Pet parents will continue to demand more transparency in all aspects of pet food.
Each year, billions of dollars are spent on pet food in the U.S. A whopping $29 billion was shelled out in 2017, according to statistics gathered by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) from various market research sources. In fact, Americans have been spending more money on pet food every year, as reflected by the steady rise from $16 billion in 2007.
Now more than ever, pet parents’ ears are perked up when it comes to finding out what’s in the food they plan on serving to the animals they care for, and they’re increasingly willing to open their wallets a bit wider to make sure that their pets are as well-fed as can be.
According to a survey of pet owners recently conducted by Luminer, 92 percent of respondents said that they read the ingredients list when purchasing new pet food, with more than half doing so “always” or “often.” Of the eight percent who never look at the ingredients list, 84 percent said that they would be more likely to read the labels if more information on nutrition and ingredients were provided.
With a plethora of options available on the market these days—which may seem overwhelming to some shoppers—it’s important for manufacturers to clearly label their products to help consumers decide which culinary selections will best meet the nourishment needs of their pets, while also keeping up with ever-evolving trends in the sector.
Luminer’s survey also found that nearly half of respondents—45 percent to be exact—were more inclined to buy pet food labeled as natural (meaning made without synthetic materials).
“Pet parents today are looking to provide the most natural and highest-quality ingredients for their pets,” said Loris Rinaldo, vice president for North America at Farmina Pet Foods, which originated in Italy. “As pioneers in pet nutrition for over 50 years, we use nature as our inspiration and science as our method.
“By owning our state-of-the-art wet and dry food manufacturing facilities, we are able to control the entire production process and can ensure safety and build trust with pet parents worldwide,” continued Rinaldo. “This allows us to hand-select only the highest-quality European ingredients to be used in our Natural & Delicious (N&D) diets, and gives us the ability to implement proprietary technology for use in the production process to ensure the bioavailability of the nutrients in every diet.”
Among Farmina’s dog and cat foods are the N&D regionally sourced Pumpkin line, the N&D Quinoa collection and the new N&D Wet Foods that use rawcan technology, which allows BPA-free cans to be precisely filled with each raw ingredient before a gentle steam process.
For pet food in its most natural state, another option is raw, which allows animals to eat meat as they would in nature—uncooked. Some raw foods are dehydrated, freeze-dried or air-dried for the purposes of preservation and serving convenience.
“There is emerging evidence that dogs and cats are healthier when fed a raw, natural diet, because that’s what their ancestors craved and thrived on,” according to the website of Bravo! Pet Foods. “Dogs and cats are essentially carnivores. In the wild, their perfect meal would consist of fresh, raw meat, some uncooked bones, some raw organ meats and green vegetation.”
The Connecticut-based company is currently promoting its Homestyle Complete freeze-dried dinners and Balance raw diet product lines.
“Bravo! Homestyle Complete freeze-dried dinners are all-natural formulas that feature beef, pork or turkey as the first ingredient,” said CEO Melinda Miller. “These diets are not a ground-up ‘mystery meal.’ You can see each ingredient—individual pieces of protein, organs, vegetables and fruit. This is the ultimate in transparency.”
Miller continued, “Bravo! Balance offers complete, limited-ingredient formulas—a single protein (including meat, bone and organs) and three vegetables—that are especially good for dogs with sensitivities. Balance only uses ‘no antibiotic ever poultry’ and never uses any artificial ingredients or fillers. Three protein types—beef, chicken and turkey—are available in individually-wrapped burger and chub formats.”
Answers Pet Food, a small company based in Pennsylvania, makes raw food for dogs and cats.
“Currently we are the only producer of fermented raw pet foods,” said William Hoekman, nutrition science director. “This is very unique in that it’s a one-step process that increases both safety and nutrition. Fermentation is the food being predigested by bacteria (probiotics). As far as safety goes, this means the good bacteria will crowd out bad bacteria (pathogens), not allowing them to grown and make someone sick. Unlike high-pressure pasteurization, fermentation maintains its raw food status while still being a proactive safety step.”
One of Answers’ offerings is fermented raw cow’s milk kefir, which comes from non-GMO, grass-fed Jersey cows. The milk, which can be added to any diet or served alone, is meant to help increase probiotics and vitamins and aid digestibility, among other benefits.
“Consumers are becoming very well-educated on ingredients and sourcing and it’s starting to move mountains,” added Hoekman. “Pretty much every company over the last 10 years has had to make adjustments to offer more natural options. If you were to go into a big box store 10 years ago and compare that to today, the difference would be shocking.”
Then there is Longevity Raw Pet Food, which was founded by Dr. Gerald Buchoff, a holistic veterinarian in New Jersey.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Longevity has a range of pet food options, providing many different benefits.
