Animal nutrition products—defined by Nutrition Business Journal as natural & organic pet food, pet supplements (not including animal feed supplements) and natural & organic pet supplies—grew sales 5% in the United States 2010. New food formats, investments galore and equine woes all helped define the natural pet market last year. Growth has been subdued as the market has matured and become saturated, but animal nutrition still remains one of the more dynamic industries in the nutrition space.
1-Supplements outgrow natural & organic food
Unlike on the human side—where growth of natural & organic food sales one-upped supplements—U.S. sales of pet supplements showed stronger growth in 2010 than sales of natural & organic pet foods. The natural pet food market notched up unparalleled growth and investor interest in 2007 when a tragic melamine-tainting scandal sent consumers flying from conventional and private label kibbles in search safer options. The effect has quieted down and the market has become more saturated. Consumer awareness and interest in natural continues to grow, but in 2010 more attention was paid to supplements than natural pet foods.
2- Joint health leads the pack
Joint health supplements—for dogs, cats, horses and other small companion animals—account for nearly half of the pet supplement market in the United States, and have for the last few years. Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM rule the day, with lesser-known ingredients like tart cherry and ASU (avocado/soybean unsaponifiables) rounding out the category. Joint health pet products grew sales 4% last year.
3-Investments abound for natural pet foods
Private equity companies and strategic buyers alike continue to invest in natural pet food companies. Dogswell, Castor & Pollux, Nature’s Variety, Natural Balance and countless others can all boast of recent equity investments. And many private equity purchases of the last three years have reached maturity, with companies looking to sell off their pet brands to strategic buyers. Natural pet food companies maintain enviable brand strength, consumer loyalty and profitability, making them very attractive from an investment standpoint.
4-Raw food and fresh formats still growing
As super-premium kibble brands battle it out for shelf space in natural & specialty retail, revolution stirs among pet food formats. Raw food for pets premiered several years ago, and still manages to squeeze out growth, with new sales and new brands, despite its heavy price premium at retail. Also on the market are dehydrated options, from companies such as Honest Kitchen and Stella & Chewy’s, offering raw food in an easier format. And minimally-processed, refrigerated pet foods, fromcategory leader Freshpet, are also on the rise in retail stores, despite high input costs and retailer skepticism.
5-Equine supplement market still suffering
Bogged down by the recession, horse owners found that feeding and caring for their animals became a heavy burden. Horses wound up sold or abandoned on public property, and horse shows suffered from a decrease in activity, leading to supplement sales losses throughveterinarians and tack & feed stores. Little to no rebound is evident in the equine supplement market, as inactive owners aren’t looking to keep their horses at peak performance. Horse supplement marketers have implemented excessive couponing and other efforts to grow sales, while others look to expand internationally.
6-Regulatory clarity imminent?
Anyone familiar with the pet supplement industry knows that regulation is far from clear for the category. FDA recognizes most of these products as unapproved animal drugs, and supplement ingredients must be registered at the state level with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). But on the regulatory front, Bill Bookout, president of theNational Animal Supplement Council—the leading trade organization in the animal supplement space—has worked for the last 10 years to help carve out a more comfortable space for this industry to grow. Looking out, Bookout predicts that within the next 12 to 24 months, industry will reach a greater understanding with FDA, with better definition for their own regulatory niche.
Text: New Hope