As the voice of the pet food industry turns 50, Nicole Paley, Deputy Chief Executive of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) answers some questions about the sector and how the Association has grown and diversified

What drove the formation of PFMA in 1970?
Fifty years ago, four companies – Spillers, Quaker Oats, Petfood Ltd and Stamina Ltd – formed the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), united in the desire for a single voice to represent the pet food industry. Quaker Oats and Stamina eventually became part of Spillers, which is now Nestle Purina Pet Care, while Petfood Ltd became Mars Petcare.

The driving issue at the time was VAT on pet food. Pet food companies were campaigning for pet food to have the same VAT status as human food, which was zero-rated. It was felt unjust that food for pets was taxed, particularly given the important societal role they play.

Beyond VAT, there was also a keenness to provide advice to smaller pet food companies, share information with organisations interested in animal welfare and to act as an industry voice talking to government.

Even in the early days PFMA represented manufacturers of all pet foods, not just cats and dogs. At the time of PFMA’s formation, budgies were the third most popular pet in the UK. PFMA’s pet population survey, which is still ongoing today, estimated that in 1975 there were 5.7 million dogs, 4.3 million cats and 2.9 million budgies. We are now feeding a nation of over 20 million pets with around nine million dogs, 7.5 million cats and 500,000 indoor birds.

How does PFMA today differ from the PFMA of yesteryear?
PFMA has come a long way since its formation. We now represent around 80 companies, which accounts for over 90 per cent of the UK market. Industry has also prospered reaching a value of around £3 billion in 2019. However, the core aims have remained the same and the association has helped industry navigate through significant challenges from BSE in the late eighties to present day Brexit.

What are the key trends in the pet food industry?
In terms of trends, the humanisation of pets is the biggest and most impactful trend in the pet food industry and most pet parents refer to their dog or cat in terms traditionally reserved for children. Pets are undeniably close to our hearts with 12m UK households owning a pet (around 40 per cent) and treating them as one of the family.

In the same way that humans are looking for healthier options, pets are increasingly being treated to premium products with a focus on additional benefits for specific needs. These products appear in all life-stage and life-style categories from kitten, puppy and senior through to working, active and indoor pets. The growing field of small animal nutrition science has enabled a significant amount of product innovation.

The downside to humanisation is the rise in pet obesity. In our latest pet obesity report, which was released in 2019, we highlight that an alarming 51 per cent of dogs, 44 per cent of cats and 29 per cent of small mammals are overweight or obese.

With almost 8.5m pets in the UK currently overweight, the last five years has seen a worrying increase and today almost 600,000 more UK pets are overweight or obese and at risk of living two years less than a healthy, fit pet.

There is a lot of collaboration between industry, vets, retailers and welfare organisations to address this. Education is key.

What is the current hot topic for the industry?
Sustainability has become a more urgent issue and is a vital component of the industry agenda now and as we move forward. Topics such as sustainable ingredient sourcing, pet food packaging and recycling, animal welfare, environmental impacts of the manufacturing process are all important topics for our association and our members.

Where does the UK currently stand on animal welfare?
World Animal Protection ranks 50 countries around the globe according to their legislation and policy commitments to protecting animals. Countries are ranked from grade A to G on various indicators and the UK sits alongside Austria, Switzerland and New Zealand in achieving Grade A status. The second review has recently taken place and the results expected soon. PFMA is keen for the UK to maintain its position.

Has animal welfare always been on the PFMA agenda?
The welfare of both farm animal and companion animals is important to us and PFMA became a co-sponsor of the All-Party Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW), joining other influential voices in the welfare sector to ensure animal welfare is a key consideration, particularly with Brexit discussions ongoing. We have some of the highest feed safety and animal standards in the world; we want to ensure this remains the case.

What lies ahead for PFMA as we enter a post Brexit world?
As we embark on 2020 and beyond, the need for an industry voice has never been greater. We face the prospect of new legislation, which we will need to shape, and the opportunity for the UK pet food industry to become a more global player, which we will need to drive.

In 2018 we launched the PFMA Pet Food Vision, a vision that focuses on the core pillars underpinning PFMA and the UK pet food industry: animal welfare, nutrition, safety and standards and sustainability. Brexit has made us look at where we want the UK pet food sector to be as a more global player. We consider the UK pet food industry to be world leading in the areas of animal welfare, nutrition and safety and standards – this is the story we want our members to go out and tell.

We look forward to working with our members and our colleagues in the pet care sector on this.

For more information about PFMA and the pet food industry, including the latest facts and figures, please visit: www.pfma.org.uk