The US pet food processing sector is thriving. An increase in pets due to the pandemic and resulting remote work allowed many employees to work from home; however, it brought challenges for the pet food industry. As more and more people worked from home, they had more time to care for pets, with many without domesticated animals deciding to become pet parents. This rise in pet numbers led to increased pet food sales during a time when supply chains were strained, leading to challenges within the pet food industry. The challenges have continued, with manufacturers experiencing worker shortages, not to mention trends regarding future growth, the sector’s sustainability, and technological advances within processing facilities. The equipment used in pet food manufacturing, too, has been a focal point for pet food industry challenges, with producers looking to handle these future concerns as effectively as possible with the most efficient industrial food processing machinery.
Current Pet Food Industry Challenges
Challenges for the pet food industry include rising produce demand, supply chain issues, labor shortages, operational equipment, and ongoing concerns about future growth, technology, and sustainability. While some of these issues are already being addressed or sorting themselves out, the pet food industry needs to address and face these challenges to
Amid the global COVID pandemic, there was a significantly increased demand for pet food. Industry challenges during 2020 saw a 9.7 percent increase in US pet food sales to $42 billion as people stayed home, many of whom added pets to their households. This rise in the pet population was documented by animal shelters, breeders, and rescue facilities, who couldn’t keep up with the demand for new pets. Understandably, the pet food industry couldn’t meet these challenges regarding demand, as they weren’t expecting a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Some key pet food industry challenges regarding demand:
- Containing calming ingredients like cannabidiol (CBD) or hemp oil.
- Easy traceability of pet food to help manage inventory and allow issues with batches to be quickly resolved.
- Exotic meats like bison, rabbit, venison, or wild boar introduced into pet foods or treats.
- Premium and natural pet food that is regarded as more healthy, is often labeled as “organic” or “grain-free”.
- Sustainable and socially responsible sourcing, production methods, and ingredients.
Trends change rapidly within the pet food industry. Challenges constantly evolve as pet parent demands change. For this reason, pet food manufacturers must be flexible in their approach to the market, investing in versatile equipment that can meet new demands.
The rise in demand during the pandemic affected supply chains in the pet food industry. Challenges in sourcing ingredients and shipping finished product resulted, though these seem to be resolving themselves finally. As a result of these disruptions in the supply chain, prices have risen over the past three years. The pandemic isn’t the only reason for these supply chain issues within the pet food industry. Challenges have been developing for years, with bottlenecks aggravated because of the pandemic, and they’re not unique to the pet food processing sector.
Some of these supply chain challenges for pet food producers include:
- Lack of parking for trucks and containers at docks.
- Ships are getting larger, which means that:
- Loading and unloading takes longer.
- There’s less docking space.
- There are insufficient numbers of modern cranes that can load or unload cargo off newer, larger vessels quickly.
- Traffic congestion in US ports due to:
- Pent-up demand from the pandemic.
- Lack of technology for logistics at ports.
There are several other factors affecting logistics within the pet food industry. Challenges regarding land use, environmental and air quality, economic impacts, infrastructure, and other factors require long-term investment of US ports to resolve. While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in late 2021 provides $17 billion towards infrastructure development at US ports to support supply chains, this complex process will take time to resolve fully.
Additionally, a report from the American Trucking Association (ATA) warned that there’s a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers countrywide, along with high fuel prices, though rising wages will help fill some of these driver shortages. The IIJA commits a whopping $550 billion towards US projects in the transportation sector, including $110 billion for upgrading roads and bridges. Technological solutions are also being implemented, upgrading Internet access and utility grids. This includes a $65 billion investment in high-speed Internet that’s necessary for today’s modern businesses.
While truck drivers are essential to the supply chain, and rising wages for them will tick prices of ingredients and finished product upwards, other issues within the US labor market affect the pet food industry. Challenges now include finding quality employees, as wages have risen dramatically in other sectors, making the workforce increasingly competitive. This only makes it more difficult for pet food processors to meet higher production quotas, particularly affecting smaller operations without automated processes.
