We Americans love our pets, and there’s no surer proof than the staggering sums we spend on feeding them. That spending drives a gravy train for packagers serving the pet food vertical.

In a new research report titled “Pet Food Packaging,” The Freedonia Group forecasts that US demand for pet food packaging will rise 4.8% annually to $2.5 billion in 2018. Growth will come from the use of higher-value, more sophisticated packaging and continued strength in pet food shipments from an expected rebound in the pet population.

What Freedonia describes as “the continuing humanization of pets by their owners” will drive demand for premium pet food brands that offer healthier, more nutritious alternatives. This will spur a corresponding demand for higher-value bags, pouches, and rigid containers that provide superior graphics, puncture resistance, and barrier protection for these higher-end pet products.

This bodes especially well for plastic pouches, tubs, and cups as alternatives to metal cans and containers. Freedonia forecasts that pouch demand in pet food packaging will rise 8.3% annually to $540 million in 2018, the fastest pace of growth among pet food packaging types. Pouch demand will be bolstered by features that are inherently convenient for consumers, including zippered closure mechanisms and light weight, as well as by reduced transportation costs due to their light weight.

Among materials, paper accounted for the largest share of pet food packaging demand in 2013. In volume terms, paper will remain the leading material in 2018, based on the large number of unit shipments for paper bags. However, Freedonia says that in value terms, plastic will overtake paper by 2018 thanks to the growth of plastic pouches and the use of expensive features and graphics on them.

“Pet Food Packaging” analyzes the $2 billion US pet food packaging industry with historical demand data for 2003, 2008 and 2013 and forecasts for 2018 and 2023. It also profiles 32 industry competitors. More information is available here.