Petfood sales in Europe are growing fast and now the industry is worth a reported €29.1bn. Great news for producers and retailers, but perhaps not so much for an already strained climate. 

It was recently revealed in an academic study published in the PLOS1 journal by Professor Andrew Knight of the University of Winchester that if all dogs were to eat a vegan diet, it would save more greenhouse gas emissions than all those created by the UK.

A 2020 University of Edinburgh study discovered around 49 million hectares of agricultural land – roughly twice the size of the UK – are used annually to make dry food for cats and dogs. It also found annual greenhouse gas emissions equate to 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. A country producing the same levels would be the world’s 60th highest emitter, researchers said.

But the petfood industry processes leftovers from the human food supply chain, so how can it be so bad for the environment?

To some extent this is historically true: rendered animals are used for a proportion of petfood, and selling to the petfood industry is a part of the meat industry’s business model.

However, there are signs that things are changing. Pet owners Europe-wide are demanding more premium products for their dogs, with the humanisation of petfood being a key driver. This means, increasingly, our dogs and cats are eating cuts of meat that could be destined for human dinner plates. It is now commonplace for premium brands to offer products like boar, which are hunted specifically for the purpose of petfood production.

Plant-based dogfood is improving

This trend is borne out in the success of premium meat-focused petfood businesses, such as Butternut Box, which recently completed a £283m funding round, as well as Lily’s Kitchen, which was acquired by Nestlé Purina in 2020.

But so too are plant-based petfoods. The Pack makes nutritionally complete petfoods with leading industry producers. There has been noise around plant-based dogfoods, but the species is naturally – and happily – omnivorous.

Our study into the carbon equivalent of our plant-based, wet food versus meat based equivalents showed such an approach can reduce CO2 emissions by over 17 times.

Given the huge environmental impact of meat and fish petfood, change across Europe is inevitable, noticeable by the array of alternative protein petfood brands already available.

With the taste of plant-based dogfood improving, and companies having the backing of major manufacturers, investors and scientific innovation, feeding plant-based products is now a viable proposition for dog parents.

Uptake by major retailers in the UK has been slow but this is surely set to change if retailers are serious about meeting their net-zero commitments. A refresh of petfood aisles across Europe that incorporated plant-based products for dogs would go a long way to bringing down the carbon footprint of retailers’ petfood aisles.

Supporting sustainable pet owners

An example of these kinds of environmental commitments can be found at Pets at Home, the UK’s leading pet specialist retailer with 453 stores across the UK, which has made huge commitments to net zero goals.

The Pets At Home 2022 Social Value Report stated: “We are in a unique position to support our customers to be sustainable pet owners by leading the way in providing sustainable choices across our pet care ecosystem. Our goal for the planet is to be net zero by 2040, this is an ambitious carbon reduction goal that aligns to the Science Based Targets initiative.”

But as with any significant cultural shift, especially when it comes to pets, challenges lie ahead. There is still a lot of market education to be done and retailers need to step up to the plate in the same way they have done in the plant-based human space.

There is reason to remain optimistic that in five to 10 years’ time, most dog owners will not think twice about regularly feeding plant-based products whether that is in the form of complete meals, treats or dental chews.

If this happens, perhaps collectively as pet parents, we’ll be actively taking a bite out of the climate crisis.