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Natural Products Expo West Gives Insight into Pet Products Category

This overwhelmingly popular annual trade show was the perfect opportunity to assess how natural human product trends are influencing the pet space.


CEO Beau Mainous (second from right) with the I and Love and You team

The natural products space is doing well, if Natural Products Expo West is any indication. The annual trade show stakes out the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., as well as portions of the nearby Marriott and Hilton hotels. Attendance numbers continue to climb. It’s hard to get down the sidewalk near the convention center without being handed an armload’s worth of energy drinks and coconut water. I’ve never seen any place so busy. I’d put the potential for being regularly elbowed or stepped on somewhere on the scale between Disneyland, which is the Anaheim Convention Center’s close neighbor, and New York’s Times Square. But if you’re having trouble picturing yourself somewhere between the Happiest Place on Earth and one of the most crowded, I can also tell you that New Hope Network, the organizer of the event, reported attendance numbers of more than 86,000 for the 2019 show, which took place March 6-9, with education and some events starting March 5.

Natural Products Expo West brings together exhibitors from a wide range of categories to showcase human food products, household care items, beauty and personal care products, supplements, ingredients and more, with pet product suppliers making up a small slice of the pie.

Beau Mainous, CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based I and Love and You, said it’s a great opportunity for manufacturers in the pet space to see what’s popular in the natural human products category, especially among millennials, which is I and Love and You’s target market.

I asked him what human product trends are also hot in pet right now. He said that as people focus on superfoods in their own diets, they want to see them in pet consumables too.

“So there’s a lot more thought going into the animals’ nutrition,” he said, noting that the company works closely with a holistic veterinarian to ensure that any superfood inclusions it uses are beneficial to pets. 

Prebiotics and probiotics—which I certainly saw touted plenty throughout the show—are also showing up more in pet products, Mainous said.

“We’ve always had pre- and probiotics in all of our products, but you’re starting to see it pop up in a lot of other places,” he said.

The third major trend Mainous said has trickled down to pet is freshness.  

“There’s a lot of emphasis looking at fresh, like how do you get more fresh or closer to the source, and that’s a tough one because cold chain is a little more challenging along the pet category/pet aisles,” he said. 

He noted that I and Love and You tackles the freshness problem by offering dehydrated and rehydrated product and using flash-frozen processes.

The company debuted its Baked and Saucy dog food line at Natural Products Expo West. It can be served wet or dry. 

“It’s a slow-baked kibble, which is a lot better for nutrients,” Mainous said. “And then we coat it in a savory bone broth, and if you put water on it, it turns into this wonderful, aromatic gravy. So it really is a nice experience for the animal, and it brings out a little more entertainment value. It makes us feel a little more engaged in what we’re doing for our fur babies.”

The company also introduced its Feed Meow and Top That meal enhancer lines for cats and dogs, respectively—functional toppers that can be added to dry kibble or served alone to give pets a little more variety and flavor, Mainous said.

Also exhibiting was Portland Pet Food Co., another manufacturer embracing the fresh foods trend.

The company places emphasis on home-style meals, with recipes such as Grandma Ada’s Turkey & Yams Grain & Gluten-Free Holiday Meal Feast and Rosie’s Beef N’ Rice Meal. Its products are made and sourced in the USA, using all-natural and local meats, vegetables and grains. They can be used as a rotational meal, meal topper, kibble mixer or soft treat.

“Our meals are fully cooked and shelf stable, but they offer a home-style type of cooking that many people want to be able to have for their dogs but don’t necessarily have the time or means to do,” said Maggie McCarron, co-owner of the Portland, Ore., company. “So we like to say that we do the grocery shopping, the cooking and the dishes, and all you have to do is feed your dog the right thing.”

When asked about what human food trends are filtering down to pet, McCarron cited limited-ingredient diets and the clean-label concept.

“People are requesting that they can understand exactly what they’re eating, and I think that trend is going into the pet industry as well,” she said. “So we’re seeing that even with meal kit delivery. The idea that you’re cooking at home but someone else is sourcing responsibly for you and you can acknowledge where it’s coming from. That transparency in ingredients is huge in the human food sector.”

McCarron agreed that natural products and health foods for humans have become more mainstream in recent years, and she said this is impacting the pet products industry.

“People are starting to realize that they want to be able to read what’s on their [product] label, and not only on the products that they’re putting into their own body, but the products that are in their household,” she said. “We see that trend in cleaning items as well. Especially families that have younger children, they’re starting to be aware of what they’re bringing into their household on every front, and I think that even goes to where pets are associated.”

The takeaway is that people are expecting more from companies—human and pet product manufacturers alike—and brands are being held more accountable for what is in their products than in the past, she said.

Carrie Brenner is senior editor for Pet Product News International. She has spent several years researching new products with the help of her cat, Amelia.

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