How to Start a Successful Dog or Cat Food Business

Cans of organic, grain free cat food
••• Susie Wyshak

The American Pet Products Association says that pet owners spent over $66 billion on their animals in 2017. That includes $28 billion for pet food. General Mills paid $8 billion for premium pet food maker Blue Buffalo the same year.

Euromonitor expects the pet food market to be the only North American food segment to grow more than 2% over the next five years. Nielsen’s consumer report for 2016 showed that pet food buyers are less concerned with price and more concerned with quality. A Packaged Facts analysis from that same year showed that natural pet foods made up a quarter of industry sales.

Getting the picture? There's a lot of money in keeping our furry friends well fed and healthy.

The Big Trend in Dog and Cat Food

Peruse pet stores, and you'll see lots of trends that reflect the human specialty and natural food trends: We all want good, clean food. Just like the shift toward natural foods in human foods, pet owners are embracing fresh, clean ingredients.

These trends drive success at the small business level, as with startups like Castor & Pollux and The Farmer’s Dog. The keys to a successful pet food product include simple recipes and attractive packaging.

Keys to Successful Pet Food Brands

To start, successful brands are offering organic dog and cat foods with simple recipes and whole food ingredients we might use at home. Old-time companies like Bench & Field Pet Foods keep Fido healthy and owners guilt-free with "free-range chicken and natural/organic ingredients."

Grain-free dog foods are a growing trend, too. The opportunity: Making pet food at home can be risky and may not provide the nutrients a dog or cat needs. Many health-conscious pet owners may start to make food at home, then turn to store-bought brands either out of weariness or realizing there's more to making healthful pet food than they can handle.

Pet snack foods and treats that are freeze-dried also echoes the trends in human snack foods. Freeze-dried foods are crunchy, attractive, convenient to store and tend to retain nutrients. The opportunity lies in researching what's out there and how our own specialty/natural food trends might trickle into pet food formats and flavors that have yet to be developed.

Adorable and attractive package designs, such as the pet foods from Castor & Pollux, often boast designs as appealing as human packaged food. Remember, many human food brands stand out and succeed due to their branding. Re-sealable, stand-up pouches are a standard and easy format.

First Steps to Start a Pet Food Business

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that all animal foods be safe, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled, just as with our own human foods. 

Thus, the first step is to learn about the role of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and how it plays in controlling pet food quality and safety

Then, read your state's regulations for producing dog and cat food on the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) website. Here you will learn about labeling and the nutritional standard requirements for complete and balanced pet foods.

Next, you'll want to visit the American Pet Products Association to learn more about the industry. You can also get tips for starting a pet bakery business, from the nuts and bolts business perspective. Finally, read about more brands and consider attending the Global Pet Food Expo.