Antioxidants serve vital functions in pet food formulation. They can enhance health benefits in formulas in the forms of various vitamins, and they provide stability and extended shelf life to the finished pet food product. How antioxidants accomplish these functions is well established; however, current trends in the pet food industry have shifted and re-molded what pet food formulators are looking for when they ask suppliers for “antioxidants.”
“One of the trends we’ve been seeing for a few years is the switch from synthetic to natural,” said Jean-François Herve, business manager at Videka (Diana Pet Food). “You can connect that to the strong demand from consumers for natural products. The consumer is very demanding, especially in the premium and ultrapremium segments, and we are dealing with products found in specialty stores and independent stores. These competitive brands are really leading the natural market right now, and they have already switched to natural antioxidants. The rest of the market is following them. We’re seeing a strong expectation from major pet food manufacturers to remove synthetic antioxidants that don’t look good on their label and replace them with the natural versions.”
The natural pet food space, according to Jim Mann, global antioxidant product manager for Kemin, has seen continual growth over the last 20 years. And the development of the natural pet food market has been significantly impacted, in part, by the use of natural antioxidants to provide shelf-life extension to pet food diets and ingredients. “The use of natural antioxidants is pushed by the demand for healthier, more natural ingredients with cleaner product labels,” said Mann. “In addition, there has been resurgence in health concerns over synthetic antioxidants.”
The “clean label” trend is being seen as a more specific spin-off to the need for natural products. “Our product and project requests have increased in regards to non-GMO, organic and made in the USA,” said Andrea Peterson, business development manager–Americas for Kalsec. “We continue to see companies shift to natural antioxidants. These trends fit nicely with Kalsec's portfolio as we manufacture in our facilities in Texas and Michigan, and we are able to offer non-GMO and organic oxidation management systems thanks to being vertically integrated with our rosemary crop.”
Animal fat and vegetable oils have different fatty acids profiles and require different antioxidant solutions. Kalsec’s low flavor rosemary extract, functioning as a free-radical quencher, forms the building block of antioxidant solutions for offering additional oxidative stability when demanded by product/processing conditions.
As these two trends continue to grow in the pet food industry as a whole, antioxidant suppliers must adjust their own products in an ever-expanding variety of ways to meet the unique needs of their customers. This brings in the third major antioxidant trend: product innovation and customization.
“The growth of the health and wellness segment is driving the use of novel ingredients in pet foods,” said Mann. “In many cases, these ingredients provide new stability challenges where traditional antioxidant solutions cannot sufficiently meet the expected shelf-life requirements or, in some situations, require an extension of existing practices.” For example, the increased usage of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids from vegetable and marine sources have presented significant challenges to pet food stabilization and the use of antioxidants as shelf-life enhancers (see Figure 1).
In a Kemin study, a lamb and rice-based pet food kibble was coated with chicken fat, soybean oil, sunflower oil or fish oil. Each fat sample contained the same level of antioxidant and was coated onto the kibble at 6% and then stored at 37˚C for eight weeks; peroxide values (PV) were measured every two weeks. The resulting data showed that the stability of the diets was directly related to the level of unsaturation in the topical fat.
NOTE: Kibbles were stored at elevated temperature and in minimal packaging to accelerate oxidation reactions for research purposes. Data emphasizes the importance of appropriate surface fat antioxidant treatment to meet shelf life goals. Following treatment guidelines will result in much longer shelf life.
“The industry is, overall, expecting more innovation from suppliers of antioxidants,” said Herve. “One solution that fits all has proven not to be the right way to go. The industry is open to using a customized novelty antioxidant if it brings added value to their products. We’re also seeing, in the premium and ultrapremium segments, pet food manufacturers expecting increased shelf-life. To achieve that goal, they are willing to use different antioxidants depending on the formula or line of product. Also, they expect a lot of technical support in order to improve antioxidant application and efficacy.”
Innovation and customization will be key to remaining successful when dealing with antioxidants in the pet food industry.
In 2016 and beyond, according to Peterson, antioxidant formulators can expect a growing emphasis on matrix-dependent solutions. “We anticipate seeing more customer projects taking a look at their oxidative issues or the efficacy of their current solutions to ensure that they have the best toolbox of oxidation management solutions,” she said. “Along with matrix dependent solutions, we also expect fine tuning of the analytical methods and approaches used for measuring oxidation as the industry grows their knowledge base of oxidative stability.”
When it comes down to it, the pet food industry is currently living in a transitional period with regards to antioxidants, according to Herve. “The pet food industry is quite sensitive to the potential risks associated with a change of antioxidant,” he said. “They’ll change their existing solution only if antioxidant suppliers bring strong proof of increased efficacy, including longer shelf-life, better sensorial attributes and better acceptability by the animal.”
Antioxidant expert opinion: The role of education in the pet food industry
Increased education on both sides of the pet food fence—the consumer and the manufacturer—has essentially guaranteed the need for constant innovation in antioxidants.
More on pet food ingredients: Greg Aldrich, PhD