29 April 2016

RESEARCH - Natural, Non-GMO Pet Food Gaining Popularity

Doting dog and cat owners are buying into nothing but the best for their pets.

And in some cases, pets fare better than owners, with a little more than half (55%) of respondents in a recent survey claiming they would “give up chocolate to ensure they could buy a high-quality pet food” for their four-legged friend.

Another 34% of American owners and 24% of French owners says they are happy to buy vitamin-enriched waters for pets.

Nielsen, for its Humanization of Pet Food Survey, recruited 3,562 American and French pet owners (consumers between ages 18 and 65 who own at least one dog or cat) and found some will put their pet on a pedestal.

But many are not far behind in seeking high-end, quality fare.

Seventy-four percent seek non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO), while – in descending order – the other top pet grub criteria included claims of natural food and food containing enzymes.

A little more than half look to buy scientifically-formulated items (55%) for their pets, according to the survey.

Relying on Optimizer technology - “powered by an evolutionary algorithm,” Nielsen said it “evaluated more than 5 million product concept alternatives for dog and cat foods including different combinations of benefits, claims, consumer insights and flavors.”

Consumers were then asked to choose which concepts their preferred and eventually data was fine-tuned to reach a “set of top owner preferences.”

Of course, the findings are interesting as stand-alone information, but the aim is to offer them as a tool for pet food and product makers to harness when looking at how to best promote their wares.

Starting at the top priority - or what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Both French (at 50%) and U.S pet owners (at 33%) ranked non-GMO products among the top three most important health-related pet food qualities they seek with nearly half willing to pay more for such products.

Many back buying that option because they “themselves don't want to eat GMOs, so their pets shouldn't have to,” as well as the belief non-GMOs are natural.

Next on the list are back-to-nature seekers.

Those are pet owners who want to know Fido's food contains ingredients like “natural digestive enzymes.”

And while “scientifically formulated,” once carried a lot of weight, the Nielsen survey noted a shift in favour to natural, chosen by 65% of owners compared to 55% attracted to scientifically formulated.

Several respondents included comments on why they shy away from the latter, including; “When I see the word ‘scientific,’ it makes me think the food has added preservatives and hormones” and “What does ‘scientifically formulated’ mean? It sounds unnatural.”

Respondents pamper their pets, for sure, but the majority claim they feel responsible to buy “healthy” options rather than over-the-top indulgent ones, with 85% believing that is a way to extend the lives of their beloved animals.

Looks mean a lot, too, with 90% of those surveyed saying it is crucial that their pet look healthy and sit at an ideal weight.

While pet owners profess to be pretty particular in what they buy, they are also eager to try new options – if the product claims to make health a top priority.

To that end, nearly half the respondents say they were interested in fruit or vegetable chews for pets and are intrigued and would be potential purchasers of everything from nutrient drop or powder supplements, soups and stews, energy-boosting snacks and protein bars.

A Harris Poll survey found 95% of American pet owners consider their pets part of the family – with the Nielsen study showing many certainly treat them like one of the clan.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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