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WHAT IS A PET FOOD INGREDIENT SUPPLIER?
A pet food ingredient supplier is a company that uses established processes to source and procure virtually any kind of ingredient for you – from standard to exotic – in a reliable and cost-effective way. Pet food brands that work with ingredient suppliers don’t have to worry about the legwork that comes with ingredient sourcing, like finding trustworthy suppliers or negotiating prices.
As you begin to create a new pet food, start thinking about your ingredient supplier and your partner’s manufacturing capabilities on day one. Ingredient sources should be locked in as early as possible because lead times will likely vary depending on your requirements.
Most pet food manufacturers have close relationships with trusted ingredient suppliers to help you source the right products that align with the manufacturer’s production capabilities. Make sure the manufacturer you work with can handle your different ingredients and has a way to source and stock them.
With that in mind, here’s how to select a trusted supplier that aligns with your ingredient and production needs.
STEP #1. IDENTIFY TYPES OF PET FOOD INGREDIENTS
A new pet food usually starts with dreaming up what ingredients you want to include.
As you develop or expand your pet food line, you are likely looking to innovate. Often, this means including a differentiating ingredient, like something exotic or 100% organic. This decision will impact how you source your ingredients because the more exotic the ingredient, the more difficult it is to find.
Pet food ingredients can be broken down into broad categories, including:
Within these categories, you can select anything from basic to exotic ingredients. For example, in the protein category, you could select chicken as your protein, or try something more novel like duck or venison. The inclusion category offers limitless possibilities, from simple carrots to niche ingredients like green-lipped mussel powder.
Time is also a factor. Standard ingredients, like chicken and rice, may only take a couple of weeks to source. But some exotic ingredients may take up to 16 weeks.
Let’s look at three more important considerations when evaluating suppliers.
STEP #2. ASK THE SUPPLIER 3 QUESTIONS
Once you’ve identified a few suppliers, ask these three questions:
1. Is the supply chain sustainable?
The term “sustainable” in this context is not about “going green.” Rather, it refers to the supplier’s supply chain. How reliable is it? Will it stay consistent in the long term?
This is true for both novel and basic ingredients. If the supply chain isn’t sustainable, you will run into issues getting your product to market consistently.
2. Is the ingredient scalable?
This refers to the supplier’s ability to consistently get you the volume of ingredients you need, even as that volume increases over time.
If your pet food brand becomes extremely popular overnight – and you have to ramp up from one hundred thousand pounds to one million pounds of a particular ingredient – you need to know that your supplier can make it happen.
3. Is the source high-quality?
Make sure your supplier only works with high-quality ingredient sources. Food safety is crucial. A misstep here could tarnish a brand—or destroy it completely.
Standards matter, and the stricter the better. You shouldn’t have to worry about the quality of individual ingredients—only the quality of your supplier. This means, whatever your supplier sources, they should have already checked and double-checked its quality before it gets to you.
Vet your supplier to see if they have best practices in place, including SQF-certified facilities, ingredient testing and third-party audits.
STEP #3. LOOK FOR THESE 3 QUALITIES
Obviously, the right answer for each of the above questions is “yes.” But an exceptional supplier will go even further. Here’s how to spot one.
1. Communicative & Open
To get the answers of the first three questions, your supplier must first be open and communicative.
How forthcoming are they about their ability to scale up and the sustainability of their supply chain? Do they provide quality documentation? What about all the data specific to an ingredient? What are the lead times? Does the supplier allow you to walk the plant to see what they’re doing?
If any of these answers aren’t provided or the supplier doesn’t have an open-door policy, that’s a red flag.
2. Coaches Ingredient Choices
You might have a specific vision in mind that, for whatever reason, doesn’t make commercial or manufacturing sense. A good pet food ingredient supplier can help you still achieve that vision by walking you through options and helping you pick the right alternative ingredients.
Suppose you want to create a non-GMO, 100% organic pet food. In the process, you find there is no true organic variant for the ingredient you want. A good supplier will be able to help you find an organic replacement that serves the same nutritional function.
3. Offers Ingredient Blends
Top-tier ingredient suppliers take things a step further by providing ingredient blends.
A blend is a mix of ingredients that is designed to simplify the manufacturing process, streamline warehouse storage, and eliminate concerns about expiration dates. Blends give you the foundation of the formula. So, you only need to add remaining elements, like protein or fat.
Just like raw ingredients, not all blends are created equal. A quality supplier will have a strict batching, mixing, milling, and sifting process that ensures everything is blended consistently and uniformly to meet diet and customer specifications.
Finding a trusted pet food ingredient supplier is crucial to your success.
Do your homework. Verify that they make sense financially, nutritionally, and in a production environment. Make sure they’re coming from a quality source that has the ability to scale and grow. Ultimately, it comes down to the depth and breadth of your supplier, and how well the ingredients work with your manufacturer.
But you’re not in this alone. The process will be even easier if you have a manufacturing partner that has already been through the pet food ingredient supplier vetting process and can walk you through every step, from planning to ingredient selection to commercialization.