Sometimes, the consumer's definition of quality has nothing to do with nutrition.The industry needs more publicly available information about the nutrient profiles.

Some ingredients can work marketing magic, giving your brands valuable marketing points of difference. We asked petfood company people to tell us the ingredients they would like to learn more about. Following are some of the ingredients they suggested.

Meats, fruits and vegetables

Greg Aldrich, PhD, of Pet Food & Ingredient Technology Inc., tells Petfood Industry that a broad cross-section of nontraditional ingredients have become popular in dry petfood products, including:

Fresh meats;

Whole bird parts like wings, necks and backs; and

A wide array of fruits and vegetables.

They are predominantly fresh or frozen whole ingredients, or dried co-products from the food industry. The demand for these ingredients often competes head-on with human foods. As ingredients in petfoods, they represent a whole new host of opportunities and challenges.

The most common fresh meats used are chicken and turkey. Much of this is purchased from meat intended for the hot dog market. Beef, lamb, pork and fish are also readily available with exotic meats like buffalo, kangaroo, venison and duck available on a more limited basis.

Most of these "hot dog meats" are the product from either normal trimming or mechanical deboning operations. Many times the nutritional information provided by suppliers of these ingredients lists only lean-to-fat ratios. A few suppliers will provide a chemical analysis, but this is often limited to protein, moisture and fat, and if you're lucky there might be some information on the ash and mineral content as well.

So how do petfood formulators find nutrient profiles for these items? While one could speculate using the traditional sources of nutrient composition available, such as the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search), they only have data available for the "edible cuts." These data don't include information on some of the fatty portions or bone ash from some of the mechanically separated meats.

Whole bird parts

Whole bird parts have some similarities to the fresh meats in that they are derived from the edible meat market. They are a big part of the emerging raw and home-prepared foods market. Commonly utilized parts include turkey and chicken necks, legs, backs and wings. They represent the less popular, though just as wholesome, portions of the bird that the people-food market doesn't value as highly.

In many raw prepared foods, these parts are ground and mixed with other components of the diet and served without further processing. While there are general concerns about microbial safety and choking hazards, the practice seems to be gaining more rather than less ground. The proponents of this practice contend that this form of diet is closer to what the animal is adapted to.

From a nutritional and formulation perspective the biggest challenge, much like with the fresh meats, is finding solid nutritional information from suppliers on these ingredients. As with the USDA or NRC sources of information, there isn't a great deal of data for these whole parts. Most tables report only the edible portions and don't include the bone (mineral) or connective tissue (amino acids) in their analysis. Further, the variability from one supplier and type of bird to the next can be immense. So, dialing in a complete nutrient profile can be guesswork at best. The one avenue for information can be found in a few reports by zoo nutritionists, because they've been feeding "whole prey" for years.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, peas, apples, beans, spinach and many others are finding their way into more petfoods every day. While most of the fruits and vegetables used might not match exactly the partially digested paunch material from their wild prey, the intent is the same.

Determining the proper inclusion level for these fruits and vegetables can be a challenge, because, again, there isn't a great deal of nutrient profile information available. Finding nutritional information for these ingredients is easier than for that of the meats and parts described previously. However, tables of information available for human foods are often missing critical nutrient information, such as chloride, biotin, iodine and crude fiber.

The industry needs more publicly available information about the nutrient profiles for the preceding ingredients. Until that point, suppliers and petfood companies will need to conduct nutrient analysis on the individual ingredients, and researchers and nutritionists need to report their findings.

Custodial-care ingredients

Ed Mareth, cofounder of 3D Corporate Solutions, thinks today's pet owners have a strong inclination to purchase petfoods with exceptional quality and variety. He points out the need to design, build and manage products, programs and processes to meet a commitment to custodial care of raw material. He defines custodial care ingredients as those that "can be traced through a chain of custody that validates safe-handling procedures through the entire supply chain. They are never treated as a by-product."

