When it comes to pet palates, typically the blander the flavor, the better. But as manufacturers offer new pet foods that are vegetarian friendly or infused with gourmet ingredients, it seems retailers may need to cater to a new species of foodie.
Increasingly, savvy owners want their pets to experience—and benefit from—unique, natural and flavorful ingredients, so manufacturers are keeping up with this trend. Of the 102 natural pet products introduced last year, not only were 29 products marketed with “no chemicals,”18 touted as “high in vitamins” and 11 labeled as “high in antioxidants,” but many of the offerings were hyped as having new, alluring flavors, according to the Greenwich, Conn.-based American Pet Products Association.
“Today’s pet foods include complete and balanced diets that tantalize our pets’ taste buds and satisfy their tummies,” APPA spokeswoman Jennifer Bilbao reported in the organization’s “2010 Pet Owners Survey.”
Sure, it’s fun to give pets a new food flavor, but when a pet owner tries a new product—whether it’s vegetarian, high protein or loaded with antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies—the real question is, will the pet thrive? Will it have fewer digestive issues? More energy? A shinier coat? In other words, it’s the formulation’s function, not its flavor, that’s important to the owner.
New ingredients like fruits and vegetables in pet food are correlating with human health trends, says Mukund Parthasarathy, PhD, a columnist for
petfoodindustry.com and a consultant for SPF North America, a pet-food flavor manufacturer based in Hodges, S.C. As pets live longer and experience conditions
like diabetes,obesity or allergies, a variety of pet-food ingredients are being used to target these health needs.
Allergic and picky eaters are pushing the protein selection in pet food from the typical chicken or beef to something a bit more exciting. Exotic new proteins are being introduced to both appeal to pets’ taste buds and increase their overall well-being.
For example, Addiction Foods, a New Zealand manufacturer with headquarters in Davis, Calif., offers dry and dehydrated pet foods with venison, pork, brushtail possum and kangaroo meats, often mixed with fruits such as apples, berries and even figs. “If you believe an animal has food allergies to proteins, putting them on an exclusion diet with a new protein can allow you to see how they respond,” says Anita Nair, operations manager at Addiction Foods.
Superfruits and ancient grains
The healthy-ingredient trend also has changed the mixture of grains used in pet foods. Some high-end manufacturers have moved away from using soy, corn and wheat—which some veterinarians believe are harder to digest and more likely to cause allergies—toward rice and other grains. “You see a lot more millet in dog food than in the past,” says Susan Lauten, PhD, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based founder of petnutritionconsulting.com. “Companies use these new grains as a selling point.”
Other top sellers? Functional ingredients like antioxidants, essential fatty acids and even supplements like glucosamine for joint health are being formulated right into the can. “Blueberries and cranberries are [showing up] in pet foods,” Parthasarathy says. “Fruit- and vegetable-based antioxidants are a big trend in the pet food industry.”
The premium food trend isn’t just for dogs. For example, Midland, Mich.-based Wysong manufactures a line of ferret foods, including duck, rabbit and venison flavors that are grain free and mimic the traditional ferret diet full of taurine, fat and meat-based protein.
There are also a growing number of options for vegetarian owners who don’t appreciate giving all-meat foods to their pets. With dog food products like those from Green Cove Springs, Fla.-based PetGuard and Pacoima, Calif.-based Natural Balance Pet Foods, which use ingredients such as barley, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and kelp, owners can provide adequate protein from vegetable sources.
With all these new flavor options, you might think the market for new ideas and formulations is exhausted. Think again. “You’ll see a trend toward fewer ingredients,” says Parthasarathy. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see big-game meat from Africa, or even edible packaging.”