Animals

Buy your dog a Christmas pudding if you want to get its tail wagging | Dogs

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Christmas preparations are in full swing, and for some new “dads”, this means buying special food. These might be meals made with Suffolk duck, lamb, or herb-bred venison. Some will look for botanical ingredients, such as marigold petals and burdock root. Others will buy their “baby” first Christmas candy from Ocado.

These shoppers aren’t just dads – they’re pet parents, a UK consumer group that is inspiring a revolution in the animal food industry.

During the pandemic, pet ownership has boomed in Britain, with more than three million families buying a new animal. Research by the American animal food company Mars Petcare found that 32% of new dog owners and 42% of new cat owners had no previous experience as “pet parents.” This has created a unique opportunity for pet food brands and startups to sell new types of food.

“In recent years, animals have been increasingly seen as members of the family,” says Manasi Utekar, analyst at Fortune Business Insights. “Thus, owners buy pet food the same way they shop and think about their food. They look for highly nutritious products that are sustainably sourced. They look for a label that is natural, organic, slightly processed, or raw.”

Mail order pet food is a growing offshoot of this revolution, with companies offering menus tailored to their owners’ doors. One such company is The Katkin Company, a company that specializes in providing fresh food for cats. “Now we’re finding out what’s really in our pets’ food, and how to make it,” says Nikki O’Farrell, who co-founded the company with her brother Brett, in 2018. For companies that really care about our cats and really design them.”

The UK also has the largest share of pet food launches in Europe which have both ethical and environmental claims. Today, 33% of new brands have recyclable packaging. Pet foods containing sustainable seafood from the Marine Stewardship Council have grown by 57% in the UK in the past five years. “New start-up The Pack offers vegan dog food, and Lily’s Kitchen will be launching one soon,” says Uttekar.

Purina, one of the world’s largest pet food manufacturers, has launched two big new operations in Europe for 2020: organic cat food and insect-based food. Many companies also focus on bugs. When pet owners decide to reduce meat in their diets, some seem to be looking for ways to reduce meat for their animals as well.

A 2020 study on the environmental carbon footprint of pets found that food processing caused greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to total emissions from countries such as Mozambique or the Philippines.

Pet farming is expected to grow as more millennials become owners and spend on pet services and accessories — especially Christmas gifts — and the market has been responsive. Ocado is stocking its first dog Christmas treat this year—made of biscuits with a yogurt topping—and specialty companies offer a range of holiday cakes for dogs and sushi and venison for cats.

There’s also a special Christmas cranberry and sweet potato chew sticks for the vegan dog in your life. Christmas might be extra treats, but as O’Farrell points out, pet parents want only the best of the smörgåsbord from the animal food on offer. “This is not a luxury we are talking about, this does not spoil your cat: this is essential for a healthy and happy pet.”

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