As a category, natural pet food and treats has exploded.
But what, exactly, are consumers looking for? First, it’s important to note that the term, according to the Food and Drug Administration website on pet food labels, has a wide definition:
“For the most part, ‘natural’ can be construed as equivalent to a lack of artificial flavors, artificial colors or artificial preservatives in the product.”
As a retailer, it is important to become versed in pet products that make the natural claim so that you can guide your customers to purchase the best option for their pet.
Halo expands upon the loose definition of natural with its dog food.
“We say there’s ‘natural,’ and there’s Halo natural,” David Yaskulka, vice president of marketing communications for Halo, said. “For us, chicken meal and other rendered animal parts don’t fit the Halo definition of natural. They’re not legally permissible in human food, and we know the bar is already pretty low on what you’re allowed to put in human food. They can contain ‘4D’ products, which are diseased, disabled, dying and dead (prior to butchering) animals. We won’t use any of those.”
Halo Spot’s Stew original has the characteristics he described, and the brand is launching new products with foods that are big in the natural foods human market, including quail, kale, kelp and quinoa.
Innova recently launched a new line of cat and dog food inspired by the farm-to-table movement.
Nature’s Table does not contain any chicken byproduct meal, fillers, wheat, corn, soy, or artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. The products are grain- and white-potato free, and include ingredients like blueberries, pumpkin and carrots.
And, as Innova’s line shows, it’s no longer just dog owners who are seeking locally sourced ingredients. Cat owners are also demanding natural options that are holistic and biologically appropriate for their pets, too.
For example, Spring Naturals launched a new natural line for cats that follows its same balanced-food nutrition philosophy as the brand’s canine line.
“We start each formula with real, natural ingredients like whole fresh meat, whole greens and whole berries,” Rob Cadenhead, vice president of sales and marketing at Spring Naturals, said. “Every ingredient is thoughtfully selected and balanced in order to support a feline’s unique nutritional needs. What our recipes do not include are poultry or fish meals, corn, wheat, soy, potato starch, rice, artificial preservatives, colors or flavors.”
The line includes 3-ounce minced entrees and 5 1/2-ounce pate dinners.
Applaws, a U.K. company launching in the US, manufactures three types of natural cat food. The dry is grain free and 80 percent lean protein, enhanced with beta glucan. All three formulas are chicken based, with two of the three also including salmon or duck. The brand also includes a canned wet food option with eight varieties, and a single-serve peel-top dish that contains either three or four ingredients.
Taking another approach, brands like Rad Cat focus on complete raw diets for cats. Rad Cat uses free-range meats and organic ingredients. The brand offers complete meals in turkey, chicken and lamb.
Bravo! manufactures both dog and cat food, and the brand launched a line of natural cat treats designed to be both palatable and nutritious.
“By their very nature, cats are obligate carnivores, so that was a central focus during product development,” Bette Schubert, Bravo! co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education, said. “We wanted to include all of the good stuff cats need from a nutritional standpoint, but it also needed to appeal to the most discriminating palates as well.”
That development resulted in two offerings: Bravo! Health Bites and Bravo! Healthy Medleys. Bravo! Healthy Bites are made from 100 percent muscle meat, while Bravo! Medleys are made from 100 percent muscle meat plus organ chunks, including hearts, livers and gizzards. The treats formulas are simple but provide the right mix of fat, vitamins and minerals from a single protein source, which appeals to owners of cats with allergies, according to Schubert.
“Both are made in the USA from antibiotic and hormone-free poultry and fish, and contain no additives or preservatives,” Schubert said.
Pet owners who want to feed natural meals are applying the same principles to treats. For example, in addition to food, Grandma Lucy’s also manufactures natural treats for dogs and cats.
The company’s offerings include single-ingredient treats that come in a variety of options, like liver, ocean white fish and roasted chicken.
For dogs, natural treat options often incorporate superfood ingredients, like chia. According to treat manufacturers Lincoln Bark, chia is a superfood that’s packed with calcium, antioxidants, omega-3s and fiber. The brand incorporates chia in its three natural treat offerings: Nibbles, Treat Smart and Sweet Little Butterpup.
Made in Canada, Barkworthies’ all-natural treats include bully sticks, chews, elk antlers and various treats. These are free from hormones, antibiotics and preservatives, and the treats go through rigorous inspections. Popular among allergy-prone pets, Barkworthies offers fish, rabbit and kangaroo chews and treats, among others.
Natural treats tend to eliminate potentially toxic or artificial ingredients.
Bocce’s Bakery has a series of biscuits that don’t contain wheat, corn, chemicals, preservatives or fillers, yet have a 12-month shelf life. They include one-of-a-kind flavors like Chicken Cordon Blue and Green Juice.
When it comes to treats, Cardinal Pet Care’s Pet Botanics line is known for its natural botanical-derived ingredients — plants, herbs, flowers, trees, nuts, seeds, grains — that improve products and enhance their benefits.
For example, its Healthy Omega Treat Chicken is a unique five-layer treat that is packed with vitamins A, D and E, in addition to omega-3 and six fatty acids. A total of eight human-grade food ingredients are found in every treat.
All-natural treats are also frequently functional, like Ark Naturals’ Breath-Less Brushless Toothpaste or Precise Pet’s Healthy Habits treats, which are packed with holistic ingredients, including probiotics and prebiotics.