With US unemployment now at 3.4 percent, the lowest level since 1968, large corporations are paying higher wages for industrial jobs like warehouse work. This draws away from potential employees within the pet food industry. Challenges within the sector now must meet these wage pressures, not just to find new workers but also to retain current ones. The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) looked into this issue at the 2022 AFIA Pet Food Conference, participating with pet food companies to ensure fair treatment of employees in the pet food processing industry. Challenges discussed include the need for decent pay, equitable overtime opportunities, family accommodations, and other human resources issues.
Some Ongoing Pet Food Industry Challenges
As with other commercial sectors, the COVID pandemic decimated supply chains, which in turn heightened demand, restricted trade, closed factories, and put extreme pressure on just-in-time inventory systems. This led to disrupted production and severe shortages of pet food. Industry challenges after the pandemic continued with rising costs for shipping both ingredients and finished product. While the above issues look to be resolved, or at least improved, over the next couple of years, the following issues will continue to affect the pet food sector in the future.
The rise in pet ownership has driven the growth of the pet food industry. Challenges related to this growth will continue to impact production and logistics, with new technologies looking to solve these problems. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), one out of five households adopted a pet during the pandemic, contributing to a significant rise in demand. Though typically bigger stores, including supermarkets, have been the primary pet food sellers, industry challenges include the growing popularity of healthier organic pet food products. Online pet food sales have also markedly increased, as with other industries, due to the convenience of consumers.
As with other sectors, sustainability drives consumer behavior in the pet food industry. The challenges surrounding feeding pets in a manner sustainable to the environment and society continue to be a factor. In fact, 40 percent of pet parents state that environmental issues swayed their decision on what to feed their pets, while almost 75 percent look positively on brands that package their products more sustainably.
These days, pet food consumers and producers are looking at:
- Working with the meat packing industry to obtain byproducts from their operations that would otherwise be thrown out.
- Packaging materials that are more environmentally friendly and recyclable.
- Insect-based foods, such as using black soldier fly larvae in dog food and kibbles.
- Creating vegan foods that contain proteins from plants like soybean meal and flakes, pulses, peanut flour, and corn gluten meal.
Such pet food industry challenges require partnerships with both new and existing industries, so will likely develop only over many years.
Like other sectors, technology is driving the pet food industry. Challenges are similar to other food processors in developing products, controlling quality, and maintaining regulatory compliance. Automation is a key factor in making production more efficient, which requires not only cutting-edge software.
The pet food industry is adopting software solutions to help with:
- Access to real-time data
- Data management
- Improve efficiency
- Reducing waste
- Streamlining processes
Additionally, software is making it easier to formulate and optimize recipes for pet food. Industry challenges also entail hardware that can help pet food manufacturers meet increased product demand.
Equipment Challenges & Solutions from Carrier Vibrating Equipment
Increased demand has made escalating operations necessary for many in the pet food industry. Challenges created by this need to meet rising production demands saw pet food producers expanding their facilities and purchasing new equipment. Yet prices for equipment used by the pet food industry present another challenge. Food processing equipment and the materials to make it have risen in price like everything else, pressuring pet food processors when they need to expand to meet higher production goals.
To help control costs related to increased demand for their product and the expense of purchasing new equipment, Carrier specializes in manufacturing highly durable vibrating equipment used by the pet food industry. Challenges relating to expanding and building new systems for pet food processors is one reason why we developed the Natural Frequency Feeder. Energy efficient and made to handle high capacities, the robust design of our Natural Frequency Feeders lasts longer than cheaper models built by competitors, making it a more economical purchase for manufacturers.
Benefits and features Carrier Vibrating Feeders offer include:
- Capable of handling high tonnages.
- Easier handling of sticky materials with optional special coatings and polished trough for feeder.
- Moves material at speeds of up to 60 feet (18.3 meters) per minute.
- Requiring lower horsepower than other similar equipment.
- Robust design allows it to accommodate heavy loads and withstand tough conditions.
- Vibrating feeders can be designed to withstand high temperatures.
- Wide variety of materials for construction, including carbon steel and other metal alloys.
Easy to install, our vibrating feeders don’t require much maintenance, limiting downtime. In fact, the Carrier Vibrating Feeder’s low operational costs and initial expense make it a valuable tool for the pet food industry. Challenges resulting from the need to move bulk materials during processing and control feed rates make it one of the most efficient vibrating feeders on the market. To learn more about the Carrier Vibrating Feeder and other equipment suitable for the pet food industry, we invite you to contact us today.