Studying alternative ingredients for pet food applications

During the nutrition educational track at Petfood Forum 2018, two presentations highlighted the need for alternative pet food ingredient research.

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Photo by Ivanko Brnjakovic | Dreamstime
Photo by Ivanko Brnjakovic | Dreamstime

One of Petfood Forum 2018’s educational tracks focused on nutrition, and with good reason: as pet owner demands continue to evolve, it falls to the pet food industry to ensure that dogs and cats continue to get the nutrients they need no matter what formulation said owners gravitate towards.

“Dogs and cats require nutrients, not ingredients,” said Gary Davenport, PhD, companion animal technical manager at ADM Animal Nutrition. Davenport presented on “Dried yeast: alternative protein for dogs and cats” on Tuesday, April 24 at Petfood Forum.

Industry challenges leading to search for alternative ingredients

According to Aurélie de Ratuld, PhD, R&D cat platform manager for Diana Pet Food, there are quite a few current pet food industry challenges leading the charge for alternative ingredients, some of which she mentioned in her Petfood Forum presentation, “Can non-meat palatants satisfy pets’ taste buds? Researching alternative proteins to meet industry challenges.” First of all, ingredient availability and sustainability: more pet food production is needed, and more meat, marine and vegetable raw materials must be available to meet production needs. Second of all, the ability to answer world market trends and human requirements, such as ingredient claims, ethics, transparency and animal welfare concerns, must be at the forefront of the industry’s collective mind.

Davenport presented further challenges during his session: The constant quest for the highest-quality product and competitive pressure (how can we continue to feed animal-based proteins when pets are increasingly fighting for the same food resources as humans?) have brought their own brand of scrutiny to the idea of alternative ingredients in pet foods.

Alternative protein ingredients: Going old school to satisfy new trends

What makes for an ideal alternative protein ingredient? According to Davenport, such an ingredient must be high quality, cost effective, label friendly, appealing to the consumer and in consistent supply — quite the tall order. But that, he said, is exactly where yeast comes in.

Is yeast a novel ingredient, or technically even alternative? Well, not really, said Davenport.

“Historically yeast has been used for baking, brewing, wine-making and biofuel production,” he said. But as the saying goes, “everything old is new again.”

According to Davenport’s research, dried yeast expressed on a lysine basis has the same protein quality as egg. In his study presented at Petfood Forum, cats showed a higher preference for the presented yeast diet versus the control diet; there was twice as much of the yeast diet consumed as the control. Dogs also had a higher preference for the yeast diet, selecting it 26 times versus 14 times for the control diet and producing an 11:5 ratio of dogs choosing the yeast diet on both days of the study versus the control.

Yeast, said Davenport, has demonstrated nutrition suitability: it’s a high-quality protein with balanced essential amino acids, low fat and ash contents, high palatability and digestibility, and no known anti-nutritional factors. Formulation-wise, it’s label friendly and a complementary protein with an economical advantage. According to Davenport, it’s the ideal protein source for both pet food and treats, weight control and senior formulas, large breed puppy formulas, and cat formulas of all life stages.

“A product such as dried yeast does fit that niche for something new, something different, as a protein source,” he said.

Non-meat palatants as alternative ingredients

Why could non-meat palatants make life easier for pet food manufacturers? According to de Ratuld, a palatant’s first role is to deliver sensory performance, not provide animal protein, so a substitution is easier than it may seem. Non-meat palatants, she said, can stimulate a pet’s appetite while solving many of the industry’s challenges.

“Animal-based foods are more resource-intensive than plant-based foods,” she said. “The average conversion rate is 4.9 plant proteins for every 1 animal protein.” And as palatants are historically made from livestock byproducts, growing and harvesting a plant instead of feeding an animal and then transforming the resulting byproducts simplifies the process.

In a study de Ratuld presented as part of her research at Petfood Forum, 27 cats had a 66 percent preference ratio towards plant-based palatants. Another 120 cats had a ratio of 33–66 percent, and 70 had a ratio under 33 percent. What does that data mean? According to de Ratuld, it means “a high level of palatability can be achieved without animal proteins, when appropriate.”

And innovative alternative sources of proteins, such as algae, can “please” pets, depending on application (e.g., dry or wet) and species (cat or dog), she said.

Going forward: the future of alternative pet food ingredients

Pet humanization is here to stay, and that means the tides of pet food will constantly shift in order to meet the needs of pet owners and the animals they care for. As acceptance of historically mainstream ingredients flows with those tides, it is incumbent upon manufacturers to continue the search for alternative answers — even if it means looking to history or less obvious avenues for insight.

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