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Premium Pet Food - Industry Snapshot

Market Overview

The pet food industry has undergone significant evolution over the years, driven by changing consumer preferences, advances in nutrition science, and a growing awareness of the importance of pet health and wellness. Historically, pet food was predominantly composed of processed ingredients such as meat by-products, grains, and fillers. However, pet owners are becoming more discerning about the ingredients that go into their pets' diets, looking for options that mirror their own preferences for whole, recognizable ingredients. This trend has led to the emergence of innovative brands that prioritize the use of high-quality, human-grade ingredients and employ gentle processing techniques to preserve nutritional integrity.

As a result, the premium pet food sector has experienced significant growth and innovation in recent years, leading to increased competition among brands vying for market share. As consumer demand for natural, high-quality pet food options continues to rise, new entrants are emerging, and existing players are expanding their product offerings to meet evolving consumer preferences.

Premium pet food grew to $2.8B of total revenue in 2023, with a CAGR of 4.4% since 2019. This represented 4.9% of total pet food sales of $57.4B in the U.S. in 2023. Premium pet food is projected to grow by 2.0% annually and reach $3.2B in 2030.

Source: IBISWorld Apr 2024

Significant innovation has occurred in the refrigerated and frozen pet food sector where revenue has grown to $890M as of 2023 and now represents 31.7% of total premium pet food sales. This equates to growth of over 30% per year since 2019, contributing significantly to the overall expansion of the premium pet food sector. This trend is expected to continue and offers both manufacturers and retailers competitive opportunities to drive market share growth.

Source: PET Food Processing, Circana

Brands like Freshpet, the clear winner in this space with 89.8% market share, emphasize transparency, quality, and sustainability, which resonate with consumers seeking alternatives to traditional pet food.

Source: PET Food Processing, Circana

Price Points by Pet Food Type

As consumer preferences have evolved, so has their willingness to pay significantly more for wet, fresh, and raw pet food. This trend of trading up to more expensive products brings the opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to increase their average sale prices and drive margin.

Source: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Innovations in Premium and Fresh Pet Food

The trend toward premium and fresh pet food has encouraged brands to innovate and introduce high-end products featuring exotic proteins, organic ingredients, and specialized formulations targeting specific health concerns.

High Pressure Processing (HPP) is a non-thermal food preservation technique that utilizes high pressure to inactivate harmful bacteria, molds, and yeasts while preserving the sensory and nutritional qualities of food.

  • HPP offers several advantages for fresh pet food manufacturers, including extended shelf life without the need for preservatives, improved food safety, and retention of vitamins, enzymes, and flavor. Brands that are using HPP include Freshpet, Steve’s Real Food, Primal Pet Foods, Nature's Variety, and Stella & Chewy’s.

Freeze-drying, also known as lyophilization, is a dehydration process that involves freezing the product and then removing the ice crystals through sublimation, resulting in a dry and shelf-stable product.

  • Freeze-drying offers numerous benefits for fresh pet food, including the preservation of nutrients, texture, and flavor, as well as increased convenience and a longer shelf life. Brands that are offering freeze-dried options include Open Farm, Nulo Freestyle, Stella and Chewy’s, Bravo, Vital Essentials, Halo, Grandma Lucy’s, and Wellness CORE (Wellness Pet).

Human-grade pet food refers to products that are formulated using ingredients and processes that meet the same safety and quality standards as food intended for human consumption. Brands that use human-grade ingredients include The Farmer’s Dog, The Honest Kitchen, A Pup Above, Ollie, Raised Right, and Nom Nom.

Personalized nutrition for pets involves tailoring their diet to meet their individual nutritional requirements, considering factors such as age, breed, activity level, and health conditions.

  • Advances in technology, such as mobile apps and online platforms, have made it easier for pet owners to access personalized nutrition services and customized meal plans for their pets. Brands that are offering personalized nutrition include The Farmer’s Dog, Freshpet Custom Meals, Ollie, and Nom Nom. 

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Practices

With growing concerns about environmental sustainability, pet food manufacturers are increasingly adopting eco-friendly practices to reduce their environmental footprint.

  • Sustainable packaging solutions, such as biodegradable materials, recyclable packaging, and compostable options, are becoming more prevalent in the pet food industry. 
  • A growing number of pet food brands are committed to sustainability and environmental stewardship, incorporating sustainable sourcing, manufacturing, and packaging practices into their operations. Examples of these brands include The Farmer’s Dog, Nature’s Recipe, Pet Plate, Open Farm, The Honest Kitchen, Wild Earth, and Wellness Pet.

Refrigerated and Frozen Pet Food Requirements

Pet specialty retailers dedicate the most space to the category and generally have up to four refrigerated and/or frozen coolers located within the pet food section of their stores. This currently provides up to 16 linear feet of space and as the category grows this space will need to be expanded. Retailers are generally merchandising between 16 to 24 SKUs per cooler/freezer, for a range of 64 to 96 SKUs carried in the largest physical assortments. 

There are several requirements that retailers must consider to achieve an impactful shopping experience while delivering the highest quality pet food.

  • Reliable cold chain distribution capability to ensure high quality.
  • Frequent product rotation to guarantee the selling of dated products with limited shelf-life.
  • Regular maintenance of coolers and freezers so that equipment functions properly.
  • Effective signage and pricing options to provide enticing customer communication.

Challenges and Considerations

Pet food manufacturers must navigate a complex regulatory landscape, ensuring compliance with food safety regulations, labeling requirements, and quality standards. Fresh and natural pet food products may come at a higher price point compared to traditional pet food options, posing challenges for budget-conscious pet owners.

There is a need to educate consumers about the benefits of fresh pet food, including its nutritional advantages, ingredient transparency, and positive impact on pet health and well-being. Many consumers may be unaware of the differences between conventional pet food and fresh alternatives, making education a crucial component of market growth and consumer adoption.

Conclusion and Actions

The premium and fresh pet food sector is poised for continued growth and innovation, driven by consumer demand for natural, high-quality pet food options. As competition intensifies, brands will need to continue differentiating themselves.

Look for ways to stand out from the competitive set through focus on:

  • Product innovation, brand storytelling, and customer-centric strategies.
  • Operational excellence to ensure high product quality standards are upheld.
  • Manufacturing and distribution capabilities to product mix.
  • Demand planning, production planning, and inventory management guided by effective Sales, Inventory, and Operations Planning (SIOP) processes to gain market share.

Ankura Performance Improvement Fundamentals

We have a proven track record of executing on strategic plans to achieve sustainable performance improvement and targeted operating results aimed at maximizing earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), cash flow, and ultimately shareholder value.

We work side-by-side with management and other stakeholders to guide companies through periods of uncertainty and subsequently accelerate growth and value creation.

Ankura’s Performance Improvement professionals leverage their deep expertise across the firm to bring the appropriate specialized resources to deliver solutions to complex problems to create optimal outcomes.

Ankura Supports Operational Excellence Through Identifying and Executing on Opportunities in Retail and Manufacturing

  • Merchandise Planning and Allocation
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  • Demand and Production Planning
  • Inventory Management
  • Manufacturing Capacity and Productivity Optimization
  • Supply Chain Operations
  • Labor Planning and Optimization

© Copyright 2024. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of Ankura Consulting Group, LLC., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals. Ankura is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice.


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