largely been willing to pay a premium price for pet food compared to historic levels, they have very high expectations for the product and its packaging.  From our research, consumers rate many pet food attributes as “important.”  Unsurprisingly, “a product that I know that my dog/cat will like” and “brand that I trust” lead the list.

However, many packaging related items also rate as important. For packaging related items “ability to keep food fresh in the package” and “easy to read print and graphics” topped the list. In addition, we saw a shift in consumer responses from 2019 to 2021 in which packaging features such as “easy open,” “ease of pouring/serving from the package” and “easy to carry” increased in importance.

What motivates people to buy pet food brands?

Consumers want pet food brands that share their values, and as brands tell their unique story, they are increasingly adding sustainability to that mix. Package sustainability improvements resonated well, with 62% of U.S.  consumers in 2021 reporting that “I would trust the brand more if it changed its packaging to be more environmentally friendly.”  In addition, 34% of consumers reported that they “definitely would” or “probably would” switch to a brand offered in a more sustainable package.

Why is sustainable packaging a challenge for brands?

Leading brands are currently working with their suppliers in this direction.  The challenge being faced is that some sustainable offerings have narrower production operating windows and do not meet brand specifications for packaging performance. Our industry features many production changeovers with a large percentage of offerings manufactured at co-packing facilities that process a variety of brands. These differences provide real operational challenges that we must address.

What’s next for pet food packaging?

As I review the consumer and industry trends, I believe that the future of pet food packaging is “sustainability without compromise.”  We can and will produce improvements in sustainability while limiting operational challenges and providing consumers with the packaging features, appearance and performance that are important in this premium category.

The next consumer premium pet food research from Mondi and Dow will be conducted in early 2023. I look forward to the additional information it generates to help us understand evolving consumer trends and values in this key packaging category.  Our most recent study is available in its entirety at https://northamerica.mondigroup.com/en/pet-food-packaging-research/.

About the Author:

Bill Kuecker is a 27-year veteran in the packaging industry. He is a frequent contributor to Packaging Technology Today and other leading trade publications. Over his career, Kuecker has led marketing, market research, innovation and business development activities for major companies in both plastic and paper-based packaging.

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