Fetching fish: Seafood suppliers benefit from high-protein pet food demand

Published on
December 31, 2019

Sales of pet food, supplements, and other pet care products are growing at an astounding rate, and the seafood industry is benefitting.

Total spending on pet food and treats in 2018 reached USD 30.3 billion (EUR 27 billion), according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), while overall pet care spending soared 4 percent to reach a record USD 72.6 billion (EUR 65 billion) last year.

The stats paint a clear picture: More pet owners, especially millennials, are fetching healthy, natural, high-protein food and treats for their furry family members.

“Millennials continue to be the largest pet-owning demographic and this shows in the data,” said Bob Vetere, the president and CEO of APPA. “We know this generation is willing to pay more for quality products and services to improve the health and well-being of their pets. Today more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives, and it’s thanks to this that we continue to see such incredible growth within the pet care community.”

The latest figures from global information and measurement company Nielsen corroborate the APPA’s findings. According to the firm, U.S. consumers spent USD 33 million (EUR 30 million) on pet food with human-grade products over the past year.

“Regardless of whether in human food or pet food, consumers are looking for exceptional products that fulfill a purpose, offer superior value propositions, and connect on a personal level,” stated a Nielsen report.

Thanks to this increased demand, pet food manufacturers such as Purina, Simply Nourish, Blue Buffalo, WellPet, and others are purchasing more seafood, usually of the sustainable variety.

“We continue to see pet food trends mirror human food trends,” said Joe Toscana, vice president and director of industry relations at St. Louis, Missouri-based Purina. “Just as people are looking for foods that are marketed as ‘better for you,’ including natural, fresh ingredients, high-protein, grain-free, etc., they tend to look for similar cues in their pet’s food as well.”

Purina sells a wide variety of seafood-containing pet foods and treats, including its new regionally-sourced Beyond line.

“Fish are a natural, rich source of protein and nutrients for pets. The fat and omega-3 fatty acids in fish help give pet’s healthy skin and a soft, shiny coat. The protein and amino acids in fish help build and maintain pet’s muscles,” Toscana said.

The Alaska-sourced cod, tuna from the Pacific, and hake from the U.S. Pacific Northwest in Purina’s Beyond line are from Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable sources, according to Toscana. Seattle, Washington-based Alaskan Leader Seafood Company is the exclusive supplier of the sustainable Alaska cod used in the Beyond line and several other Purina pet products.

“We supply them with MSC-certified cod that we don’t use on the boats, and they make super nutritious pet food with it,” said Keith Singleton, president of Alaskan Leader’s value-added division. “It keeps with our whole mission statement of having 100 percent utilization of our fish, including skins, trims, heads, fillets, and portions.”

Alaskan Leader has been supplying an increasing amount of cod to Purina every year for the past four years, thanks to consumer demand.

“Pet owners are very conscientious about what they feed their pets. They are an extension of their families, and Purina is making recipes that adhere to effort,” Singleton said.

Alaskan Leader also produces private-label cod pet treats for other companies, such as PolkaDog.com, and markets its own brand of Cod Crunchies Pet Treats. The treats won the Beyond the Plate division in the 2018 Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition.

In addition to nutritional benefits such as omega-3 fatty acids, one pet food company is making more natural seafood pet food and treats to cater to pets that have sensitivities or intolerances to other proteins.

“Some pets are sensitive to land protein sources like beef, turkey, or boar, so our salmon, tuna, or whitefish flavors are a great alternative to provide the pure protein pets crave without triggering allergies or upsetting sensitive stomachs,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience and marketing for Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based WellPet.

The company’s seafood-containing products include Wellness CORE 100% Freeze Dried Treats in salmon flavor for dogs, and Wellness CORE Tiny Tasters in tuna and salmon flavors for cats.

Raw and freeze-dried food and treats are becoming increasingly popular because of “a focus on serving up protein-rich diets full of natural meats without fillers, and pet parents’ desire to mix up mealtime for their pets with more flavor and nutrients,” Leary-Coutu said.

In fact, air-drying/dehydrated full meal pet food sales have more than doubled over the past three years, growing from USD 23 million (EUR 21 million) in 2015 to USD 53 million (EUR 47 million) in 2018, according to Nielsen.

“Consumers are attracted to freeze- and air-dried pet foods because they’re usually free of added preservatives and many offer enhanced benefits, such as improved digestion, shinier coat, smoother skin and stronger immune system,” the data firm said.

Similar to human foods, sales of “natural” and “organic” pet food and treats are also soaring. “In general, consumers have become more interested in the natural category as they have become more educated about ingredients and sourcing. Pet parents want to be able to look at a pet food label and understand the ingredients listed,” Leary-Coutu said.

This confluence of a variety of human food trends, including a shift to more high-protein, healthy, natural, and sustainable diets, is impacting the pet food market. And the healthy pet food movement is not just a fad – it will last well into the future, Singleton predicted.

Photo courtesy of Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock

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