“Our Vital Rabbit and Natural Duck varieties are great for dogs with food allergies and intolerances as they are more unusual proteins that tend to provoke fewer allergic reactions,” noted Dr. Buchoff. “We also sell a Just Green Tripe product in the same convenient patty packs as our burgers. Green Tripe is a wonderful superfood for dogs and is a highly digestible protein rich with probiotics, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes. All dogs can benefit by the addition of Green Tripe to their diet, but it is particularly good for dogs that are healing, that have digestive issues or that have sensitive stomachs.”
Another way to help dogs with sensitivities is to completely remove animal products from their diets. This may raise the eyebrows of skeptics—who assume that carnivorous animals physically require meat—but companies like v-dog are proving that they can provide a completely balanced canine diet using only plant-based foods.
“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. The company 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 lot of the benefits that we’ve seen from this lies in sensitive dogs,” noted Rubin. “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.”
Other advantages of going vegan include reducing a dog’s “carbon paw print,” said Rubin, and eliminating the need for factory-farming and slaughter.
Earth Animal, which is led by holistic veterinarian Dr. Bob Goldstein and his wife, Susan, in Connecticut, is currently involved in the early stages of research on bringing to the pet industry plant-based protein sources that can be used as food for dogs and cats. But for now, a major priority for the company is making sure that its meats have been raised humanely.
“Our mission is to create awareness of the plight of the factory-farmed animal,” said Susan. “An animal that has been treated with respect and has had a good life on a farm as opposed to living in a cage or factory is actually healthier for the animal that’s ingesting it.”
Launching this spring is Earth Animal’s new Wisdom pet food, which is gently dehydrated and uses humanely raised meats. It also includes Vitality Cubes, sprouted seeds that are filled with essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. “The way we’re introducing Wisdom is in a new category of less processing, lower temperature, air-dried and using the healthiest ingredients from the farm to the table,” said Dr. Bob. “We will be coming out with two flavors for dogs—chicken and turkey. We’ll be following that up with other flavors for dogs and then towards the end of the summer, we’ll be introducing Wisdom cat food.”
All the way down in New Zealand, Ziwi makes such gently air-dried products as the Peak New Zealand Free-Range Chicken recipe, which is available for both cats and dogs.
“Because of human trends like Paleo and Keto diets, pet owners are paying more attention to the biological needs of their pets,” said Sharon Durham, marketing communications manager for Ziwi USA. “As a result, raw and alternative-to-raw diets that are high in meat and organs—the ancestral diet of cats and dogs—are experiencing significant growth within the independent pet retail channel. We have lots of inquiries every day from people looking to get back to the basics. We’ve also been seeing a lot of interest in superfood ingredients to naturally boost nutrition.”
Ziwi’s Peak New Zealand Free-Range Chicken recipe also falls into the grain-free category, which, although highly debated, is still an option that is offered by many pet food companies.
“We add no grains, potatoes, legumes, glycerin, rendered meats, animal meals or other cheap fillers,” added Durham. “Instead, we craft our recipes to mimic the natural, whole-prey diet of carnivores, using meat, organs, bones and seafood, and including superfoods like liver, tripe and New Zealand green-lipped mussel in our recipes. Protein derived from meat and organs contains more of the essential nutrients dogs and cats need, without the extra carbs they don’t.”
Highlighting its grain-free Crunchy Os is Fromm Family Foods, a fifth-generation family owned and operated pet food manufacturer located in Wisconsin that makes its products available exclusively within the neighborhood/independent pet channel.
“In early 2019, Fromm Family Foods debuted a new line of treats that features a blend of premium ingredients, including meats, or cheese, fruits and vegetables and an airy texture that delivers a truly unique and audibly entertaining crunch,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director. These dog treats have three flavors: Blueberry Blasts, Smokin’ CheesePlosions and Pumpkin Kran Pow.
Another family owned and operated company is Pennsylvania-based Annamaet Petfoods, with such grain-free offerings as Re-juvenate for senior dogs, Ohana for puppies, Sustain, which is ethically formulated and sustainably sourced, and Feline Sustain No. 29 for cats.
“The mission of Annamaet Petfoods is to provide optimum nutrition to maximize the health and well-being of dogs and cats worldwide, including our own, while maintaining a responsibility to the environment and our natural resources,” said Robert L. Downey, the company’s president and CEO. “Recently, I think there is a movement towards novel new ingredients. However, we have to be careful in moving too fast towards the shiny new object; there needs to be proper research and testing to make sure these new ingredients are safe and as nutritious as they claim. The pet food industry has become a bit of an arms race where everyone is rushing new products to market without proper testing. Many nutritional deficiencies, including some vitamins, minerals and even protein levels, can take much longer than six months to be seen.”
