Each year, U.S. consumers are spending billions of dollars on pet food. There’s been a steady rise from the $16 billion spent in 2007 to the $30 billion in 2018, according to the National Pet Owners Surveys conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
Pet food options are wide ranging and varied, with today’s popular trends including raw and alternative protein diets. Although grain-free diets have taken a hit with consumers due to recent FDA announcements, pet food manufacturers are relying on educated pet owners to make an unbiased decision of what’s best for their pet.
As Pet Age reported earlier this year in its March cover story, “The Future of Pet Food is Clear,” 92 percent of pet owners surveyed by Luminer Converting Group in December 2018 said that they read the ingredients list when purchasing new pet food, with more than half doing so “always” or “often.”
So what form of food should distributors and retailers be carrying? With so many different brands on the market, the stance regarding what’s best for pets will depend on the source.
“[Consumers] demand honesty, transparency and traceability of ingredients,” said Mary Helen Horn, president and executive director of ZIWI USA, in a Five Questions profile in the July issue of Pet Age. “Our main focus has been consumer education… Since consumers have become more educated in nutrition and health, they are realizing that an appropriate diet is essential for their pets to live long, healthy lives.”
ZIWI, the New Zealand-based manufacturer that specializes in air-dried pet nutrition, has been handcrafting air-dried recipes that it ships to more than 20 countries around the globe.
“The practice of preserving food by air-drying has been around since ancient times,” Horn explained. “ZIWI has taken a modern and refined approach to this ancient artisanal process of naturally preserving the meats. We knew that this twin-stage, low-temp process would be ideal to achieve all of the benefits we were wanting in our food, such as eliminating pathogens, while preserving and condensing the nutrients and flavors of the raw ingredients in our recipes. The air-drying process protects the nutrition integrity, resulting in an extremely nutrient-dense and palatable food that closely mirrors the whole-prey, biologically appropriate ancestral diet of dogs and cats. Species-appropriate diet research has shown dogs and cats to live longer, healthier lives, and have less incidence of diet-related allergies and disease.”
Hound & Gatos, a family-owned company that makes natural pet food, recently introduced a new line of dry food for both dogs and cats. Known for its wet food, Hound & Gatos doesn’t use plant proteins, such as white potatoes, peas, chickpeas or lentils. Instead, each recipe includes more than 84 percent meat, poultry or fish and whole eggs. The company’s limited-ingredient recipes also feature such superfoods as blueberries, cranberries, broccoli and dandelion greens.
“We realize that not all dogs and cats eat wet food, which is why we decided to create a line of dry food,” said Patrick McGarry, general manager of Gott Pet Products, the parent company of Hound & Gatos.
Although Purina manufactures both wet cat food and kibble, its research shows that—with at least 65 percent more moisture content over kibble—wet cat food is 100 percent complete and balanced and can be an essential part of any cat’s diet. However, Purina nutritionists recommend feeding a combination of wet and dry food, as this helps ensure a cat will get plenty of moisture in its diet with the dental benefits of dry food’s crunchy kibble helping to reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
“Our sales data and research indicate that wet cat food is on the rise,” said Joe Toscano, VP of trade and industry development at Nestlé Purina. “In fact, 62 percent of the 45 million cat food buyers have added wet cat food to their regular shopping lists. We attribute this increase in popularity to two key factors. First off, parents are learning about the health benefits of feeding cats wet food, as it ensures the cat is well-hydrated and also provides high-quality protein to support lean muscles. Secondly, cats naturally crave a range of flavors and textures, many of which are closer to how their ancestors ate in nature.”
Based in Wisconsin, Fromm Family Foods is a fifth-generation family business that proudly states it is “steadfastly committed to continuous innovation and production of the finest pet foods available and dedicated to neighborhood pet retailers since the beginning.”
With consumers demanding transparency, quality and diversity in all sectors of products for their pets, food is one where attention to detail is most important to the public. When asked to comment on the future food trends, Fromm’s brand director Bryan Nieman sees solution-based diets playing a major role.
“The trends within the market continue to center on solution-based diets, including lifestyle offerings, to help satisfy the customer demand for variety and customization with their pets’ diets,” Nieman said. “While the demand for grain-free foods continues, I think we’ll witness many brands exploring grain-inclusive products in the coming year.”
When it comes to the raw trend, Pet Age’s March cover story examined how raw comes in several forms—frozen, dehydrated, freeze-dried or air-dried.
“One of the reasons that the raw pet food industry is growing by leaps and bounds is the recognition that dogs should eat a more ancestral diet,” said Dr. Gerald Buchoff, a holistic veterinarian in New Jersey. “This, combined with the desire to avoid additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients in our pets’ foods, is spearheading a new expectation about pet food quality. These trends are very powerful as consumers are seeing how well their pets do on raw diets.”
