Market researchers identified five keywords related to pet food attributes that appeared in more internet searches during the past year than in 2022. Many of these pet food marketing claims had to do with health and wellness for pets and sustainability for the planet, according to Nielen IQ data presented by Andrea Binder and Sam Smith of NielsenIQ at SuperZoo 2023.
“Across Pet food premium diets and ingredients, focused as a better for you or food as medicine, are a key lever of growth,” the NielsenIQ analysts said. “Even in the face of inflation impacting consumer’s total wallet spend.”
The following pet food attribute keywords increased in the number of times consumers searched for them in relation to pet food.
- Vegan/vegetarian – 23.4% increase
- Sustainable – 51.6% increase
- Plant-based – 70.2% increase
- Holistic – 7.2% increase
- Human-grade – 22.5% increase
Pet food labels: human-grade claim legal guidelines
Labeling pet food as made in a human-grade or federally inspected facility may appeal to pet owners who want to feed their cats and dogs as they feed themselves and ensure safety. Specific laws and regulatory definitions define the use of these human-grade pet food claims, and failure to meet these standards can lead to problems.
“FSIS would be concerned about pet food bearing labeling that purports the product as edible for human consumption,” Veronika Medina, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) public affairs specialist, told Petfood Industry for a previous article. “Pet food, by definition, is considered inedible [9 CFR 325.11 (d) (1)], therefore, all pet food produced in a USDA facility is considered inedible for humans, and FSIS certifying pet food does not indicate that it meets the same standards as human food.”
USDA-regulated facilities can produce two types of pet food: certified pet food and non-certified pet food, said Medina, and that is reflected in their labeling.
“Certified pet food is inspected and is marked with the USDA tombstone legend, which states that it was packaged under the continuous inspection of USDA,” she said.
However, that certification mark is different from the “Inspected and Passed” stamps used on meat, poultry and egg products that FSIS inspects for human consumption, she noted.
The other type of pet food made in USDA-inspected facilities is classified as non-certified. This non-certified pet food is not inspected and does not receive the USDA tombstone legend, she said. Nevertheless, it still must follow USDA labeling requirements.
When a pet food labels itself as made in a USDA-certified facility, it may imply to consumers that the same FSIS inspectors who monitor human food scrutinized the pet food, David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, CEO of industry consultancy Regulatory Discretion Inc., told Petfood Industry.
“That sort of claim is considered false and misleading by most regulators,” he said. “USDA-FSIS does not inspect or certify pet products. The only exception is a voluntary inspection program under 9 CFR 355, but that is very rarely used by pet food companies and does not qualify a pet food as human grade, anyway.”