Grain free dog foods are the fastest growing segment of the dog food market, up 9% in the past year, while sales of foods with grains are down slightly. Over half of all new dog foods introduced in 2017 were grain free, and companies that stated earlier they would not jump on the grain free trend have joined in, according to an article in the January 2018 edition of Petfood Industry magazine. This is one of the most striking examples of how pet food trends follow human food trends, and a great example of opportunistic product development and marketing driving the trend.
The parallel trend in human food is the growth of gluten free foods, which have seen sales increase steadily over the past several years. A look at Google searches for gluten-free food and grain-free dog food show the dog food trend is trailing the human trend, but following a similar trajectory.
Given the interest in grain free foods, pet food companies are more than willing to fulfill demand by offering more of these premium priced foods. Marketing for these foods emphasizes what is not in the foods rather than what is in the foods and implies that these processed foods are more like what wild canids eat than other processed foods whose carbohydrates are provided by grains rather than starchy vegetables and legumes.
While there is no question that qluten-free foods are essential for the health of humans with celiac disease, they are being sought out and consumed by a much wider group of the U.S. population who believe these products promote health in many ways that have not been scientifically confirmed. Similarly, grain-free dog foods make sense for dogs with known allergies to specific grains, they are also being fed to a much wider group of dogs. The veterinary community is not convinced grain-free foods are more beneficial than other well formulated foods.
It will be interesting to see how long grain free products continue to show above average growth, as two other human diet trends, paleolithic diets and ancient grains, are starting to emerge in commercial dog food.