The world of pet food has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, much of which can be related to an increase in humanization of pets. Consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of feeding their pets a healthy diet, and the industry has mobilized to reinvent pet food focused on human-grade, prime cuts of protein-rich nutrition.
Just as the industry has changed, so have the proteins used in pet foods. Less mainstream protein sources such as kangaroo to ostrich and emu are being introduced, along with a variety of fish-based proteins.
Natural foods represent just six percent of total dog food sales, but they’re growing in sales about five times as fast as the pet food market as a whole. While U.S. consumers are increasingly interested in all manner of organic and environmentally friendly products, sales of organic dog food—roughly $84 million in 2008—have increased at almost twice the rate of organic food intended for human consumption, according to the Organic Trade Commission.
Scaly and Scrumptious
“Our formulas are produced in a human food facility using many of the ingredients and processes that are used in products made for people,” said Anthony Giudice, vice president of Weruva. “Our ingredients maintain a natural look and recognizable texture which allows the pet owner to see and understand the ingredients. One of our popular alternative proteins is basa, a freshwater river fish that’s similar to its cousin, the American catfish. We’re proud to say it’s the only full freshwater fish in a can available to cats.”
Saba, a choice mackerel found in sushi rolls and routinely rated by sushi chefs as one of the “most underrated fish in the world,” is also the star of Honor Roll, one of the products in Weruva’s Truluxe line of super-premium cat food.
“Saba happens to be the most prized in the sushi fish market,” Giudice said. “Just like all of our tuna, the saba is all wild caught, dolphin safe and sea turtle safe. One of our true concerns is sustainability and selecting the right ingredients to remain good stewards of the earth.”
Despite its rougher exterior, alligator meat is being found in more and more pet foods while its tougher cousin, the crocodile, takes a back seat in the pet industry. Alligator is considered to be similar to traditional proteins like pork and chicken and thanks to successful conservation efforts, is considered a plentiful resource.
BLUE Wilderness, a leading pet food line from Blue Buffalo now includes Bayou Blend natural dog food, which celebrates the exotic flavors of America’s southern bayou teeming with alligators, catfish and shrimp.
“Bayou Blend gives dogs the chance to experience the exotic flavors the South has to offer, while offering a complete and balanced meal and/or a tasty treat,” said Dan Schneider, marketing manager for Blue Buffalo.
From Land and Sky
For land-based proteins, kangaroo, a mainstay protein for indigenous Australians, is fast becoming popular as manufacturers like Addiction Pet Foods discover this source’s additional benefits. This lean protein is thought to be more tender and flavorful than other red meat alternatives (which include lamb and beef) and contains one of the highest levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) of any red meat. It also outperforms more traditional meats across nutritional measures like calories, fat and cholesterol content. Addiction’s Wild Kangaroo & Apples diet is a favorite with many dog lovers.
There is a variety of other novelty proteins available to consumers as well.
“Evanger’s recently introduced a holistic pheasant dinner for cats, along with whole fresh sardines for cats,” said Holly Sher, owner of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co. “Novel meat protein sources, rabbit and quail, are blended for a recipe for cats with common food allergies, and the pet parent looking for something unique. Their ‘mixers’ line of game meats offer a great alternative to pets.”
Primal Pet Foods is another manufacturer setting the bar high with new alternative formulas that include pheasant, venison, rabbit, and even turkey and sardine. Primal Mixes are produced using only the freshest, human-grade ingredients. Its poultry, meat and game are free of antibiotic and steroids and without added hormones. The company incorporates certified organic produce for additional fiber and food-based vitamins and minerals.
While the pet food revolution results in healthier pets, it may be contributing to a problem with sustainability as the human population continues to expand.
According to a 2015 report from the United Nations, the world population is projected to increase by more than 1 billion people within the next 15 years, reaching 8.5 billion in 2030. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that global consumption of meat and dairy products will rise by 102 percent and 82 percent, respectively, by 2050 (as quoted in a 2012 report from the Ridget Institute in New Zealand).
In light of this potential food sourcing problem, the pet industry is stepping up to make changes and approaching suppliers who focus on sustainability.
Some are addressing the sourcing problem with alternatives to traditional proteins in the form of insects. Crickets, for example, are sustainable, eco-friendly and filled with protein.
“Crickets contain three times more protein than beef and twice as much iron,” reports Chris Glascoe, co-founder of EntoBento, creator of the pet-friendly treat made from cricket flour. “It takes about 134 square feet to produce 1 pound of crickets compared to 1,345 sq feet for 1 pound of beef.”
Many are calling this novelty protein “the new kale,” according to BugBites, another entry into the cricket flour game.
“Many experts consider edible insects to be one of the main food trends of 2016,” according to the company’s blog on its web site. “And with cricket flour costs going down, support by the United Nations, and a global awareness around this ridiculously eco-friendly and nutritious protein source, it seems the movement will likely become a durable part of our food system, and that of our pets.”
“Being entrepreneurs enables us to tackle issues that are important to us that we feel are not being addressed by existing companies,” writes Philippe Poirier, CEO and co-founder of BugBites, on the company web site. “In our case, the lack of diversity in our food system and the challenge with global food supply.