Where’s the Food?

As discussed in my previous post, there is movement toward the availability of sustainable pet product options. However there is a glaringly obvious hole in this trend: food. There are very few options for purchasing healthy, sustainable pet food.

A few small companies are rising up here and there. Jeffreys Natural Pet Food in San Francisco prepares fresh pet food from organic, locally sourced meat. Additionally, some of the larger companies promote “healthy ingredients” and “environmentally friendly packaging”. However, I assert that the efforts being made to meet those claims are often minimal at best and in some cases completely misleading. In an attempt to examine closely what exactly is (or isn’t) happening in the pet food industry, I have conducted extensive research and drawn certain conclusions which I would like to share with the pet community and their human companions.

Pet Food Manufacturing and Sales is a 60 billion dollar industry worldwide, and approximately a 20 billion dollar industry in the United States. Despite recently troubled economic conditions, or maybe because of them, the industry continues to grow and prosper. After all, high levels of stress and uncertainty leave us seeking comfort, and who better to provide it than our furry companions? Unconditional love and affection may not heal our economic wounds but it can certainly soothe the pain.

Further research indicates that people are becoming increasingly aware of both the health and the environmental impact of their pets, a fact which has not escaped the attention of industry leaders. A 2010 pet food survey by the Pet Food Institute indicates that sustainability is a growing factor in consumer decision making. Bill Hogan of Novus Pet Nutrition is quoted on Petfoodindustry.com as saying “Just look at what is happening for the human market today, and that is the pet food of tomorrow[.]” Additionally, leading pet food retailers such as Del Monte Foods identify pet food sales as one of their highest growth opportunities. (DelMonte annual report, 2009)

So why aren’t there more sustainable food options? I don’t have all the answers to this question but rather than ruminating endlessly on the “why”, I propose that we focus as a community on the “how”. There is no doubt that a 20 billion dollar industry largely made up of a few powerful companies has the capacity to drive industry change. But as the saying goes, “Why fix it if it isn’t broke?”

Currently, pet food manufacturers (whose profits continue to rise with little effort) don’t have much motivation to change the way they do business. This has to change. Unfortunately, business doesn’t often change course for the greater good. Business changes course in response to the flow of money. The number one thing that would convince pet food companies to offer any new product is consumer demand.

What many people don’t realize is that we consumers are akin to gods. They want our money. We want sustainable food options. Where is the missing link? The pet food companies need to see that there is demand for these products. They need to see money waving in the air. As a nation of consumers we often take a passive role. We choose between available choices, and heavily paid marketing teams decide what those choices are. However, times are changing. In an age where information is quite literally at the tip of our fingers, we have more consumer power than ever. We have the ability to demand what we want and drive massive industry change.

So this is a shout out to pet owners everywhere. We love our pets. We want the best for them and research shows that most pet owners care about the planet. There is a market for these products, and really, this is a golden opportunity for someone to capitalize on and profit from. We just need to get their attention. So please add your thoughts and come back for upcoming posts, in which we will continue to explore the possibilities.

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Filed under Pet Food, Sustainable Pets

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