December 17, 2021

Insight 9: Developing compliant dog and cat food products for the US market

Annual spending on pet food in the US increased from USD 36.9 billion in 2019 to USD 44.1 billion in 2021 thanks to a surge in pet ownership during the COVID-19 lockdowns. So, what do these new pet owners look for in pet food, and how can the industry respond with compliant products?

In November 2021, TSG surveyed US owners of cats and dogs to gain new and exclusive insights. Our regulatory scientists have analyzed the findings to offer guidance on the development of pet food products that satisfy consumer demands and legislative requirements.

What do dog and cat owners want from pet food?

According to our findings, 11% of US adults became a dog parent during the pandemic, and 9% became a cat parent. However, the figures were much higher for the 18-24 age group, with 17% becoming dog parents and 16% cat parents.

We asked all respondents about the claims and characteristics they look for on labels when purchasing cat and dog food, and developed a top 10 based on the figures.

Top 10 cat and dog food claims that US consumers look for (all age groups)

  1. Real meat (35%)
  2. Made in the USA (31%)
  3. Complete and balanced (27%)
  4. Nutritious, nutrient rich, nutrient dense (24%)
  5. Life stage (adult, puppy/kitten, reproducing females) (24%)
  6. Essential vitamins and minerals (23%) 
  7. Taste, savour, enjoy, delicious (21%)
  8. Grain free, corn free, wheat free, soy free etc. (21%)
  9. No artificial colours / flavours / preservatives (21%)
  10. Digestive support / easy to digest (20%)

There were some interesting variations between the overall top 10 and one we compiled for the 18-24 age group.

Top 10 cat and dog food claims that 18-24-year-old US consumers look for

  1. Real meat (24%)
  2. Nutritious, nutrient rich, nutrient dense (21%)
  3. Complete and balanced (20%)
  4. Life stage (adult, puppy/kitten, reproducing females) (19%)
  5. No artificial colours / flavours / preservatives (19%)
  6. Natural, organic, pure (18%)
  7. Made in the USA (18%)
  8. Digestive support / easy to digest (18%)
  9. Recommended by veterinarians or veterinarian-formulated (18%)
  10. Sustainable / recyclable / eco friendly (16%)

Based on these findings, the upcoming generation of dog and cat owners appear to care more about factors such as ‘natural, organic, pure’ and ‘sustainable / recyclable / eco friendly’. They also place greater emphasis on the importance of pet food being recommended or formulated by veterinarians. Our regulatory scientists say these trends underline the importance of dovetailing regulatory and innovation strategies since any claims made about products must be properly substantiated.

The importance of substantiating claims

Pet food is among the most highly regulated food products in the US, categorized as a subset of animal feed. Its lawful distribution is subject to both federal and state requirements, under the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and State Departments of Agriculture. Violation is a serious matter which can result in fines and product recalls, not to mention harmful publicity.

Many pet food regulatory violations are linked to what is said – or not said – about the product. To avoid this risk, it’s important to obtain expert advice on the wording of claims, then ensure that wording is used consistently across all labels and product descriptions. It must be possible to corroborate any claims, whether they relate to quality, health benefits or any other factor. Claims about health benefits need to be handled especially carefully to ensure they don’t inadvertently cross the line from permissible food claims into drug claims.

As consumers become more mindful of the sustainability of pet food and its packaging, the substantiation of claims in this vein also needs to be considered. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is applicable to pet food, and its Green Guides should be consulted in relation to claims about recycled, recyclable, compostable or degradable packaging characteristics.

It can be hard to develop and market a pet food product that satisfies consumer demands without compromising regulatory integrity. Based on what the upcoming generation of dog and cat owners value in pet food products, it’s not going to get any easier.

To help pet food manufacturers navigate this complex and evolving landscape, we’ve written a whitepaper: Cat and dog food in the US: meeting consumer demand in a heavily regulated market. It explores our research findings in more detail and offers expert guidance on product claims related to quality, health and sustainability.

To request a free copy of the whitepaper once it’s published, please complete the form below.

Stay tuned for the next insight!

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