Pet health drives functional pet food ingredient trends

Functional ingredients are increasingly important in pet food formulations, as pet owners strive to use their pets' meals as a way to mitigate health conditions and extend life span.

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photo by Andrey_Kuzmin,
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Pet owners often turn to pet food as a first-line defense against a myriad of pet ailments. From prevention to maintenance to treatment, more and more pet food formulators are striving to provide owners and their pets with the answers they seek, turning to functional ingredient suppliers for assistance.

Functional pet foods echo current human food trends

Unsurprisingly, pet food manufacturers focusing on functional formulations often look to the human food side of things for inspiration.

“As is often the case, pet food manufacturers find inspiration in human market trends to design their products,” said Caroline Ecoffard, health and nutrition marketing product manager for Diana Pet Food. “Since pet owners increasingly trust the power of nature, preferring natural products over pharmaceuticals, manufacturers tend to select natural ingredients new to pet food but which have already proven their worth in human food. Several natural solutions targeting popular issues such as weight management, oral care, anti-aging, stress management, digestion and immune system health are rising in popularity.”

A significant part of the natural trend’s success in human food has to do with perceived health benefits, and that perception carries easily over to how pet owners feel their furry friends should eat.

“With the ‘pet food with preventive benefits’ trend, pet parents are being proactive about their own health, especially when it comes to what they eat,” said Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager, nutrition and pet food for Ingredion Inc. “This leads those same pet owners to be similarly concerned about preventive health care for their pets. Pet parents do not want to spend more money at the veterinarian’s office if they don’t have to, and many think that the foods they buy for their pet can make a difference.”

A focus on functional pet food ingredient production

The many different health conditions pet food is now called upon to address make constant research and innovation top priorities for functional ingredient suppliers.

“Pet food manufacturers and marketers are excited about functional claims related to enhanced digestive health, anti-inflammatory efficacy, brain health and immunity, to mention just a few,” said Juan Gomez, global director, companion animals for Alltech. “Every customer we have, from start-up to large corporation, wants to differentiate themselves; they want to address the latest trends, such as a new probiotic or prebiotic pack, a specific diet for aging pets or a specific breed, a technology for better immunity or to boost antioxidant capacity against oxidative stress. We meet these needs through innovation — constant innovation.”

What’s more, end-consumer desire for transparency at every level of a product — even down to the sourcing of individual ingredients — has functional ingredient manufacturers developing more comprehensive programs than ever before in order to inform their own customers of just where their materials are coming from.

DSM’s vitamin and functional ingredient, and premix production is supported by a quality and safety program designed around food safety standards, integrating all business processes, managed by a team of qualified quality and safety managers,” said Sarah-Jane Godfrey, technical marketing manager, pet food for DSM Nutritional Products UK. “We have strict ingredient vendor qualification and management processes, with integrated documentation, goods receipt and warehouse management systems. This ensures all ingredients in and out of our vitamin and other functional ingredient production facilities, plus our premix blending factories, can be fully tracked and traced. We are also supported by our laboratory network.”

The future of functional pet food ingredients: online presence and scientific strides

The accessibility of pet food has expanded significantly with its growing online purchasing options, something that has combined with pet owners’ increased access to pet health information to create both challenges and opportunities for functional pet foods and their ingredient suppliers.

 “We expect to see huge growth in online pet food,” said Kevin Owen, head of scientific affairs at Lonza Global Pet Care. “As well as increased uptake in online shopping on websites such as Amazon and pet-specific shopping sites, pet owners are using the internet to become more informed on pet care, including how the latest ingredients can meet their changing health and wellness needs. In the future, trends such as using the latest digital devices to feed pets and assess their activity levels and general health are expected to grow in popularity.”

And as always, science and all its facets will continue to develop the latest and greatest pet food formulations, as ingredient suppliers and pet food manufacturers work together to stay on top of the market and consumer expectations.

“Over-arching future development is likely to involve the strength of science behind functional nutritional ingredients and functional claims, as consumers demand more transparency and want to know more about what they purchase for themselves and their pets,” said Godfrey.


The next big thing in pet food functional ingredients

Learn what trends suppliers say are coming up next for functional ingredients in pet food.

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