The Long View: A look back at the past 40 years and trends in the pipeline

James Langan, managing director of Natures Menu, the UK and Europe’s leading expert in raw and natural pet food, looks back at how the industry has evolved, and what’s to come, as the company hits its 40th anniversary.

Founded in 1981 as Anglian Meat Products, Natures Menu began producing Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods (BARF) for pets as a small family run business in Norfolk. At the time of launch, this was going against the grain, as canned pet food was the most popular feeding option. Its sheer convenience catered to the needs of the majority of pet owners and it therefore had significant market share. Dry kibble had also gained momentum in previous years and companies were producing new flavours and varieties in large quantities to keep up with the demand.

It was a booming period for the industry, and Natures Menu tapped into a gap in the market. It realised early on, the benefits of a nutritionally balanced and complete raw diet, as it gives dogs and cats a diet as close as possible to what they might have eaten in the wild and can be gentler on their digestive system due to its natural properties. It therefore started selling a limited range of simple minced meats to breeders, before it was encouraged by passionate customers to produce an even wider selection of meats including British Beef, Welsh Lamb, Fish from Lowestoft and many other products sourced from local specialists.

As the industry continued to evolve, so did the laws and regulations along with it. Regulations, such as the European Pet Food Industry Federation’s ruling to demand a certain level of food safety requirements and traceability, were put in place to ensure that pet food is safe, has specific nutrients and minerals that pets need and that businesses have a certain level of responsibility for the food they produce. However, with its focus on always providing high-quality, fully traceable meats and fish, sourced from British suppliers and ethical product sources wherever possible, Natures Menu was always at the forefront to the changes in legislation and it continued to pave the way for other raw food providers.

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Fast forward to 2021 and today’s households feed a range of different products, from wet-food pouches to raw, based on factors such as convenience and dietary requirements. Natures Menu, now Europe’s leading expert in raw and natural dog and cat food, has continued to thrive as pet ownership has continued to increase and more owners value the importance of feeding a nutritional diet, with a 14 percent year on year growth in turnover reported.

The pandemic and switch in the way of life this past year, has had a profound effect on the industry over the past 12 months and as we look towards the future, we must consider these behavioural shifts. We predict that the wet food category will continue to perform well as, with more people spending longer periods of time at home, they’ll opt for this style of feeding due to it looking and smelling fresher. The move towards smaller dogs is also behind the growth of wet food, as it’s a nutritious yet affordable option.

The humanisation of pet food, where pets are seen and treated like family members, is a rising trend and is playing a massive role in how the future of the industry is shaping up. There has also been a substantial shift to newer categories – such as raw frozen – which provides a more premium, sustainable and natural way of feeding that reflects the same trends reported for human food. An increasing number of owners are also choosing to feed pets treats more often due to the format and ingredients being humanised, as well as to provide their pets with a mixed diet that incorporates homemade elements too. Emerging trends should not be overlooked either. Whilst still quite niche, there’s room for alternative protein options such as insect and plant-based foods to gain real momentum in the years to come.

Finally, as convenience becomes one of the most important factors when considering where to shop, a well-functioning and user-friendly e-commerce platform will be the key to success. From next day delivery options to subscription offerings, there are a number of routes to consider in order to ensure that companies are catering to the evolving needs of consumers. With this shift, pet shops will need to become destination points, offering a high level of customer service, industry leading advice and overall provision of an entertaining and engaging experience for the customer and thus to evolve to be more than just a place to buy their pets’ products. Keeping abreast of consumer demand will be vital and I’m looking forward to playing a part in this new era for the industry.

Monthly column by James Langan, managing director of Natures Menu

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