Pet Humanization: How Dogs’ Lifestyles Mirror Their Owners’
As Americans shift our focus to personal wellness, sustainability and transparency, we seek the same values in our dogs’ food.
Healthier eating. Sustainable packaging. CBD products. Improved gut health. Greater supply chain transparency. If that sounds like a list of modern priorities applied by the average consumer for themselves, you’d be right. But it’s also the list of priorities they are applying to their dogs and their health. Called “pet humanization,” this is one of the hottest trends in the pet industry over the past decade.
In fact, in a recent study, 81% of pet owners surveyed worldwide “completely” or “somewhat” agreed with the statement that they want the same quality standards for their pets’ food as their own. This reflects not just an increased affection for dogs, but a growing sense of wanting to be sustainable and responsible in all aspects of life.
Because there are no defined standards for what “natural” means when it comes to dog food, consumers are self-educating, which means reading ingredient lists more closely. They want to know that their money is going towards a high-quality product with human-grade ingredients, and also want to understand the supply chain. This is where the buzzwords come in: non-GMO, organic, natural, gluten-free, alternative protein. The list goes on and on, and depending on the specific dog’s health issues, so does the list of solutions the owner seeks out. For example, probiotics have come to the forefront of the discussion around people’s gut health (and its importance in overall health) thanks to publications like Goop, and dog owners are seeking them out in ingredient lists to ensure their dogs are as healthy as possible.
A wide range of human ingredients, with everything from chickpeas to kelp to blueberries, are appearing on dog food ingredient lists. Plant-based, alternative protein options dovetail with dog owners’ own vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, as well as helping to reduce the environmental impact of raising mass livestock. Fruits and vegetables are also being added to increase the levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and overall fiber content for dog food. If you’ve ever slipped your dog a bite of ripe fruit or dropped a crunchy carrot on the ground while cooking, you’ll instinctively know that your dog loves the taste and texture as well. And some ingredient pools that industry insiders deem “sustainable” may come as an unwanted surprise to dog parents. For instance, using animal byproducts like rendered chicken fat actually helps cut down on food processing waste.
This is where transparency comes in—by having an honest and open dialogue with consumers about how decisions are made and what goes into their beloved dogs’ food, you can create a deeper, richer relationship with the customer. A key element that dog food purchasers are looking for is a locavore approach to ingredients, aka a “farm to bowl” ecosystem for dogs. Not only are local ingredients assumed to be healthier and fresher, but they have a smaller carbon footprint when transported.
From workout classes scheduled through an app to photographing a green smoothie for Instagram, the average millennial is also incorporating technology into their approach to a healthy lifestyle. With one out of three dog owners falling into the millennial generation, it’s no surprise that they rely on the same mix of wellness and technology to take care of their pets as well. Online pet food sales grew more than 50% in 2018 and continue to grow. Home delivery of dog food allows a pet owner to control a few elements of their pet’s food: customization of ingredients, scheduled delivery, and refrigerated freshness (all adding up to presumably higher-quality food). Part of what makes a dog food brand successful online is clear copy that explains the value proposition of the brand to the consumer, which is precisely what they have been trained to expect from human-focused startups like Everlane and Glossier.
Maybe no product area has seen the explosion of millennial-focused startups than the CBD market. From CBD oil drizzled on ice cream at trendy restaurants to infusions in makeup to liberal applications of balms on tense muscles, the cannabis derivative has become as ubiquitous as millennial pink and terrazzo. Pets have reaped the benefits too, with CBD treats that are meant to treat anxiety, stress, and pain. This burgeoning cottage industry is already being used by 11% of dog owners for a $7 billion market share. As it becomes more and more a part of daily life for pet owners, expect to see the animal offerings expand.
Since dogs are now seen as valued family members (and increasingly as a trial run before having a child), why would we not want them to have the same high-quality food that we do? Why would we not want them to eat the best ingredients from sustainable packaging? Why would we not bring in our knowledge of healthy eating practices? The attitude around dog food has fundamentally changed, as we have gone from being pet owners to pet parents.
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