UK market insights: growing demand for ‘natural’ petfood

// Industry

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s (B+LNZ) latest tracking of United Kingdom (UK) consumer trends shows a growing demand for naturally produced petfood with health benefit associated with it.

The UK stands as a substantial market for petfood exports, second only to the United States, with nearly 57 percent of UK households owns a pet. In 2022, UK consumers spent nearly £10 billion pounds on petfood and pet-related products. 

Research by ingredients company BENO, a prominent ingredients company, revealed a growing preference among pet owners for 'natural' petfood with added health advantages, mirroring human nutrition trends. There is increasing demand for clean label products such as no or low-allergenic, ‘natural’ petfood ingredients, and there is rising interest in attributes like prebiotics. 

The research also underscored the rising interest in sustainable petfood. Research by Mars petfood found that 57 percent of pet owners were willing to switch their petfood to a more sustainable product. 

B+LNZ’s Global Market Intelligence & Research Manager says, “Given the high sustainability attributes of New Zealand sheep and beef products, New Zealand is well placed to take advantage of a global shift to better quality, more sustainably produced pet food ingredients.” 

“What will help us take advantage is ensuring New Zealand’s rigorous production standards are communicated to our international consumers. Programmes like New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP) and NZAP Plus will be key to do so.” 

Controversies with Red Tractor Assurance Scheme 

The Red Tractor scheme is a UK-based food assurance programme that certifies food products produced in the UK meet certain quality and safety standards - from farm to pack - including animal welfare, food safety, traceability, and environmental protection.  

B+LNZ’s UK market insights shows the scheme has faced a significant backlash from the farming community, particularly UK sheep farmers, over its new Greener Farms Commitment (GFC), criticised for potentially imposing undue costs on farmers without clear benefits. This is alongside previous scandals related to animal welfare and pollution

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has expressed deep concerns, calling for a comprehensive review of the scheme’s governance and relevance to farmers, emphasising the need for greater consultation and relevance to the sector’s unique challenges. 

By contrast, support is strong amongst New Zealand farmers and the wider industry for farm assurance programmes like NZFAP and NZFAP Plus, as they have been developed by the sector and government to deliver consistent traceability, food safety and animal welfare across the farming sector, backed up by independent third party auditors. 

“These assurance programmes ensure that farmers’ great work is recorded in a consistent way, so international buyers know when they buy our red meat that it is produced to a high standard, and they don't have to take our word for it,” says Good.  

Carbon emissions increasingly communicated by food and restaurant brands 

One of the largest online food delivery services in the UK, Just Eat is trialling labelling the emission profile of food supplied to customers. This is alongside restaurants like Wahaca who adopted labelling in 2022, and subsequently dropped steak from its menus due to concerns over its environmental impact.  

Food emissions labelling startup My Emissions is delivering the analysis and labelling. They measure emissions from farm to store, including all emissions from farming, processing, packaging and transport, although retail, storage and transport, cooking, and end-of-life emissions are not currently included.  

Emissions information is communicated to customers using a traffic-light colour system and a grade. An ‘A’ grade indicates a dish with a very low carbon impact while an ‘E’ grade indicates a very high carbon impact. 

Good says the rise in schemes like this highlight the importance of communicating that not all meat is created with equal emissions. 

“New Zealand grass-fed beef and lamb have a smaller environmental footprint than global averages often cited, which are based on grain-fed production. Ensuring this nuance isn't lost when communicating impact to consumers will be important.” 

View the full UK Pulse report below.