In the US, gluten-free pet food might be maxed out

Puppies: Super cute and not gluten intolerant.
Puppies: Super cute and not gluten intolerant.
Image: AP Photo/Hyungwon Kang
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If you haven’t been paying attention to the pet supplies aisle in your local food market, you may have missed the appearance there of gluten-free pet food. But don’t worry, after a blockbuster entrance, it looks like the growth in US sales may already have peaked.

Sales doubled over the last three years, according to research from GfK, now accounting for about $700 million annually. In the last year, the gluten-free pet food market grew 18.6%, even as total pet food sales grew just 3%.

But several factors might be inhibiting more growth. For one thing, gluten-free pet food sells for 21% more per pound than conventional pet food, on average, calculates GfK.

Plus, according to a pet food industry website, “it is unlikely that many consumers completely understand the term.”

And for pets at least, there is no health-related reason to spend the money, says Dr. Kathryn Michel, Professor of Nutrition at University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. “Gluten intolerance as it’s recognized in people is not recognized in companion animals,” she says. “It doesn’t exist.”

Owners may be catching on. While growth in this narrow market appears to be far outpacing total pet food sales, it has slowed significantly. From April 2012 to March 2013, sales of gluten-free pet food were up 88.1%. The next year, that rate fell to 69.7%, and this year, to the aforementioned 18.6%. This could be a signal that “the ceiling for this category may be reached soon,” according to GfK.

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