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Clarkston’s Steve Rogers Speaks with The Atlantic on Trends in Pet Food

The Atlantic | October 26, 2018

Clarkston Consulting Consumer Products Principal Steve Rogers was interviewed by The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker on the shifting trends in pet food. An excerpt of Steve’s interview and a link to the full article are below.

To succinctly capture the strangeness of how Americans feed their house pets in the year 2018, there are perhaps no better five words than pumpkin-spice lattes for dogs. If there’s room to use a few more qualifiers, then non-GMO, American-made goat’s-milk pumpkin-spice lattes for dogs would probably be more evocative.

That is a real product, sold by a real company—“Just add warm water!” the label says—and it would not feel too out of place on the shelves of many pet-food aisles, where these days one is almost just as likely to encounter labels boasting “grass-fed beef” and “high-protein” recipes as anywhere else in the store.

As these aisles indicate, pet food—particularly high-end pet food—is edging ever closer to human food, and the overlaps between the two categories can be uncanny. “People are putting whole berries in there, whole cranberries, whole blueberries,” says Don Tomala, the president of Matrix Partners, a pet-products branding firm. “They’re putting kelp in there, they’re putting turmeric in there, they’re putting apple-cider vinegar in there … These are all trends within the human-food side.”

Tomala, who helped launch the dog food Kibbles ’n Bits in the early 1980s, remembers that back then, “it was food for your dog—that was about as far as it went.” Ingredients weren’t fussed over, and the packaging was playful; he remembers cartoonish labels, say, with “a bubble-faced dog on it smiling.” That wouldn’t fly today. Tomala says packages now are more likely to display “a serious-looking dog … It looks nutritious and healthy—it looks like something I’d buy at Whole Foods.”

This transformation of pet food reflects a broader trend, in which people go to ever-greater lengths to address the human needs they project onto their pets, almost as if the animals were their children. Some Americans buy silicone testicular implants so that their pet might “retain its natural look and self-esteem” after being neutered, or make provisions in their wills for their horses; a friend recently told me that she discovered, when picking up a new prescription, that she and her dog had been put on the same anxiety medication.

Marketers often attribute the treatment of pets as little humans in part to Millennials waiting longer to have children, which frees them up to channel their energies toward their “fur babies,” a term people sometimes (unfortunately) use for their pets. With that in mind, it makes sense that some people would want to buy the finest foods for their animals. Another factor behind the rise of high-quality pet food is the increased concern many shoppers have about the environmental and social impact of all sorts of consumer goods.

“One of the main things that we’ve seen in the past five-plus years is that the parents, the shoppers, of the pets, they’re looking at pet food in the very same way they’re looking at the food they buy for themselves,” says Steve Rogers, a principal consultant at the firm Clarkston Consulting who advises large food and beverage companies, many of which have pet-food divisions. Non-GMO, gluten-free, no preservatives—these are what many consumers are after, and, Rogers says, “any trend that you almost see in consumer purchases or consumer food, pet food is basically a lagging indicator.”

To view the full article, visit The Atlantic’s original article here.