Redefining Pet Food Packaging: How Harnessing “Premiumization” Helps You Lead the Pack

By Mike Terry
Posted In : tray seal, tray sealing and forming, pet food packaging, premium pet food packaging, humanization, premiumization, pet food

We’ve always been told not to feed our pets from the table. Yet, as more pet owners see their four-legged friends as family members, the line between the premium food we eat and what we feed our pets continues to blur. So how will pet food packaging adapt to this shift?

This “humanization” of pets – and pet parents’ need to feed their animals the very best – is part of an explosive trend that has completely overhauled the pet care habits of U.S. pet owners over the last several years. From premier veterinarian care and healthy ingredients to retail pet products and pet food packaging, pet owners will no longer settle for the status quo. They’re yielding their loyalty, and market spend, only to the brands deemed worthy of their discerning dollars. 


Pet food packaging plays a crucial role in the evolving landscape of the pet food industry – where pet owners demand premium products as the standard. The days of selling 40-pound bags of dry pet food off pallets are numbered. Even the idea of serving pet food from traditional aluminum cans seems dated to discerning pet owners and is quickly approaching the scrap heap of history. 

dog food packagingAs the “fur baby megatrend” continues to dictate pet food buyer behavior, owners are searching for a broader, more diverse range of moist morsels for their feline and canine companions. They’re increasingly seeking visually attractive, single-serve portions that guarantee the pinnacle of taste, freshness, and overall appeal for their pets. When they find them, they dedicate years, even decades, of loyal purchasing with a smile, having found the ideal brand that meets their pets’ health needs and increasingly complex tastes. 



As a producer, this limited window of brand loyalty is time you must capture through custom modernized packaging design that is built around your core customers. This innovation translates to integrating new packaging materials, updated pet food formats, and useful packaging features that appeal to pet owners and their furry family members on multiple levels. 

One prominent trend in 2023’s pet food market is multi-compartment trays for wet and semi-wet pet food variety packs. Today’s top sector names are redesigning their pet food packaging from the ground up, creating 2-pack and 4-pack formats with different pet food types, and mixing up pets’ daily diets.  

Innovative packaging like these variety packs give pets more choice, make portions smaller and more manageable, and deliver a varied feeding experience pets crave, for which pet owners will pay more.

dog food packaging

How much more? 

According to a survey done by Attest, more than 50.5% of pet owners buy premium pet food. This pet owner data includes, according to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2023-2024 National Pet Owners Survey, dog owners spending an average of $354 per year on pet food in 2022, up from $259 in 2018 and $287 in 2020. Likewise, cat owners spend an average of $300 per year on cat food in 2022, up from $228 in 2018 and $254 in 2020. 

In another survey, 66% of dog and cat owners said that even if their preferred pet food brand became more expensive, they wouldn’t switch to a cheaper alternative. These consumers have spent time and money to see their pets thriving with healthier food, higher protein content, and better packaging. They want no disruptions to what works.  



pet food packaging

However, the type of lucrative pet food variety that improves customer loyalty and your bottom line doesn’t come from a can. Capitalizing on humanization and higher consumer spending means adopting another popular pet food trend for your customized packaging known as “premiumization.” 

Premiumization” – offering premium pet products, pet food ingredients, and especially updated pet food packaging – is the ideal way to reap commercial benefits from unmatched convenience, versatility, and modern packaging features otherwise unavailable in traditional pet food packaging. 

By transitioning from traditional pet food packaging, such as aluminum cans, to a more premium packaging application, such as modern tray sealing and forming, you gain numerous production benefits at every packaging stage: 


Visual appeal is crucial in attracting consumers. High-end graphics on display packaging make your brand stand out on the shelves. Traditional aluminum packaging needs to have marketability and differentiate your brand. Investing in tray sealing equipment and switching to polypropylene trays rather than conventional aluminum cans allows you to create exotic packaging with convenient and exciting features like single-portion sizes, integrated design elements, and stand-out display features.  


