Sixty-eight percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted.

The U.S. holds the largest share of the worldwide pet care market as more Americans take on ownership of dogs, cats, reptiles, small mammals and fish. The continuing trend of pet humanization and the willingness of American consumers to opt for premium pet food brands has spurred continued growth in the sector. Further, the increase in the number of non-traditional households with no children, coupled with high levels of disposable income is boosting the per-capita pet expenditure.

This increase in pet ownership has created a robust market for pet food packaging. Across all global industries, pet food is expected to achieve a growth rate of 12 percent. As a result, manufacturers should expect to see continued demand for growth within flexible packaging for pet food categories, according to the Flexible Packaging Assessment report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

An increase in pet adoption, innovation in packaging and the rising disposable income of pet owners drive growth. With this added disposable income, pet owners are also seeking out premium and innovative pet food products, which have helped to boost market growth. The increasing trend of pet humanization and concerns about pet health have resulted in consumers seeking quality packaged food products for their animals. Consumers are demanding packaging options that not only protect pet food from spoilage but have quality standards similar to human food packaging.

These consumer trends have led to a growing variety of package types utilizing more or different kinds of film. The growing assortment and competition within the marketplace have encouraged pet food processors to come up with packaging that mirrors packaging for human foods. Processors are looking for cost-effective solutions for all types of pet food formats, including stand-up pouches, chub and roll-style pet food that can be used for fresh, frozen, heat-treated and shelf-stable products.

People want U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliant materials. These stringent pet food quality regulations can be a possible restraining feature when it comes to packaging innovation.

Plastic in the form of PVC, HDPE, PET and others are some of the most widely used materials in the pet food market to protect food from contaminants and preserve nutritional value. These materials offer a high barrier, cost efficiency, temperature resistance and durability. These characteristics, along with features such as single-serve flip open and zipper flaps, add customer appeal in the pet food packaging market.

As the growth of the pet food market increases so have the number of players, increasing the options available on the pet food shelves. Brands are looking for ways to make their products stand out as somehow unique in this extremely crowded market, whether it’s from inventive designs enabled by advances in flexible packaging and printing technologies, or through convenience features such as advanced closure systems.

Developments in flexographic printing have given pet food brands room to be truly creative with displaying their products on store shelves. Best practices for flexographic printing have evolved to the point where it’s possible to combine visually striking designs with the cost advantages of flexo. Meanwhile, to appeal to consumers, the pet food industry has started to incorporate convenience features such as common closures traditionally used in the snack food industry. These types of packaging changes help products stand out among the competition on the store shelves.

The desire for convenience has contributed to interest in features like audible and tactile zippers, providing both sound and sensation when closing and pocket-zip zippers that allow users to tear open the entire width without terminating the gussets, providing an added tamper-evident feature. Additionally, easy-tear zippers provide a clean tear line without having to laser-score the package. That said, some package scoring is related to the senses as well as to convenience. For example, some packages are using micro-scoring to enable users to smell the treat right away when they pick up the package and push air out.

In addition to flexible packaging, the demand for tubs and cups are projected to benefit from the need for convenience features and lightweight pet food packaging. Durability is also key in this market. Buying in bulk continues to be a popular trend. With these larger and heavier packages, puncture resistant films and easy-open laser scoring to prevent the package from ripping down the side are features consumers appreciate.

Many pet food brands are concerned with maintaining consumer confidence in the quality and safety of their product. Even as companies have been taking major strides to improve the quality and safety of their pet food, every product recall adds to the public concern about the quality and consistency of the food they are buying for their pets.

The fats and minerals in pet food are susceptible to oxidation when exposed to oxygen, which can cause undesirable flavors. Flexible packaging with high-barrier film works to prevent oxidation and maintain product freshness. Metalized films or foil are recommended for this same reason. In addition, features like one-way degassing valves and resealable pouches can help reduce oxygen exposure, extend product life and create loyal customers.

In addition to safety, sustainability motivates consumers to purchase certain brands of pet food. Consumers continue to be increasingly aware of and concerned with the waste and environmental impact of traditional packaging methods. Environmentally friendly packaging can often influence consumer purchasing decisions.

Processors today have many options when it comes to materials that are more sustainable or at least less impactful on the environment. For example, they can use materials sourced from renewable resins and stay away from petroleum-based resins. Companies are looking at using packages such as stand-up pouches made from 100 percent recyclable polyethylene (PE), eliminating the need for lamination with other substrates and simplifying the recycling process. In addition to the recyclable path, there is also compostable materials. These solutions addressing material waste, include biodegradable packaging, can be used in a variety of formats, including for moist or wet pet foods.

Whether sourcing the latest recyclable film or new solutions in resealable packaging, PACK EXPO Las Vegas (Sept. 23-25; Las Vegas Convention Center), co-located with Healthcare Packaging EXPO, will showcase innovations from more than 2,000 exhibitors spanning over 900,000 net square feet of exhibit space. According to show organizer, PMMI, the show will bring together top consumer packaged goods companies from around the world to explore state-of-the-art packaging technologies, equipment and materials as well as exchange ideas and build professional relationships with 30,000 packaging professionals in attendance. Beyond the technologies displayed on the show floor, attendees will find tremendous educational opportunities on the Innovation Stage where suppliers present free 30-minute seminars on breakthrough technologies throughout the day. Registration, which includes access to both PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO is $30 until Sept. 1 when the price increases to $100. For more information. visit