Also family owned, Health Extension recently launched a line of grain-free canned dog food and is now introducing four more entrees: Montana Grill Buffalo & Whitefish Recipe, Carolina Skillet Pork Recipe, Mediterranean Roast Lamb Recipe and French Bistro Rabbit Recipe.
“Canine foodies of every age and breed will love these ‘fresh meat’ recipes that are created with whole food ingredients like free-range buffalo, pork, lamb and rabbit,” said Brad Gruber, president of the New York-based company. “Each recipe is enhanced with apple cider vinegar and pure coconut oil for a shiny coat along with whole food ingredients like chickpeas, carrots and flaxseed. Plus, they do not contain any wheat, corn, soy, GMO ingredients or artificial preservatives, just like the rest of the Health Extension line.”
“Today’s pet parents are more concerned than ever about feeding diets reflecting the trends in preventative health,” Gruber continued. “They are looking for the same qualities in products they feed their pet as in the products they feed themselves. So as pets become a more important part of a family, pet parents are more engaged than ever before in gathering information relative to their pets’ needs before they make a purchase.”
Champion, meanwhile, has such grain-free products as ORIJEN Regional Red freeze-dried dog food made with raw beef, wild boar, lamb, herring, bison and pork, and ACANA Grasslands cat food, which includes grass-fed lamb, freshwater trout and free-run duck, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Champion has established itself as an industry leader in offering biologically appropriate pet foods since 1975,” said Julie S. Washington, chief marketing officer. “That means pet foods are formulated for the distinct physiology, metabolism and eating anatomy of dogs and cats—carnivores that require significant levels of high-quality fresh and raw meat or fish proteins.”
At Nestlé Purina PetCare, which boasts a plethora of pet foods carried by a slew of retailers, variety is the spice of life. Among the company’s product offerings are Pro Plan Savor Probiotics, meant to support digestive and immune health, and Dental ActivFresh, dog and cat treats that help keep pets’ choppers clean. This June, the company is launching Purina ONE Smartblend Digestive Health, a new targeted nutrition formula for dogs.
“When it comes to ingredients, for some consumers what’s in the food is equally important to what’s not in the food,” said Joe Toscano, vice president and director of trade and industry relations at Missouri-based Purina. “Many pet owners are looking for brands that boast real meat as the first ingredient, grain-free formulas, limited-ingredient recipes, high/unique protein sources and, of course, natural ingredients. We offer foods for pets of all ages, breeds and special needs. We also have a suite of brands that appeals to all types of pet owners, from those looking for natural/ultra, to those who are looking for premium and value. We offer quality pet products at every price point, and wherever pet owners prefer to shop.”
As far as future trend predictions go, here’s what some industry experts see 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 Fromm’s Nieman. “While the demand for grain-free foods continues, I think we’ll witness many brands exploring grain-inclusive products in the coming year.”
“We believe the current trend of choosing to feed biologically appropriate diets will continue because it produces visible, tangible results,” noted Ziwi’s Durham. “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.”
Annamaet’s Downey said: “One trend I see moving forward is a growing tendency towards age-specific foods. Most veterinarians are now recommending puppy foods instead of those that are all life stages. At the other end of the spectrum, pets are living longer and longer, so we are seeing an increase in new geriatric maladies; this is leading to new senior formulas that include innovative nutraceuticals, which have been shown to help slow the aging process.”
“E-commerce continues to grow quickly,” added Purina’s Toscano. “If shoppers are still going in-store to purchase pet food, retailers need to tell them they have an online option so they don’t eventually lose the shopper altogether. Retailers should ensure they are working both in-store and out-of-store to capture these shoppers where they choose to shop.”
It also seems quite clear that the demand for transparency—as well as high-quality, responsibly sourced ingredients—will carry on well into the future.
“The pet food industry will continue to see even stronger demands for transparency in all aspects: ingredients, sourcing, production methods and locations, sustainability and animal welfare,” said Bravo’s Miller. “Consumers are becoming better educated, so the demand for quality and responsibly-sourced products continues to grow.”
According to Champion’s Washington: “Earning consumer trust is paramount in the pet food business, so we expect more companies will look towards new verification and validation methods to deliver the traceability and assurance people want that what is stated on the pet food label is indeed the truth.”
“Millennials are the new big players in the pet industry,” added Annamaet’s Downey. “They believe in local and also family owned and operated. They want non-GMO. They ask questions. So companies need to have the knowledge to respond to these requests. Relying on a fancy marketing campaign alone will not suffice.”