CHICAGO, ILL. — NielsenIQ on April 8 officially released its data on consumer search terms and trends within the pet food and product market. According to NielsenIQ, the most notable pet food and treat searches for 2021 involve specialty diets, functional ingredients and grains.
It’s no secret that pet food trends follow those of human food, but this is especially apparent in the pet specialty segment of the industry. According to NielsenIQ’s Label Insight Trending Attributes, search terms for vegan pet food ranked No. 58, while terms with “raw” sat at No. 43 and “high protein” climbed to No. 54 from December 2020 to January 2022. The popularity of these search terms has drastically increased, according to NielsenIQ, as in previous years these specific terms failed to rank in the top 100.
Within the realm of specialty pet food, frozen and refrigerated diets show the largest growth. Driving this trend is research proving the health benefits of refrigerated and frozen pet foods.
“Feeding dogs a diet made with natural, real ingredients, such as beef, chicken, lamb, peas, spinach, carrots and blueberries, can do wonders for their overall well-being – promoting heart health, increasing energy level, making coats shiny and breath smell better, improving eyesight, and even impacting a dog’s stool,” the American Kennel Club stated.
According to NielsenIQ, the search term “refrigerated pet food” increased 61% since March 2021. Although refrigerated and frozen foods only make up about 16% of the total pet food market, the variety of refrigerated diets has increased 70% and frozen options have increased 36%.
The refrigerated/frozen trend will only continue to grow as brands expand distribution into e-commerce and direct-to-consumer retail, and as other brands, like Wellness Pet Company, make their first foray into the space.
With COVID-19 forcing many into lockdown, people began to spend more time with their pets, driving an increased focused on pet health and wellness. Satisfying this focus is the “food as medicine” trend seen by NielsenIQ, which targets products using functional ingredients.
According to NielsenIQ’s Sustainability Guide, searches relating to holistic health ingredients in pet food have witnessed double-digit increases year-over-year. The same growth is also happening with functional health ingredient searches, yet pet parents aren’t searching by specific ingredients. Instead, they are focusing more on functional claims, like “calming” or “sensitive stomach.”
NielsenIQ found that the search term “calming” increased 42% since March 2021, while search terms like “CBD” or “chamomile” remained stagnant without any notable changes. Searches for “dental and breath health,” “sensitive stomach” and “human grade” have also seen growth with double-digit search volume in the last year.
Following the human food trend of gluten-free, pet food witnessed an explosion of grain-free consumer demand which spiked in the early 2010s. However, in July 2018, the FDA announced its investigation between grain-free diets and canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The FDA’s announcement, which named several pet food brands, drastically declined consumer interest in grain-free pet diets, as NielsenIQ found a large decrease in grain-free consumer purchases and searches following the announcement.
In September 2020, the FDA released its report, citing that they found no clear connection between DCM in dogs and grain-free diets. Following the report, consumers have shown a renewed interest in grain-free pet food, as NielsenIQ found steady growth in “grain free” searches. But the grain-free trend has yet to see any drastic increase as consumers remain wary of those specific diets, with the FDA’s investigation leaving them more questions than answers.
Read more on NielsenIQ’s research on top-searched pet food attributes.
Keep up with the latest pet food trends on our Trends page.