Mareth continues, "It is our objective to meet our customers' demands for quality, consistency and novel ingredients." He believes customers are no longer satisfied with just lamb or chicken; they are looking for variety such as duck, rabbit or venison. This means programs upfront to address quality concerns long term.

"We believe," says Mareth, "that in today's competitive environment, excellent quality translates into brand loyalty." Without consistent, predictable products, no manufacturer can deliver petfoods that meet their customers' long-term expectation for qualityrealizing that sometimes, the consumer's definition of quality has nothing to do with nutrition.

DHA stability questions

Al Cunniff from Advanced BioNutrition notes there is a growing demand for natural, fortified and functional foods in the petfood sector. Among those new products, omega-3 and more specifically omega-3 DHA fortified petfoods are especially popular.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is a fatty acid important for neural development of young mammals. Dietary DHA is critical for optimal neural development in puppies because DHA synthesis in the body is limited. Some studies indicate puppies nourished on diets with enhanced levels of DHA have improved trainability.Enriching treats with omega-3 DHA presents several challenges, most notably:

The stability of the material used to deliver proper levels of DHA; and

Its ability to withstand the manufacturing process.

The most popular source of DHA is fish oil, and it is most efficiently stabilized with ethoxyquin, a synthetic antioxidant. Ethoxyquin presents a challenge when formulating all-natural treats: Ethoxyquin is not allowed in raw ingredients even if the level would be minimal or absent in the final extruded product.

An alternative source of omega-3 DHA is available for companion animal nutrition, which offers the potential to be stabilized with a natural antioxidant package as opposed to using ethoxyquin. This alternative is from an algal source (Schizochytrium sp.) that is grown under GMP conditions. The resulting algal biomass contains a minimum of 20% DHA by weight.

A recent research project investigated the feasibility of formulating all-natural DHA enriched dog treats, using fish oil or algal biomass, stabilized with natural antioxidants. The goal was to:

Formulate and evaluate the stability of the treats over time;

Evaluate buyer perception of the aroma of the treats formulated with fish oil or the algal DHA; and

Measure the DHA stability over time in both formulations.

Results showed that the negative perception of the fish oil product rose over time. Unexpectedly, the negative perception of the algal product decreased over time. This trend is concentration-dependant. Bottom line: The dog biscuit formulated with the algal ingredient is more pleasant to the human olfactory sense over time.

Green mussel, sea cucumber

When is a petfood ingredient a food, and when is it a food additive? That question is important, says David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, because a food additive must be approved (or otherwise sanctioned by regulators) before it can be used in marketed products, while an ingredient with a history of use as food does not require pre-market approval.

Both New Zealand green mussel (NZGM) and sea cucumber are frequently cited as "unapproved ingredients" (i.e., food additives) by state feed control officials. However, in both cases the ingredients have a long history of consumption by humans for their food functions (taste, aroma and nutritive value). In fact, both appear on the Food and Drug Administration's Seafood List as recognized human foods! Food is defined by law as "food for man or other animals." Therefore, it is unclear how the same ingredients can be food for humans yet deemed food additives when used in petfood.

Granted, neither NZGM nor sea cucumber has a history of use in petfoods specifically. However, neither do many, many other substances, such as fruits and vegetables, exotic meats and poultry and other seafood (e.g., lobster, shrimp). Yet, there appears to be little consternation about the latter's use in petfoods. Thus, to single out NZGM and sea cucumber as "unapproved" is inconsistent at best.

Also complicating the issue is the fact that some have ascribed non-nutritive functions to NZGM and sea cucumber or have used them in human dietary supplement products. However, the inapplicability of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) to animal products is simply irrelevant. DSHEA would only be material if the substance did not have a history of use in food. That's not the situation with these ingredients. So, as long as there's no non-food (i.e., drug) claims associated with their presence in a product, there doesn't appear to be a compelling regulatory reason to exclude NZGM or sea cucumber from petfood formulations.

Procurement

The goal of procuring ingredients, including novel ones, is to find suppliers capable of low-cost production of quality ingredients and delivery that meets production schedules. Procurement managers who follow best practices are usually successful in helping improve products and business profitability.