U.S. retail sales of natural pet products totaled $4.1 billion in 2012, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 17% over the 2008-2012 period, according to Packaged Facts.

Despite the economic downturn, annual sales growth has consistently been in the double digits, according to “Natural, Organic, and Eco-Friendly Pet Products in the U.S.,” a just-released study from the market research firm. 

Big changes are underway in the market for pet goods, according to the researchers. Among recent developments, Hill’s is reformulating Science Diet as a natural product line, Nestlé Purina is coming on strong with Purina One Beyond, and Walmart has launched Pure Balance as its first natural store brand.

“With pet specialty and mass-market brands increasingly looking alike, product differentiation is key,” says David Sprinkle, the Research Director for Packaged Facts, in a release.

In the natural pet food aisles, the hottest product trends include grain-free and human grade meats, which takes premium natural pet food to new heights (and price points). 

On the pet care side, eco-friendly products abound, with various companies increasing their commitment to sustainable packaging and production processes.

Helping to underpin this steady advance in sales is consumer demand for products perceived to be safer, a pet owner priority spurred by the spring 2007 pet food recalls, which continue to define the way marketers formulate and position pet products.

As indicated by Packaged Facts’ August 2012 Pet Owner Survey, 38% of pet owners believe that natural/organic brand pet products are often better than standard national brand products, and 63% are very concerned about the safety of the pet products they buy.

For more information on the study, go to MarketResearch.com or http://www.packagedfacts.com/Natural-Organic-Eco-6820295/