The petfood industry is seeing a clear trend of interest in specialty petfood ingredients. Even as the “standard” petfood market slows, the functional, nutrition-focused, lifestage-specific, customized premium and superpremium segments are steaming ahead. One of the side effects of this consumer shift is an increased look at so-called “superfoods” and their use in petfood formulas.

In general terms, “superfood” is the name used for any nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. What that means in practice, however, seems to be determined largely by what’s currently popular on the food market. For petfood manufacturers specifically, it means closely following whatever ingredients are trending in the human food market—because, as pet humanization has shown over the last several years, however goes human food, so goes petfood.

Right now, ingredients  such as kale, blueberries, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, pumpkin, and various seeds and powders touting health benefits are making their way through petfood.

At Global Pet Expo 2014, WellPet LLC launched a superfood protein bar for dogs as part of its Wellness line of petfood and pet treats. Superfoods like pomegranates, sweet potatoes and kale are paired with proteins in moist treats for dogs that lead an active lifestyle, according to the company. Recipes include Turkey & Duck with Kale, Beef & Bison with Blueberries, Chicken & Turkey with Sweet Potatoes and Salmon & Whitefish with Pomegranates. "Pet owners want to read petfood labels and see high-quality, natural ingredients that they're familiar with from their own diets," said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior marketing manager for WellPet. "That means no fillers, meat by-products or hard-to-pronounce preservatives. As pet owners, we strive to develop healthy, protein-packed and nutrient-rich recipes that reflect flavor combos we know and pets will love."

The SMARTCOOKEE Company offers a superfood-based line of pet treats. All Natural Omega Dog Treats are made by hand in the USA using pure, simple, nutritious ingredients that everyone will easily recognize, according to the company. All three treat varieties–The Great Pumpkin, I Yam What I Yam and PB'N Jelly Time–contain zero chemicals, preservatives, wheat, soy or corn. SMARTCOOKEE is also the first company to incorporate the superfood chia seed into its treats, says the company.

All-natural petfood maker Lucky Dog Cuisine has added Picky Palate Pork to its line of superpremium, cooked, human-grade subscription-based meals for dogs. Picky Palate Pork features grass-fed pork and is both grain-free and gluten-free. The entrée combines the pork with GMO-free vegetables including zucchini, carrots, peas, green beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, blueberries and apples along with organic red lentils and extra virgin olive oil. Lucky Dog's menu includes six flavors, including two grain-free and gluten-free options.

Lansing Trade Group LLC, a North American handler of whole grains and feed ingredients, has focused on sweet potatoes as a superfood in petfood formulations. “Sweet potatoes are a high-quality alterative grain-free ingredient and a superb source of vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates,” says Isaac Matthews, division manager at Lansing. “Since sweet potatoes are viewed as extremely nutritious, they are also excellent at self-marketing as a healthy, unique and specialized food.” Matthews says that Lansing’s customers are focused on things like nutritional profile and target market objectives when considering formulations. Items like sweet potatoes, which fulfill those needs for many petfood manufacturers right now, have settled alongside a number of different grain-free ingredients that Lansing provides to meet its customers’ needs.

One Dog Organic Bakery's pumpkin spice treats are handmade, all natural, organic and gluten-free, and contain 100% human-grade ingredients. Pumpkin is high in potassium, beta carotene and vitamin E and is naturally low in calories, making it a healthy, nutritious selection for snacking, according to the company. The company also uses ingredients such as coconut oil, flaxseed, chia seed and bee pollen, all of which purport to meet various nutritional requirements, in its products.

Family Owned Spot Farms dog treats are antibiotic-free, 100% US-made, all-human-grade jerky dog treats in formulas such as Chicken Jerky Hip+Joint, Chicken Jerky Skin+Coat, Chicken Jerky Heart Health and Chicken Jerky Serenity. The Hip+Joint recipe contains chondroitin and glucosamine to help maintain healthy hips and joints, and turmeric for inflammation reduction. The Skin+Coat recipe features omega-3 fatty acids and brewer’s yeast, which provides essential B vitamins. Along with vitamin E, these ingredients help to support healthy skin and shiny coat, according to the company. The Heart Heath recipe contains turmeric and cinnamon, which can reduce inflammation, and omega-3-rich flaxseed and taurine, which support heart health. The Serenity recipe contains chamomile and tryptophan, which can reduce anxiety and have calming effects.

Only Natural Pet offers several petfood formulas that focus on being allergy-friendly. They’re grain-free and gluten-free, and contain low-glycemic carbs like garbanzo beans and lentils, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. The formulas are also infused with Only Natural Pet's proprietary PowerBoost, a raw, freeze-dried blend of superfoods like green-lipped mussels, sea cucumber, pumpkin, probiotics and digestive enzymes.

As health benefits are  increasingly touted in petfood, looking to attract premium consumers who want the very best for their family pets, superfoods will continue to hold the spotlight in new formulations and products hitting market shelves.

2015 petfood trends