For Interzoo 2012, the organizer of the event -- arguably the largest pet trade show in the world -- invited me to give a presentation during the show's international press conference. While honored and flattered by the invitation, I was also rather nervous initially, because of the requested topic: innovation in petfood and treats.
The reason for my consternation? Though I've long believed that new product development is the lifeblood of our industry and the driver behind its continued growth, even (perhaps especially) during these recent economic difficulties, I've also worried that the industry has not been producing much in the way of truly innovative products for some time now. I have come away from most pet trade shows over the past two years -- including Interzoo 2010 -- feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the number and type of new products launched by petfood companies.
But in starting to prepare my presentation for Interzoo, I realized that I need to look at innovation in petfood from a different angle. While much of the industry's high growth these days is in the so-called developing markets -- regions like Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia where more people are starting to feed their pets commercial petfoods -- in many other markets, petfood is a mature industry. It stands to reason companies need to approach innovation in entirely new ways.
For example, one trend in our industry has been products, especially dry petfoods, with higher levels of meat and particularly fresh meat, based on consumer demands and beliefs that dogs and cats should eat more meat. But until recently, existing technology for extruding petfoods allowed only so much meat to be included.
Then in late 2010/early 2011, Wenger Manufacturing
, one of the world's largest manufacturers of extrusion equipment, did some research with Glanbia Nutritionals
, an ingredients supplier, that resulted first in the introduction of Optisol 9000
, a functional ingredient that Glanbia says allows for inclusion of up to 50% meat in extruded petfoods. Wenger followed that with the launch of its thermal twin extrusion systems
, extruders that allow steam to be mixed into the product, dramatically increasing the level of thermal energy. This increased thermal energy, Wenger says, results in a more natural cooking process and provides the potential to produce petfoods and treats with up to 90% fresh meat.
At least one petfood manufacturer has taken advantage of this new technology. At Interzoo this year, GA Pet Food Partners
, the large private label manufacturer based in the UK, will launch Just Fresh Meat
, a new concept that allows for all the meat content within a dry petfood to be fresh (no rendered dry meats or meals, GA says) and at levels up to 70%. The company says this is possible due at least partially to using one of Wenger's new extruders. (GA is also doing progressive things in the area of sustainable manufacturing
, packaging and business.)
This is just one example of innovation in manufacturing. Buddy's Kitchen Fresh for Dogs, a brand new company in Canada (started by treat company Complete Natural Nutrition
) that says it uses all fresh ingredients and a small-batch, "gentle" cooking process to make its patties. The patties are then frozen for dog owners to thaw and serve the fully cooked patties to their dogs. Even more, the company lets anyone, including consumers, tour its facilities and watch the food being made
-- another innovation in transparency
popping up among smaller petfood companies.
So, I've discovered that I have plenty of innovations and progressive trends in petfood to include in my presentation. Even better, it's made me even more excited and bullish on the future of our industry.