We hear a lot about what pet parents don't like to see in pet food, from chemical preservatives to fillers. It's not enough to only remove the most objectionable ingredients, however; we need to add ingredients that pet parents DO want.
It won't come as a surprise that pet parents are looking for a more natural diet for their adored companions. The goal of adding natural ingredients to pet food has historically been about perception more than value. However, today's educated pet parents understand the impact of harsh processing and high temperatures. To actually add value to petfood and increase sales, natural ingredients should be complimented by more gentle processing.
Following is a list of trending natural pet food ingredients based on my personal market research, including online consumer opinions and known sales trends. It refers to fresh, whole foods or gently dried versions (think freeze-dried, not meals).
- Seaweed (kelp is common but there are many species available on the market)
- Blueberries and blackberries
- Dark, leafy greens (mustard greens, etc.)
- Cracked barley
- Brown rice
- Low food chain seafood
- Real broth - turkey, beef, etc.
- Natural preservatives, such as rosemary
- Natural supplements, such as algae (spirulina), virgin olive oil and krill oil
- Herbs - Choices should provide real, proven value, with a low instance of allergic reaction and drug interaction. The effect on common medical conditions (such as kidney disease) must also be considered. It's imperative that each herb be proven safe for the animal species in question, as some that are beneficial for humans or one species may harm another.
While some of these ingredients are expensive and probably only suitable for premium brands, others can be very economical. For example, there are many "waste" products in the greens category. Radish greens are often thrown away, yet they're even more nutritious than the root that humans crave.
The following ingredients look good to the average human, but the well-studied pet parent can see their flaws and will alert the online pet community. I've included the natural ingredients that are most recently coming under fire, but you can find long lists of taboo ingredients in petfood with a quick online search. Some of the disdain is actually based on limited understanding of ingredients, processing or the digestive system, but the negative associations are so ingrained in the pet community that it will never recover.
- Sweet potato - No matter how good it is, anything high in starch/carbohydrates/sugars is leaving the food bowl
- Spinach & other plants high in oxalate
- Clay supplements - We're dedicated advocates of calcium montmorillonite clay, but it isn't a good supplement for dry petfood. It needs to be ingested with fluids to work properly and avoid constipation.
- Probiotics - A great concept but the stability in processed petfood is in doubt
Make sure your online community manager and customer support agents are noting suggestions and concerns. This data can be compiled into a periodic report that can be sent to your research and development department. Monitoring online conversation will provide you with invaluable guidance and countless ideas for developing petfood that doesn't leave a bad taste in a pet parent's mouth.