Younger generations of pet owners are influencing product trends in the pet industry.

While the absence of in-person pet trade shows has put a damper on new product discovery in the past year, industry professionals have not been left high and dry. From the World Pet Association’s WPA365 virtual platform to the 2021 Pet Industry Leadership Summit, held by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), WPA, the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) and the American Pet Products Association (APPA), industry organizations have been committed to finding alternative ways to foster the business-building environments offered by live events.

Coming this month is Global Pet Expo Digital Access, a digital show floor and educational experience hosted by APPA and PIDA that will be taking the place of the live show normally held in Orlando, Fla. Running from March 24-26, it will feature exhibitor showrooms highlighting manufacturers’ latest offerings and links to their catalogs. It also promises to feature products in some of the typical show floor sections including Natural Pet, Everything Aquatic and The Boutique. And just as the show does every year, it will include the New Product Showcase and allow attendees to cast their votes for the Best in Show winners in various categories.

While the editors of Pet Product News will miss the unique excitement of the live event—and discovering new products in person—we absolutely look forward to the digital version. With that in mind, these are some of the trends we’ll be keeping an eye out for.

Alternative proteins in pet food:

We’re not talking about kangaroo or alligator meat here—although those would indeed be alternatives to the norm. What we’re finding interesting is the slow but steady rise of pet food and treats—mostly for dogs—that are made using non-meat ingredients, or, more specifically, plant- or insect-based ingredients.

It’s not unusual for a pet owner to go on the hunt for new protein sources for their dog when their go-to choice becomes problematic, for example, as in the case of a newly developed food intolerance. But these days, customers in growing numbers are starting to question the sustainability of feeding our nation’s pets with only animal proteins.

Pet foods comprising plant- or insect-based proteins rather than animal proteins are still a novelty; however, the options in this category are growing. Pioneers in this space include companies such as Wild Earth, a pet food company manufacturing plant-based diets; Jiminy’s, which produces treats and foods made from crickets; and Pet Naturals, which recently expanded its product portfolio to include a plant-based option.

Again, this is a drop in the bucket now, but as younger generations of pet owners overtake the buying power of baby boomers and gen Xers in the marketplace, we’re expecting that brands that are actively working toward greater sustainability and earth-friendly options will take off.

Stress relief for pets:

The past year has been a stressful one for humans, but it’s been hard on our pets, too. Market research firm Packaged Facts reported that there’s been a “heightened demand for natural remedies offering relief from stress and anxiety,” with cannabidiol (CBD) soaring in popularity. According to the Packaged Facts survey Pet Supplements in the U.S., 8th Edition, 21 percent of dog owners and 10 percent of cat owners purchased CBD supplements in 2020.

Manufacturers are still releasing CBD-free calming supplements, too, with L-theanine, passionflower, valerian root and melatonin all appearing in recently introduced formulations intended to relax pets.

We’ll be interested to see if the call for anxiety-reducing solutions influences releases at this year’s show and, aside from supplement introductions, if there will also be cuddly calmers—perhaps toys and pillows—and even gadgets designed to help pets keep calm and carry on.

Personality pleasers:

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people live, and pets are benefiting from the new perspective many pet owners gained in 2020. A majority of pet owners (90 percent) said that they have built a stronger bond with their pet through 2020, and 86 percent of pet owners feel closer with their pet(s) than ever before, according to the Modern Pet Parent Report, which was conducted by Kinship Partners, a division of Mars Petcare, in partnership with Ipsos.

Pet owners who feel closer to their furry companions will no doubt look for pet products that bring them comfort and joy, and those that reflect pet owners’ personalities and lifestyles are sure to resonate. Think novelty dog toys that mimic happy hour-loving customers’ favorite libation (care for a White Paw, anyone?), or collars and leashes sporting patterns that support a pet owner’s personal interests or hobbies.

Pet product manufacturers, like ZippyPaws, which recently released a collection of toys designed to look like popular adult beverages, and SodaPup, which recently introduced a grenade-shaped treat dispenser, are continuously watching trends to innovate and create eye-catching products that spark pet owners’ interests.

We’ll be on the lookout for personality-pleasing and provocative products that make us think, “My pet needs this!” We anticipate that products like these will not only work to promote an even stronger bond with our pets during a time when many pet owners might need it most, but it will also create a loyal customer base for pet stores looking to differentiate their product assortments in an ever-expanding competitive market.

For more of PPN's coverage on pet industry trends, read: