Functional pet food ingredients driving new formulations

As customers continue to demand more from their pets’ food, functional ingredients are making their way into all types of pet food formulations.

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Photo by Ermolaev |
Photo by Ermolaev |

Functional ingredients have been around in the human food sector for a long time. Touting all sorts of health and nutrition benefits, the novelty of each ingredient has come and gone depending on consumer preference, but there’s no doubt that they’re a staple in human nutrition.

It’s unsurprising, then, that functional ingredients have also become a staple in pet nutrition. “The distinction between human food and pet food is continually decreasing as pet owners are looking for more nutritious food for their pets and desire to know where their pets’ food comes from,” said Tara Froemming, marketing coordinator for Healthy Food Ingredients. “The human food trends have been a prominent driver of pet food. In addition, consumers are looking for the quality of their pet food to be at or above human food.”

Expanding beyond veterinary or premium specialty diets, it’s no longer difficult to find at least one functional ingredient claim on pet food bags at all price points. What qualifies as a functional ingredient has expanded, too, as formulators look to old classics and novel ingredients to fulfill customer requests.

“Functional foods include fruits and vegetables, botanicals, whole grains, dietary supplements (including pycnogenol, collagen, coenzyme Q10, low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate), beverages, probiotics and prebiotics,” according to “Functional foods in pet nutrition: Focus on dogs and cats,” a research study published in the June 2017 issue of Research in Veterinary Science. Novel ingredients, according to the study, have been identified as functional because they provide health benefits “beyond the provision of essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, water, proteins, carbohydrates and fats.”

Where to find functional ingredients in pet food formulations

While the bias is still towards smaller, niche pet food formulations that are traditionally known for focusing on those health benefits, functional ingredients are being seen everywhere.

“People are trying to differentiate themselves from others in the marketplace by either providing a unique ingredient or using an ingredient in a unique way,” said Trevor Faber, nutritionist for Trouw Nutrition. “[Pet food manufacturers] are really trying to provide formulas with different blends or different ingredients that deliver a benefit.”

Superfoods, anything befitting a “clean label,” value-added, less processed, natural, organic, plant-based proteins — any ingredients meeting these requirements are getting a good, long look for their potential benefits, according to Froemming. “We have seen these trends across all lines and formulas industry-wide, including private label, store brand, etc., with food-grade driving pet food trends,” she said.

Supplemental feeding items, such as pet food meal toppers (in powder or liquid form) or gravies, are current popular methods of imparting functional benefits, according to Faber. “It’s kind of a unique way to deliver the supplement powder instead of (formulators) putting it directly in the food; it gives the customer the power of adding it themselves and feeling like they’re benefiting their pet,” he said. Any ingredient that claims oral health, joint health or digestive health is particularly sought-after, he said.

Answering pet food market needs with functional ingredients

Arcadia Biosciences announced in August 2017 that the company’s Sonova GLA (gamma linoleic acid) safflower oil was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in dog food formulas, opening up its use as a functional ingredient for claims such as weight management, control of dermatological conditions, mobility-related arthritic conditions and immune system disorders. According to Arcadia, the ingredient has already been in use in human food since FDA approval in 2009.


The US FDA has approved Arcadia Biosciences’ Sonova GLA safflower oil for use as a functional ingredient in pet food. Unsurprisingly, it has already been in use in human foods for several years. | TBD

“The Federal Register publication completes FDA’s approval of Sonova GLA safflower oil and … opens up an entirely new market for the sale of GLA in the fast-growing specialty market of pet nutrition,” said Raj Ketkar, president and CEO of Arcadia Biosciences. The oil is a source of omega-6 fatty acids in dry food for adult dogs.

Healthy Food Ingredients landed on purple corn as a multifaceted, standout functional ingredient.

“Our Suntava purple corn is a good example of not necessarily a new-to-market ingredient, but one that fits pet food trends very well which manufacturers may not have previously looked to as a viable option,” said Froemming. “It is organic, whole grain, clean label and value-added with more antioxidant power than blueberries, acai berries and pomegranate juice due to its exceedingly high levels of polyphenols and anthocyanins. Specific to pet foods, our purple corn supports joint health, weight management, digestive health, blood sugar, etc.”


Healthy Food Ingredients’ purple corn fulfills a number of health claims pet owners may be looking for, including supporting joint health, weight management, digestive health and blood sugar. | Healthy Food Ingredients

Trouw is fielding questions about fruits and vegetables as a substitute for synthetic vitamins, but as with any formulating these days there are challenges between giving the customer what they want and meeting the pet’s nutritional needs.

“Our stance is, we’re leery of that, just because of the variability and different forms of fruits and vegetables people can get,” said Faber. “We can’t guarantee that their nutrient profiles are going to be the same, and there’s the possibility for deficiencies or toxicities to exist if you’re not properly formulating with all those fruits and vegetables. Based on our experiences, that’s not a very valid approach, because from a nutrition standpoint it contains a lot of risk.”

The future of functional ingredients in pet food

“Since many of these ‘human food trends’ are still picking up traction in the pet food industry, we expect those trends will grow and expand going into 2018,” said Froemming. “Furthermore, manufacturers looking to meet these trends will be working to reformulate finished products.”

Faber also said he expects the trends to continue. “I think that, based on the last three months of work that I’ve a done, a lot of people are starting to focus on functional supplements and functional blends,” he said.

As for what the ingredient supplier side of the pet food industry should do to stay on top of functional trends, Froemming sums it up: “As an ingredient solutions provider, we are working with manufacturers to learn what they’re trying to accomplish with their finished products and what trending factors they’re trying to incorporate, and to guide them with which ingredients are a good fit and how to utilize them in their finished product.”


Expert opinion: Functional pet food ingredient trends and uses

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