Formulated by Dr. Buchoff, Dr. B’s Longevity Raw Pet Food is a raw pet food made in small batches with pastured, grass-fed, local and organic ingredients. The lines of food for both dog and cat have been formulated and designed to optimize the pet’s wellness for enhanced quality of life and to provide the animal with a maximum lifespan.
Earth Animal’s Wisdom pet food, which was crafted by Dr. Bob Goldstein, uses humanely raised meats that are gently dehydrated. The food also includes the company’s proprietary Vitality Cubes, which have sprouted seeds that are filled with essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Stella & Chewy’s is a brand that also promotes the value of raw in a dog’s diet. According to Marie Moody, who founded the company in 2003, Stella & Chewy’s believes that raw is the pinnacle of nutrition.
“We started as a raw pet food company and have expanded to best-in-class pet nutrition to help dogs and cats thrive through the highest quality food remains our mission,” she said. “Stella & Chewy’s is built on the philosophy that pets thrive when they’re fed the same diet they would find in the wild. We strive to provide the highest quality natural pet food available with an emphasis on nutrition, palatability, safety and convenience. All of our diets deliver high levels of rich animal protein; our offerings best mimic a whole prey model diet.”
Bill Piechocki, a pet nutritionist who co-founded Fiesta Pet Deli, a retail pet store in Pompano Beach, Florida, with Dr. Diane Sudduth, also created the BioComplete line of raw pet food when he opened the store in 2006. His raw food products are made from human-grade, USA-inspected ingredients that are routinely tested for contamination and must pass scrutiny for quality as well as nutritional and functional benefits.
“[A pet’s] body is dynamic,” Piechocki said. “You can never have anything that is complete and balanced—it’s an impossibility. That’s why a rotational diet is so important. Because every food brings different nutrients to the table. The rotation will bring different nutrients. Digestibility-wise, the more natural the food, the easier it is to digest.”
With more than 40 years in the pet industry, Piechocki has taken the stance that dogs, cats and other carnivores like ferrets have not truly evolved from their wild ancestors.
His approach to educating consumers on nutrition “is to tear down their whole belief system.”
“Our domestic dogs are wolves; they have not evolved,” Piechocki said. “You can’t evolve a whole digestive system in 50 or 60 years. The difference between dogs and cats is that dogs and wolves are opportunistic carnivores, which means they will be a scavenger and will eat whatever they need. Cats are an obligate carnivore, which means they really cannot break down some of the other products like a dog can, so they’re not as much of a scavenger. Because of that, cats are more finicky with their foods.
“When you look at the digestive system of a wolf and a domestic dog, they’re identical,” he continued. “The enzymes are identical. The blood work’s going to be identical. Taking that approach, we found that the whole system, when you give it something inappropriate, it will confuse the body. And that’s why we’re seeing so much cancer today, endocrine diseases, skin problems, so-called allergies, joint problems, most of those can actually be tied to nutrition.”
A company carving out a unique niche in the pet food sector is v-dog, which follows the philosophy that a completely balanced canine diet can be created using only plant-based foods. The manufacturer recently expanded into Canada under its international name v-planet, with more countries to follow throughout the year. It is currently touting Kind Kibble, made primarily with peas and pea proteins. Other ingredients include quinoa, lentils, brown rice, carrots and blueberries. There are no fillers, corn, soy or wheat.
“A pretty consistent concept in the pet food industry is that pet trends follow human trends, and right now, veganism is definitely trending—at least in the United States,” said Lindsay Rubin, the vice president of California-based v-dog. “A lot of the benefits that we’ve seen from this lies in sensitive dogs. The [leading] allergens for dogs include beef, chicken and dairy. We obviously don’t use any of those ingredients, so it opens up our customer base to a lot of dogs that have traditionally had a lot of issues, whether they’re stomach problems, itchiness, digestive problems or just not feeling super great about mealtime in general.”
The new kid on the block for vegetarian dog food is Wild Earth, a biotech startup company that has developed its no-meat line of dog food from an eco-friendly and renewably sourced fungi, a complete protein containing all 10 essential amino acids.
According to “Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats,” a research article published on PLOS ONE, pet food is estimated to be responsible for a quarter of environmental impact of meat production in the U.S. in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuels, phosphates and pesticides. Wild Earth believes its Koji protein is necessary to sustainably feed more than a billion pets expected by 2050.
Wild Earth’s fungi-based products require dramatically fewer resources than farming animals to produce the same nutritional value. In addition to a complete protein without animal ingredients, the veterinarian-developed formula offers Omega fatty acids, digestion-boosting enzymes and prebiotics to support gastrointestinal microbiomes.
With millions of consumers having their own preference of what to feed their pet, there will always be supporters for the different forms of food—from dry kibble to raw frozen. What’s most important is these recipes offer sound nutrition that is complete and balanced with vitamins, minerals and proteins to support optimal health.