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Special Report: Pet Food’s Future is Now

Glenn Polyn//July 15, 2020//

English cocker spaniel puppy eating dog food from ceramic bowl

Special Report: Pet Food’s Future is Now

Glenn Polyn //July 15, 2020//

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In March 2019, Pet Age ran a special report on pet food titled “The Future is Clear.”

In looking back on the views from pet food manufacturers, one can come to the conclusion that the industry has accomplished many of the goals that were on the horizon.

“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,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director and fifth-generation family member at Fromm Family Petfoods.

The family-owned and -operated pet food manufacturer based in Wisconsin has been devoted to product innovation and a meticulous approach to manufacturing. In 2016, Fromm acquired its third manufacturing hub, a canning facility in Eden, Wisconsin, just a short drive from both the company home office and manufacturing plant in Mequon. This facility is dedicated exclusively to the manufacturing of canned recipes. This has allowed Fromm to expand existing lines and create new ones to provide complete and balanced nutrition in wet diets.

Committed to neighborhood pet retailers since the beginning, Fromm recipes, including a variety of dry and canned food lines for dogs and cats, can be found at select specialty stores nationwide.

Earlier this year, Fromm introduced the newest Four-Star Nutritionals recipe for dogs: Fromm Zealambder. Inspired by the rustic landscape of New Zealand, the entrée brings together the goodness of lamb, salmon, venison, wholesome grains and select fruits and vegetables including kiwifruit and pumpkin. Zealambder is distinctive in that it is chicken- and potato-free and its ingredients provide a diverse profile of nutrients including protein, fat, high-quality complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Because joint health and support is so important for all breeds and sizes, Zealambder also includes green-lipped mussels which are packed full of nutrients including glucosamine, chondroitin, zinc and magnesium.

“We focus on strong, long-term relationships with our business partners and, from the start, made our products available exclusively within the neighborhood/independent pet channel,” Nieman explained. “The fact that we remain family-owned since the very beginning sets us apart in today’s pet industry. We take a long-term approach to our business and while some companies focus on one- to three-year plans, our strategic timeframes are generational. We manufacture all of our dry and canned recipes and treats at one of three family-owned factories in Wisconsin. Owning and operating our plants allows us to have full control over the quality and safety of the products we produce and plan for the future.”

Another manufacturer with a proven history of pet food innovation is SquarePet. Led by CEO Peter Atkins, the brand is being faithful to the mission he helped set forth decades ago with Natura Pet Products, the pioneer pet food manufacturer that he co-founded with John and Ann Rademakers in 1989.

“We only use ingredients we would feed to our families,” Peter Atkins said of the Austin, Texas-based pet food company that entered the dog food market last year with several formulas, including a high-meat, low-carb diet made without peas, legumes, lentils or potatoes for those consumers who like the nutrition delivered by a raw diet, and a meat-free, true vegetarian formula utilizing cage-free, whole eggs as the No. 1 ingredient. “If we wouldn’t eat it, it’s not in our pet foods.”

In a Back Story profile in the June 2020 issue of Pet Age, SquarePet co-founder Travis Atkins, summarized the company’s nutritional philosophy, which is focused on solution-based pet foods.

“It really comes down to nutrition with purpose,” he said. “We set out to not be a bandwagon company that hops on loosely grounded trends. Instead, we make nutritional products with a purpose that even in our short existence seem to swim upstream of what others are doing. Maybe it would be the smart thing to do, but we can’t rightfully take a quality product and start infusing it with livestock feed and feel that we’re doing the right thing. We understand that more and more consumers are not necessarily seeking ‘flavors’ for their pets, they are seeking solutions based nutritional tools to help solve or possibly even prevent a problem.”

The brand’s Veterinarian Formulated Solutions (VFS) line was one that Atkins saw as having a bright future for dog parents, as it combines high-quality ingredients with veterinary-inspired, solution-based nutrition.

“Right now we have our VFS Skin & Digestive Support diet and have just released our VFS Low Fat Formula,” he explained. “Our Skin & Digestive Support diet is a hydrolyzed protein diet and can be beneficial for those dogs who may have food allergies or sensitivities. Our Low Fat Formula is made with certified sustainable ingredients and can be considered for dogs who have had or are prone to pancreatitis, dogs that have difficulties digesting fat or dogs in need of a shorter-term gentle diet due to an ‘upset tummy.’”

Another brand that’s crafting food to help dogs with sensitives is v-dog, which offers recipes that completely remove animal products from its diets. V-planet, which was founded in 2018 as the international sister brand of v-dog, has found success in Canada, Australia, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong and recently New Zealand as it strives to be a leading brand in the plant-based dog food market.

One of the trending topics that emerged from the March 2019 pet food article, “The Future is Clear,” came from ZIWI USA, which noted that the “trend of choosing to feed biologically appropriate diets will continue because it produces visible, tangible results … We hear from customers every day about the changes they are seeing—things like reduced allergies, better weight management, higher energy levels, reduced shedding and improved dental hygiene.”

With consumers paying more attention to the biological needs of their pets, the New Zealand-based producer of premium air-dried pet food has found its niche in ancestral diets for dogs and cats. The company has been making such gently air-dried products as its Peak New Zealand Free-Range Chicken recipe, which is available for both cats and dogs, and other raw-inspired recipes that contain up to 96 percent meat and is free from such carbohydrates as potatoes and lentils.

For consumers seeking pet food in its most natural state, the obvious option is raw, which allows companion animals to eat meat as they would in nature—uncooked. Raw and raw-alternative diets that are high in meat and organs have continued to see growth within the independent pet retail channel.

