Specialty trend: probiotics, prebiotics in pet food

The continuing demand for specialty, health-related formulas in pet food provides opportunities for manufacturers looking to diversify.

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Photo by luismmolina | iStockphoto.com
Photo by luismmolina | iStockphoto.com

The global pet dietary supplements market is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 5% between 2016 and 2020, according to a market study released by Technavio in September 2016. Among these supplements are those geared toward pet gastrointestinal health—a market segment itself expected to grow at more than 5% through 2020—including probiotics and prebiotics.

As pet owners continue to educate themselves on their pets’ health and wellness, such specialty ingredients in pet food are becoming increasingly sought after. This trend, in part, has humanization to thank for its growth: Interest in functional foods in the human food sector continues to increase, and 33% of Americans now say they try to eat foods with probiotics (10% try to consume prebiotics), according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2016 executive summary. Increased consumer awareness regarding human food has naturally extended to paying more attention to what the four-legged family members of their families are eating, leading to parallel probiotic and prebiotic trends in human and pet foods.

Pro/prebiotics as part of larger pet health concerns

There are many things today’s pet owner might be looking for in terms of what pet food can do for their pet’s health, and probiotics and prebiotics are a slice of a larger supplement picture. According to a Packaged Facts National Pet Owner Survey, high omega, high antioxidant and probiotic/prebiotic are just some of the top health-related claims on consumer radars. Among US survey respondents, 7% of dog owners and 6% of cat owners use pet food specifically with the “probiotic/prebiotic” claim (see Figure 1). While “high antioxidant” and “high omega” claims rank higher on the list, it’s clear that pet food buyers are paying more attention than ever to what’s ended up in their pets’ bowls.

Pet Food Nutrition Claims 1611 Pe Tprobiotics Fig1

FIGURE 1: For dog and cat owners, the presence of probiotics and prebiotics can play a factor in pet food purchasing decisions, particularly when digestive health is in question.

There are some particular probiotics showing up in pet formulas, all geared toward specific ailments pets commonly suffer from: Bifidobacterium lactis, which targets immune system health; Bifidobacterium animalis and Lactobacillus acidophilus, which target digestive health; Bifidobacterium longum, which targets digestive and immune system health; and Bifidobacterium bifidium, which targets intestinal and immune system health.

Consumer trends bear out the existence of these probiotics in pet food. According to Packaged Facts data gathered at the end of 2015, 9% of dog owners overall and 10% of cat owners overall use pet food with digestive/sensitive stomach-specific formulations. In a subset of this trend, those with senior pets pay even more attention to digestive issues: 17% of those who own senior dogs with health issues and 23% of those who own senior cats with health issues for focus on digestion-specific formulas for their pets.

Taking advantage of an industry opportunity

As pets live longer, and are integrated as family members, trends focusing on pet health are expected to continue growing. Within that, there are plenty of opportunities to focus on what probiotics and prebiotics can do in specialty formulations—whether in complete diets, as a supplement or as a stand-alone ingredient in concert with manufacturers.

Diamond Pet Foods’ CARE line, for example, includes a sensitive stomach formula for adult dogs, created to address gastrointestinal issues. The grain-free diet includes probiotic strains “native to the canine GI tract,” according to the company, as well as easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins.

Diamond Pet Care

Diamond Pet Foods offers a CARE line with several specialty formulas, including one for sensitive stomachs that promotes digestive health and makes use of probiotic strains native to dogs’ GI tracts. | Courtesy Diamond Pet Foods

Dr. Tim’s Pet Food Company focuses on premium, all-natural pet food that includes a grain-free line for all life stages. Among the highlights of that line is the inclusion of prebiotics and externally applied probiotics, which the company says help promote a strong immune system. In keeping with the health trends of pet food, the line formulas also include proteins, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Pet Kelp supplements are seaweed-based add-ons that provide various minerals and vitamins as part of a complete pet diet. The company has a specific probiotic formula for dogs that the company says is designed to promote intestinal health. The powder supplement includes prebiotic inulin combined with four strains of probiotics, blended with kelp.  

Missing Link Pet Kelp

Pet Kelp provides seaweed-based supplements that can be added to pet food for a variety of health purposes, including a specific probiotic formula designed to promote intestinal health. | Courtesy Pet Kelp

Ingredion Inc., a global ingredient supplier, provides solutions to the pet food industry that include specialty ingredients like Fortifeed prebiotic fiber. The grain-free, gluten-free product is a soluble fiber derived from pure sugar cane. It’s designed to promote digestive and immune health in pets, according to the company, improving microflora balance and encouraging healthy digestive function.

Potential future developments in the probiotics/prebiotics trend

It’s clear that specialty pet food has yet to hit its cap in terms of consumer desire. If anything, the category continues to grow and even diversify as pet owners become ever-more specific in their needs for their pets’ health. When taken with human food trends, and the inevitable parallels, there are definitely opportunities for pet food manufacturers looking to expand their specialty, health-based pet food formulas.


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