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Pet Trends: Health & Wellness Unleashed

Continued growth in pet ownership is providing new private label product opportunities for retailers.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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pet food

More Americans are owning pets than ever before.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the vast majority of U.S. households (70%) in 2022 owned at least one pet. This is an increase of three percentage points from 2019, when the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic a year later had a dramatic increase in pet ownership.

With more consumers owning a furry friend (or two, or three) comes increased opportunities for pet retailers to grow their private label portfolios and reach more pet parents. In the pet food sector, ADM, a manufacturer of animal nutritional ingredients, recently made note of five trends that are influencing pet health and wellness. Many of the trends show overlap between the needs of humans and their animals, including a focus on overall health, and the desire for premium, clean label nutrition offerings that offer preventative health benefits.

“As with human nutrition, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions may not be ideal for maintaining the lifelong wellness of every pet,” ADM said in its report. “The industry is shifting to a new approach, with a deeper understanding of how cats and dogs eat, sleep, play and behave throughout their lives. Unsurprisingly, human supplement trends tend to guide proactive solutions for pet well-being.”

As for what benefits consumers are looking for in their pet’s food and treat products, the list is long.

“Top concerns supported by pet supplements include anxiety and calming, mobility and joints, immune function, skin and coat, liver and kidney, and digestion,” said ADM. “Customized nutrition strategies that cater to an individual pet’s specific needs can enhance development and healthy aging.”

Petco WholeHearted
Petco's WholeHearted brand offers a wide range of premium dog foods

Pet product retailers are already taking notice of these trends. In 2022, Petco launched its WholeHearted Fresh Recipes brand of frozen nutrition for dogs, introducing a private label competitor for name-brand premium dog foods such as Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Champion Pet Foods, JustFoodForDogs, The Honest Kitchen and more. Formulated in partnership with JustFoodForDogs, WholeHearted Fresh Recipes offers human-grade ingredients formulated under veterinary guidance to help support pets’ ideal weight, urinary and gut health, joint support, and skin and coat protection.

“Petco continues to invest in pet nutrition without artificial ingredients in direct response to strong growth in pet parent demand for high-quality, minimally processed pet food,” said Shari White, senior vice president of Merchandising for Food and Treats at Petco. “As we see the pet humanization and premiumization trends continue to grow, pet parents will increasingly seek out high-quality, fresh and human-grade food for their pets.”

E-commerce pet retailer Chewy’s premium pet food and treat brands have increased sales in the past year, as consumers are seeking more human-grade protein options for their dogs, similar to foods they would pick out for themselves at the grocery store. American Journey, one of the retailer’s private dog food brands, offers formulas derived from beef, chicken, duck, lamb, venison and salmon.

“Traditional proteins are the most sought after ingredient in dog food, which aligns with our protein-first commitment from our dog food brand, American Journey,” said Nate Deno, vice president of Merchandising and Private Brands at Chewy. “American Journey’s portfolio offers high-quality meals that offer complete and balanced nutrition.”

Additionally, Deno noted that Chewy’s proprietary dog food and treat brand Tylee’s has seen success in the past year, as the brand specializes in human-grade, whole food formulas packed with protein, antioxidant-rich fruits, veggies and “superfoods.”

Chewy Vibeful supplements
Chewy's Vibeful line of pet supplements allows pet parents to deliver preventative health benefits to their animals

“As consumers seek minimally processed, limited-ingredient diets, some of our best-selling products answering to these desires are our single-ingredient and freeze-dried formulas like Tylee’s Chicken Jerky Dog Treats, Tylee’s Salmon Human-Grade Freeze Dried Dog Treats and Tylee’s Freeze-Dried Meals for Dogs,” he said.

The increased interest in health and wellness doesn’t stop at food and treats. Chewy has seen its Vibeful wellness brand of pet supplements take off as well, as more pet parents seek preventative wellness solutions for their pets, just as they have done for themselves since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Vibeful assortment helps pet parents establish effective wellness routines through products that support pets’ digestive development, hips and joints, skin and coats, urinary tracts, immune systems and anxiety,” said Deno. “As consumers become more conscientious about their pets’ health and take proactive and preventative actions, we’re glad our high-quality supplement options can be an integral part of their approach to health and wellness. A few of our most popular supplements are the 10-in-1 multivitamin soft chews, mobility and joint chews, probiotic powder and wild Alaskan salmon oil.”

While the demand for these types of higher-quality dog and cat foods and supplements has risen, it hasn’t been without some bumps in the road. Like many other categories, supply chain woes, ingredient shortages and higher production costs due to inflation have impacted the pet food sector. Kurt McCracken, vice president of Business Planning & Category Development at Simmons Pet Foods, detailed the production challenges during Store Brands’ recent Trends in Pet Products webinar.

“Industry-wide in the last year or two, wet pet food was challenged around supply across the entire manufacturing base and dry [pet food] is going through probably what wet was going through in the past year or two,” said McCracken. “That’s one of the biggest challenges overall with the rise of ingredient costs: ‘what are substitutes,’ ‘what do you have to change in the formulas’ when there’s potentially a shortage of ingredients.”

With more Americans welcoming pets into the family also comes an increased need for products in the nonfood pet space. Outside of pet food, treats and supplements, 2022 was a big year for many pet retailers when it came to creating new private label pet apparel and accessory products.

PetSmart Arcadia Trail
Outdoor products from PetSmart's Arcadia Trail brand

Last spring, PetSmart expanded its Arcadia Trail brand to include more outdoor pet gear, such as a dog shade tent, an inflatable dog bed, an elevated cot, a sleeping bag, a high-visibility life jacket, water-friendly dog toys and more. Just prior, Petco and online outdoor retailer Backcountry released a collaborative set of outdoor products that included beds, collars, jackets, leashes and
other items.

“Based on our own studies, customers tell us that post-COVID, they are more likely to take their pets with them on daily errands,” said Deno, describing what types of new products Chewy has in store for 2023. “To help make traveling near and far with pets easier, we’ll launch new items such as pet strollers, water bottles, travel bowls, food storage solutions, pet carriers and backpacks.”

Additionally, he noted that as pets age, their needs evolve both in terms of nutrition and products used to help care for these pets. As a result, Deno said Chewy will be enhancing its line of supplies to help support pets as they mature, adding options such as pet stairs, orthopedic beds and car ramps to "make it easier on our senior pets to remain happy and active.”

When it comes to creating new private label products, Petco says hearing directly from its shoppers is important, as trends continue to evolve with time. Listening to consumers seems to be paying off for the retailer. For Q3 of 2022, Petco’s comparable sales grew 4.1% year-over-year and 19.6% on a two-year basis, with no signs of pet growth slowing down.

“We also utilize our own pet parent community to get feedback on new ideas, concepts and products, as well as consult multiple insight and trend forecasting resources for not only pet trends but also human trends, knowing the two are interconnected,” said Jenn Kovacs, vice president of Merchandising for Dog and Cat Supplies at Petco. “We meticulously review and identify trends across color palettes, graphic direction, functionality, fabrications and styling to create a final product the customer is sure to love.”