Freeze-dried or air-dried raw-meat pet food and treats were among the most prevalent new products showcased at Global Pet Expo 2022. Freeze-dried meats allow pet food makers to offer consumers a raw or minimally processed high-meat product with fewer storage challenges and health risks than raw-meat-based pet foods. Freeze-dried raw meats may also take advantage of otherwise wasted organ meat, reducing waste and increasing ranchers’ incomes, which appeals to pet owners’ sustainability demands.
The bison livers in Northwest Naturals products did just that, the company’s national sales manager Amy Snell told Petfood Industry. Northwest Naturals’ parent company, Morasch Meats, moved into freeze-dried pet foods nearly two decades ago. Northwest Naturals’ new products at Global Pet Expo included a range of freeze-dried raw diets for dogs and toppers with functional ingredients such as turmeric and New Zealand green mussels.
Raw pet food processing and storage
Raw pet foods have grown in popularity among dog and cat owners. Raw dog and cat food makers promote their products as improving digestion and dental health, along with other benefits. Raw pet food companies often look to high-pressure processing (HPP) to pasteurize their products and comply with food safety laws. High-pressure processing works by creating high pressure uniformly around a pet food container, usually in a sealed tank of water. That pressure is transferred instantly and equally throughout the raw pet food. Under this high pressure, disease-causing microorganisms and food-spoiling enzymes are inactivated.
Nevertheless, pet owners still need to follow more steps to properly store, handle and serve raw-meat-based products, compared to conventional kibble. Raw pet foods need to be kept frozen to prevent spoilage to maintain palatability, even after high-pressure processing to eliminate pathogens. When consumers handle the products, people must take care to avoid smearing surfaces with raw meat and potentially forming a breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Freeze-dried pet foods help avoid these challenges by making the meat shelf-stable and easier to handle.
“Freeze-drying removes moisture by converting ice directly to vapor by sublimation rather than transitioning through a liquid phase,” wrote Greg Aldrich, pet food program coordinator at Kansas State University, in his Petfood Industry column. “Even though some heat is used during freeze-drying, the temperatures do not exceed more than a few degrees over freezing.”
Pet food formulators then add the resulting freeze-dried ingredients, both meats and plants, to recipes. Some pet foods use free-dried ingredients as an adjunct to kibbles and other products. Other pet foods and treats may be purely freeze-dried ingredients. Some of these must be moistened before feeding, while others are meant to be fed directly, especially treats. Some new products at Global Pet Expo contained a single freeze-dried protein, such as beef heart or mackerel.
New freeze-dried pet foods and treats at Global Pet Expo
“The add-water category has grown dramatically,” Zach Franke, key accounts manager for Grandma Lucy’s, told Petfood Industry.
The company introduced its Three Bears freeze-dried dog food at Global Pet Expo, he said. Product developers added grains to the Three Bears dog foods, a first for the company. The addition of rolled oats addresses pet owners’ lingering concerns about dilated cardiomyopathy, since the oats contain amino acids needed by dogs’ bodies to make taurine. Taurine deficiency correlates with increased the risk of dilated cardiomyopathy.
“Some people prefer to go the dehydrated route,” he said. “I believe the freeze-dried route is a better option in many ways. If you freeze dry a product, you're not heating it up too much. You're not going to break down all the vitamins and minerals that are inside of it. The way that we freeze dry, it's going to rehydrate a lot faster than dehydrated food… The other thing with some dehydrated foods is that, if you don't allow enough time for it to rehydrate, it can continue to expand a little bit inside the stomach. So, if you feed too fast, then that's not really good for the dog. You don't have quite the same problem with freeze-dried.”
These pet food and treat brands introduced freeze-dried or air-dried products at Global Pet Expo 2022.
West Paw – air-dried bison dog treats, freeze-dried beef heart dog treats and others
Primal Pet Foods – freeze-dried raw toppers made with fish, beef or vegetable
Natural Balance – limited ingredient, freeze-dried dog food
Northwest Naturals – freeze-dried raw diet and toppers for dogs
Pure Bites – freeze-dried dog foods and toppers
Power Animal – freeze-dried dog foods and treats
Earth Animal – Wisdom air-dried catfish dog food
Dr. Marty Better Life Bites – freeze-dried dog treats with functional claims
Carna4 – air-dried goat, lamb or venison dog foods
Grandma Lucy’s - 3 Bears freeze-dried dog food
Boss Nation Brands - Boss Cat freeze-dried raw cat food
HausPanther - freeze-dried raw cat treats
VitalEssentials -- VitalCat freeze-dried pork cat food
Catit -- Gold Fern air-dried cat food
Bixbi -- freeze-dried Rawbble dog food
Stella and Chewy’s - raw coated freeze-dried kibble for kittens