Raw foods come in a variety of forms, including frozen, dehydrated, freeze-dried or air-dried, which are specifically designed for preservation and serving convenience. Among the brands that specialize in this segment are Stella & Chewy’s, Instinct, Tiki Cat and Longevity Raw Pet Food, which was founded by Dr. Gerald Buchoff, a holistic veterinarian in New Jersey.

Grandma Lucy’s, whose Artisan recipes have wildly popular among dog and cat owners, has most recently hit the market with Moxie, a freeze-dried dog food that acts as a scoop-and-serve meal or mixer. Crafted with human-quality meat and packed with protein, Moxie is ideal for pets of all life stages and promotes overall pet health, including a shinier coat, healthier skin, higher energy and reduced allergies.

Founded by Erin and Breann Shook, the company utilizes a gentle, freeze-drying process that removes 92 percent of the water contained in Moxie’s ingredients, leaving a food that is lightweight, compact, shelf stable and preservative free.

One of the new kids on the block is NOBL, which promotes itself as having created a convenient, cost-effective alternative to raw, fresh and frozen dog foods. Offered in the form of a canine food bar, NOBL’s meal-based bars are nutrient dense and highly digestible, which results in very little waste. The lightweight bars are appropriate for on-the-go dogs and their pet parents.

“There is no need to rehydrate, thaw or prepare—simply unwrap and serve,” said Ryan Yamka, co-founder and COO of Guardian Pet Food Company. “During the lockdown, refrigerator and freezer space has been at a premium, which is why a large chunk of consumers reverted back to dry kibble, which is easier to store in bulk. Very few people wanted to place 14 bags/trays of food in the freezer at the risk of losing space for their own food. Our bars have a two-year shelf life, are lightweight and have a very small footprint for storage.”

Founded in 1988 in Hereford, Texas, Merrick Pet Care has been a leader in natural and organic pet food. With a mission to make the most wholesome and nutritious food that pets deserve, Merrick goes to great lengths to craft recipes with real, whole foods and the freshest ingredients without additives, sweeteners, colors or preservatives.

Dedicated to the pet specialty channel, the company offers a wide variety of high-quality dry and wet foods, as well as treats, for dogs and cats across its premium product portfolio, which includes the Castor & Pollux, Zuke’s and Whole Earth Farms brands alongside its signature Merrick brand. Merrick recently updated its Backcountry line by introducing ancestral recipes with healthy grains and enhancing its freeze-dried, raw-coated kibble with added freeze-dried raw bites.

“We put a lot of time and energy into crafting the best food ever for dogs and cats,” said Barbara Liss, vice president of marketing for Merrick. “We hand-stuff baby carrots, chicken wings and other high-quality ingredients in select recipes because we believe real, whole foods are better for the pet that rules our house.”

The company is also proud of its philanthropic causes. Since 2015, Merrick has been the exclusive dog food partner for K9s for Warriors, providing each rescued service dog with all their meals and treats while in training. The company has donated more than $1 million in food and monetary donations to K9s for Warriors in support of the programs and clinical research that provide service dogs to help heal veterans.

“Dogs have a special ability to not only understand us, but also help us find strength when we need it most,” Merrick CEO Tim Simonds explained last year during a K9s for Warriors donation drive. “We’re honored to partner with K9s for Warriors to help our hardworking veterans find the unconditional love they deserve in a true best friend—a service dog.”

When it comes to reliable sellers in the bird food sector, one brand that regularly comes up is California-based Volkman Seed Factory, which has been crafting bird seed diets since 1863. With ingredients coming from all over the world to be blended together in fresh, appetizing and nutritious blends for companion and wild birds, Volkman has earned a reputation for delivering quality avian diets.

Among the best sellers that retailers regularly point to are Avian Organics, which was an award winner in the bird category at this year’s Global Pet Expo, Nature’s Feast, which is a premium, double-cleaned, vitamin-fortified line, and Featherglow, which has won multiple awards in the bird category at Global Pet Expo’s New Product Showcase.

Volkman has an answer for those pet parents who are gravitating toward home-cooked meals for their companion birds in Featherglow, its premium line of companion bird blends that is vitalized for more complete nutrition. Featherglow Birdie’s Buffet is a nutritional, healthy, home-cooked meal that is filled with sun-cured fruits, dried vegetables and a mixture of seeds.

The company also manufactures high quality foods specifically designed for a variety of small animals, including gourmet diets for squirrels, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and rodents.

One of the other leaders in the small animal food segment is Supreme Petfoods, which boasts the widest range of veterinary-recommended species-specific foods for small animal pets. Since launching Russel Rabbit, its first specialized pet food, in 1991, the company continues to work with experts in veterinary medicine and nutritionists in the formulation of its recipes. Supreme also invests in veterinary education to help explore and better understand the health needs of small animals.

Among its most popular food lines is Selective Naturals rabbit and guinea pig food that, in addition to being grain-free, is rich in Timothy hay and garden vegetables, with no added sugars, corn or wheat. Earlier this year Supreme Petfoods launched Science Selective House Rabbit as an extension to its award-winning Selective food range. The new product has a formulation to match the needs of rabbits living indoors with a high fiber mix of forages that more closely reflects natural grazing patterns of wild rabbits, offering both nutrition and a variety of tastes to enjoy. It contains Timothy hay, grass and the herb thyme, and it is fortified with essential vitamins A and D.

Pet food manufacturers will continue to invest the time and resources to develop products that cater to the nutritional needs of dogs, cats and other companion animals. The results will be even more innovative recipes that cater to the health and well-being of the public’s beloved pets.