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Emerging trends in pet food manufacturing

Optimism, innovation, and the dynamics of a changing pet food manufacturing industry.

This article originally appeared in our 2022 Horizons Pet Food report, which includes insights from industry leaders and CRB’s experts. Get your copy of the report here

In mid-2020, more than two million YouTube viewers were captivated by the voice of a professional sports commentator—only instead of presenting Wimbledon or the Olympics, as he usually does, Andrew Cotter was narrating the imagined rivalry between his dogs while they quietly ate their breakfast.

There may be no better example of one of the pandemic’s lasting impacts: stuck at home, severed from the routines of everyday life, millions of people turned to their pets for entertainment and comfort—and those pets became relatable and humanized family members in the eyes of their owners.

This phenomenon accelerated a trend already underway before lockdowns became a norm: more people are adopting pets, and pet owners are more inclined to pay a premium for high-quality and nutritious food and treats. For manufacturers, this adds pressure to a situation already constrained by supply chain risks, labor shortages, and rising costs. But it creates opportunities, too: for more innovation, more optimization, and more focus on important values like sustainability and ethical ingredient sourcing.

To understand how today’s pet food and pet treat manufacturers are responding to these risks and opportunities, we reached out to hundreds of companies, from pioneering startups with niche products to the Fortune 100 giants of the pet food world. They answered more than 60 survey questions each, creating a nuanced picture of an industry that’s feeling confident—not just because it’s growing, but because of how it’s growing.

For example, we learned that three-quarters of respondents have increased their intended capital investment as a result of pandemic dynamics. But they aren’t spending to simply expand the status quo; upgraded packaging systems, automation installations, and processing improvements top most respondents’ five-year wish lists, indicating a push toward a new threshold of quality and efficiency.

Meanwhile, R&D labs have never seen more activity as manufacturers race to formulate innovative products designed for today’s principled pet food buyer. Nearly three-quarters of respondents plan to shift away from animal-based whole muscle protein, for example, while interest in plant-based ingredients is soaring. This signals manufacturers’ sense of responsibility not only toward the health of the family pet, but the health of the planet on which that pet depends. In fact, nearly 90% of respondents are striving to hit net-zero emissions within the next ten years.

These and many other insights give Horizons: Pet Food its footing in a dynamic and rapidly evolving industry. This report features expert perspectives on what these trends mean to the future of pet food manufacturing and how pet food companies can build successful strategies into every level of their manufacturing approach, including:

Product Innovation

In a market flooded with competition and shaped by a discerning consumer, pet food manufacturers face a difficult task: take a new direction, or take a seat. For smaller companies, this means balancing premium formulations with a selling price consumers will accept; for companies on the larger end, it means expanding beyond bulk kibble to offer products that are nutritious, sustainable, and attractive. For everyone, it means experimenting with alternatives to costly and resource-heavy ingredients.


As pet food formulators stretch beyond convention to uncover high-quality and sustainable ways of feeding Fido, process teams are undertaking their own form of innovation. For them, it’s not about trailblazing; it’s about finding new ways to optimize existing methods. Oven baking, extrusion, batch and blend—our respondents showed us that these technologies aren’t going anywhere, but they are getting better, faster, and more efficient through strategic investments and improvements.

Project Execution

With new pet food formulations emerging and a push for automation and sustainability shaping the future of pet food plant design, manufacturers need a way to make change happen, quickly and cost-effectively. For half of our survey respondents, the answer lies in integrated project delivery (IPD), the collaboration-based alternative to traditional design-bid-build.


Will our packaging systems keep up with demand? That’s a pressing question for respondents, who know that packaging can impact the supply chain at every level and have prioritized it as their number one CapEx objective for the next five years. How can they ensure these investments in packaging will adequately address supplier delays, sustainability goals, market trends, and more? Our packaging experts explore solutions in our Horizons report.

Operational Improvements and Efficiencies

Pet food companies are investing steadily in their facilities—but how do they know these investments will pay off, and what should they do to future-proof their operations against rising demand from consumers, a crashing labor market, and pressures to reach the market quickly with a diverse product portfolio? Our industry experts answer these questions, in the Horizons report, with the context of our survey results, giving readers practical advice for aligning their capital spending strategies with their operational goals.

Quality and Safety

In terms of quality and safety, pet food manufacturing has evolved into one of the leading segments of the food and beverage industry. For example, investments in hygienic facility design have led to procedures that mimic those of human food production, with an emphasis on GMP processes.


Sustainability is a priority among most survey respondents, with companies aspiring towards net-zero goals in just a few years. Yet there’s an apparent gap between these ambitious targets and the steps necessary to meet them—especially as supply chain disruptions and fuel costs continue to strain the industry. Is it possible that persistent myths about sustainability could be holding companies back, and that factors that seem like barriers today could, in fact, drive action in the future?

For more a more in-depth look at these trends and what they mean for the pet food manufacturing industry, download the report below.

Man’s best friend, manufacturers’ bright future

In this era of quality-driven food for the humanized family pet, a dog’s breakfast never looked so good—and it never represented such a promising and opportunity-rich future for the industry.

To be part of that future, ambitious pet food and pet treat companies are working with expert partners to modernize their product portfolios, optimize their processes, and bring more sustainable and innovative approaches to the facility floor. Read the full report to understand just what that might mean for your own manufacturing strategy and to find out how you, too, can become an industry top dog.

To access more insights on the pet food manufacturing industry, download the report below.

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