Contemporary packaging enables convenient, breakoff, multi-portion packages in various shapes, sizes, and colors, complete with dynamic branding opportunities. These features not only enhance marketing efforts but also promote sustainability. For example, tray seal lidding retains moisture and prevents odors from permeating your fridge. Additionally, with built-in utensils (think plastic spork), there’s no need for silverware, reducing water usage and waste. 


Traditional aluminum pet food packaging can be delicate, leaving it susceptible to damage during handling and distribution. This vulnerability poses a problem in maintaining freshness and preventing leaks, which can be quite costly for pet food manufacturers.  

Luckily, modern packaging applications, like tray sealing, have the answer. Tray-sealed pet food packaging employs over 20,000 lbs. of force on its plastic sealing materials, guaranteeing (at less than .5% leak rates) leaks become a concern of the past.  

Additionally, the crack and heat-resistant polypropylene tray material adds an extra layer of protection (unavailable with aluminum). This durability preserves the pasteurization process, ensuring unparalleled freshness.  


With the rise of premium pet food and the need for increased production, speed, and flexibility have become paramount. Traditional canning equipment takes up valuable production hours with lengthy downtime from tooling changeovers and machine sanitization. 

However, modern tray sealers offer a game-changing solution. With advanced tray sealing equipment, you can seal multiple product SKUs on a single high-speed line with minimal changeover times and minimized interruption to production. 

What does this production look like?  

Tray sealers can package up to 200 products per minute (ppm). Tooling changeovers require at most ten minutes on average to accommodate different formats. These advantages significantly increase your overall output and maximize your efficiency and speed to market – especially when integrating high-speed automation. 


Even with the benefits, small and medium-sized producers may find the idea of premiumization to be cost-prohibitive. Upgrading to premium packaging equipment, products, and ingredients requires new investment capital, downtime considerations, and careful planning. 

Yet the answer has to be “yes” for premiumization in pet food and pet food packaging.   

Packaging premiumization – through advanced applications like modern tray sealing – can yield actual production and marketing benefits that correspond to higher brand loyalty, product quality, and ultimately increased revenue. 

Let’s look at demand and effect by the numbers: 

  • More than 66% of American households own one or more pets (up 56% since 1988). 
  • In 2022, U.S.  pet owners spent $53.8 billion on pet food, eclipsing the next largest spender (China, $6.8 billion) by more than $47 billion. 
  • The U.S. pet food market is poised to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4% by 2028. 
  • Retail giants such as Chewy and Petco reported year-over-year sales increases of 13% and 3.2% last quarter. Both said consumer shifts toward more premium food were a major factor in the increased demand. 


Making premiumization work for your packaging operations requires close consultation with the right Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for your custom operations and return on investment (ROI). Integrating equipment and materials is an excellent start, but it is only the beginning. 

To optimize premium pet food packaging production, you must: 

  • Optimize packaging design according to your specific product (and production requirements) 
  • Run packaging efficiently and consistently at every packaging stage 
  • Know how your new packaging features will affect your production process (including speed, cost, and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), overtime) 


pet food packageHumanization, the meteoric rise of e-commerce, and pet adoption during the pandemic have owners searching for the highest quality pet food, ingredients, and packaging. With premiumization establishing deep roots in the pet food sector, producers must evolve their products and packaging to fit that standard. 

Innovation and adherence to emerging innovative methods is the only way for your pet food brand to stand out on store shelves in an already crowded marketplace. This means adopting new design technology and optimizing production with sophisticated packaging applications that suit your company’s values and changing customer needs.  

So why wait? Step into the future of pet food packaging with Harpak-ULMA as your trusted OEM partner!  

Our experts will help you navigate evolving trends like humanization and premiumization to innovate your pet food packaging and help you stay ahead with future-proof solutions designed to keep your production on the cutting edge. 

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