How to Start a Successful Dog or Cat Food Business

Follow current trends to launch a profitable operation

Cans of organic, grain-free cat food
Susie Wyshak

The American Pet Products Association says that pet owners spent over $72 billion on their animals in 2018. That includes $30.32 billion for pet food. General Mills also paid $8 billion for premium pet food maker Blue Buffalo that same year.

A study by 360 Market forecasts the pet food market will grow by 3.1% by 2024. 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.

Getting Healthy With 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 shift toward a more health-conscious pet owner mentality continues to open up new market opportunities for an aspiring small-business owner.

Keys to Successful Pet Food Brands

To start, profitable 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 or organic ingredients. Grain-free dog foods are a growing trend, too.

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

The opportunity is, essentially, for entrepreneurs to offer relief and peace of mind to health-conscious pet owners. 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.

Beyond the product itself, it's also important to take stock of design trends in pet food packaging. 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 that's easy to stock on shelves.

First Steps to Starting a Pet Food Business

Animal safety should, of course, be of first priority for a pet food manufacturer. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act 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 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 standard nutritional 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 if that particular market niche interests you. Finally, read about more brands and consider attending the Global Pet Food Expo. As with starting any business, you'll want to learn how to differentiate and market your product, run a profitable operation, and hire the right staff to help your company get off the ground.