Trend towards more natural, premium pet food products boosts General Mills’ Blue Buffalo brand

USA— The growth of general mill’s Blue Buffalo’s brand is attributed to not just the rise in the number of dogs and cats but the trend toward feeding them more natural, premium products.

Currently, in America there is 2.5 times as many pets as children. And according to the American Pet Products Association, spending on pet food and treats has jumped from US$37 billion in 2019 to $50 billion in 2021.

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“It’s wild, and it has really changed how people view pets,” said Bethany Quam, president of General Mills’ pet division. “It continues to fuel what we call humanization — if you believe they’re a family member, then you want to feed them and treat them like humans.”

Blue Buffalo’s appeal lies in its meat-first natural ingredient list that mirrors the clean-label trend in human food. While Blue Buffalo is the leading all-natural pet food brand in the U.S., it makes up about 5% of the US$37 billion dog and cat food market.

The pandemic saw pet ownership rise at a record clip and this opened a window for the brand to hook lifelong customers.

The US$8 billion Blue Buffalo acquisition and the US$1.2 billion paid for Tyson’s natural pet treats last year is a significant wager that pet owners will seek out natural food for their pets.

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Analysts say it’s already paying off; after the acquisition of Blue Buffalo in 2018, General Mills pet sales grew more than 20% between 2019 and 2021.

The humanization of pet food accelerated during the pandemic but has been building for years — and started in part with Blue Buffalo’s founding 20 years ago.

“The company pushed owners to draw a connection between what their families ate to avoid chronic disease and what would give their dogs the same kind of protection.” Harvard Business Review wrote about the brand’s successful industry debut.

Natural pet brands like Blue Buffalo sell at a premium, and inflation has pushed prices even higher. In the last year, pet food prices have risen 7%, compared to 9.4% for human food according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Rising cost inflation might not impact the pet food sector as much as others as, again, consumers increasingly shop for their pet food like they shop for food for themselves, focusing on quality ingredients and the perceived health benefits,” said Boylan, the Edward Jones analyst.

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Quam said the brand, now found in 23 million households, is focusing its innovation on solving consumer problems.

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