What does ‘humanisation of the pet industry’ mean?
By many, pets are seen and treated like family members. Owners want happy and healthy lives for their pets as much as they do for their children, and this has seen the emergence of new products and trends in the industry, with a greater spotlight on pets’ own healthy lifestyle as much as our own. That means feeding our pets quality ingredients that we’d be happy eating ourselves.
Why has this happened, and will it continue to do so?
The bond that is strengthening between humans and their pets is the main driver for this. More and more people are choosing to either not have children, or to do so later in life, and using pets to fulfil this role instead. Given the benefits that pets can also have in combatting loneliness and mental health issues, they’ve become a companion for so many that live alone.
The effects of Covid-19 and the UK’s lockdown rules has also meant that this year there has been a significant increase in demand for pets, with a switch to more people working from home making pet ownership more practical. Not only are they able to embed them more within their family life, but also provides them with a greater excuse for a healthy work-life balance, encouraging people to step away from their ‘desk’ to spend more quality time with them, including longer or more frequent walks, for example.
As a result of this developed role that pets now play within human lives, particularly over the past few years, their care and wellbeing has become a priority to owners, which many brands in the industry have been able to tap into. It’s certainly not a ‘trend’ in itself as it’s extremely likely that this will be the norm moving forwards.
What evidence is there within the sector?
In line with the greater recognition for pet health and the focus on weight control, sugar intake, digestive care and allergies, one example we’ve seen is the development of grain-free foods. This has been a response over the last decade to wheat allergies.
It has also allowed businesses to tap into the more premium markets. There is so much variation in the pet food industry now and with the amount of choice consumers now have, pet owners really can choose a brand in line with their own and their pet’s needs.
Human trends have seen a shift towards ethically sourced products and initiatives which support sustainability, and this has been reflected within the pet industry too through consumer behaviour. Whether it’s only buying brands which are seen to be ethical, or brands that appear to be more considerate of their environmental effects, considered brand choice is becoming synonymous with a consumers’ personal beliefs.
Not only has humanisation led to brands having to adapt to these changing trends, but also has seen the emergence of new markets within the industry, as owners seek to develop and personify their pet, to become an extension of themselves.
For example, the introduction of pet clothing and the invention of ‘Pawsecco’ have become very popular. The industry is starting to reflect how we choose to link our lifestyle to our pets – some of which stems from the birth of the ‘handbag’ dog, which marked a major turning point in the humanisation of the sector, but has certainly transformed ever since.
How should brands look to respond to the humanisation of the pet industry?
Both brands and retailers within the pet industry must be considerate of these changes, ensuring that they are catering to the growing demands of consumers and catering towards an owner’s desire to care for their pets.
Within pet food specifically, the starting point for this has been the spotlight on health and the nutritional benefits that owners can easily add to the diet of their pets. Humans are increasingly conscious about what they put into their own bodies, so why should that not also apply to their pets?
Transparency is key when considering how brands within the pet industry respond to humanisation. A clean and transparent ingredient list is essential to meet customers’ needs, clearly communicating how the food is less processed, high quality and uses ingredients with a strong provenance. For health-conscious pet owners, this is what they’re looking for as they want their pet to be the best version of themselves – whether that’s a shiny coat or a healthy gut (or both).
Personalisation is also of increasing importance – no longer do pet owners believe that one size fits all. What works for some breeds, might not be suitable for others, and likewise a puppy might have needs than a more senior dog and vice versa, so it’s important that retailers build their knowledge accordingly.
In practice within our market, we offer product ranges for each stage of a pet’s life – from puppy, to adult and senior. We also sell a wide variety of recipes for different ailments or flavour preferences, all of which play to the desire of our pets and allowing owners to feel supported in their exact needs and requirements when it comes to selecting brands and products.
As part of this, it’s also important however, that brands consider responsible pet ownership – not taking advantage of this shift to humanisation for their own benefit or at detriment to pets themselves. It’s important that we’re aware of this shift as an industry and work together to ensure that it remains positive for everyone.
At what point does humanisation go too far?
Although humanisation can lead to great benefits for our pets, it does also have its disadvantages, with some taking it too far to the point where it can affect the health of their pet.
Diet is a major area for this. Although it can mean that we only want to feed our pets the kind of food we would put in our own body in terms of the quality, if owners wish to replicate their own diet in their pets, such as veganism or vegetarianism for example, this can have a serious impact. Our pets may not be getting all the nutritional value that they require to be both happy and healthy. Equally, with human meals redesigned for dogs, this can also have an affect on a pet’s weight, often leading to obesity as their nutritional needs are not the same as ours. Pets often can’t handle highly processed foods as their digestive system can’t combat it.
Treat culture can also be detrimental. We all like to treat ourselves from time to time, and we like to reward our pets too, but too many can lead to weight gain. This has particularly been the case in recent times where we have been spending more time at home with them, whether that’s because we’ve been restricted in the amount of exercise our pets can have, or simply giving them treats to keep them occupied while we sit on an important video conference call!
Despite the fact that humanisation within our industry provides us with new markets to tap into, as well as seeing new innovations, we also have to be aware of the risks that it poses to our pets.
Brands must ensure that they don’t take advantage of irresponsible pet ownership and instead use this shift to humanisation as a great way of promoting the importance of their health and wellbeing.
By James Langan, managing director of Nature’s Menu