Pet owners continue to ask more of the pet food industry when it comes to taking care of their animals. Whether customers are looking for fun treats or health benefits, suppliers in the functional ingredient space are fielding more requests than ever to be part of formulations that attempt to address both.
“We’ve seen a rise in interest in developing novel ways to add functional benefits to treats and meal enhancers/toppers to strike a balance between indulgence and health,” said Chad Wethal, marketing manager, pet wellness and nutrition for Kerry’s applied health and nutrition division. “For example, incorporating probiotics or fiber into a reduced sugar peanut butter or yogurt treat coating can be a way to help consumers get the satisfaction of treating their pet without the guilt that they may be adding extra calories or unnecessary nutrients to their pet’s diet.”
No matter what the issue is that pet owners are trying to address, they seem to jump at the chance to turn it into a bonding opportunity rather than simply using pet food as a tool.
According to Brent Kirn, pet specialist for Zinpro Corporation, the company is seeing an upwards trend in functional ingredient applications, such as skin and coat health, mobility, and digestive health, driven by the customization and personalization of pet foods and treats.
“A preventative, rather than a corrective, approach to health concerns is certainly driving the interest of functional ingredients," said Kirn. "We are seeing more pet food toppers with a functional purpose other than taste, such as digestive, cognitive, and skin and coat support."
Customers are paying attention to what’s in their food — and in their pet’s food
As consumer scrutiny continues to expand in the human food space, it’s naturally going to extend to the furry members of the household.
“The number of consumers who consider their pet a family member is on the rise and 42% of United Kingdom (UK) pet food buyers now consider their animal a ‘foodie,’” said Karel Thurman, commercial director for Beneo Animal Nutrition. “A recent Beneo survey on attitudes towards pet foods in the U.S., UK, Brazil, Germany and China found that almost three-quarters of dog owners (73%) and 66% of cat owners look at the ingredients list when purchasing a new pet food product. Compare this to the 51% of consumers who say that they usually read the ingredients list when shopping for a new food product for themselves or their family, and it clearly shows the significant importance owners place on positive nutrition for their pets, even over and above their own.”
Beneo’s rice starch products serve as a clean-label solution to modified starches, as the clean label movement continues to gain ground in the pet food market. | Courtesy Beneo Animal Nutrition
But it’s not just about humanization overall; it’s about what’s happening as a result of the phenomenon’s embedding in the pet space.
“We see the humanization of pets as an umbrella term with those trends underneath the real driving force for change in the sector,” said Marianne Warnaer, director of global sales at Norway-based Biomega. “Over the last few years, the pet food industry has seen increasingly high demand from consumers for premium, human-grade ingredients in pet food and treats. In 2020, humanization of pets continues to dominate functional pet food trends; it’s why we’re seeing incredible innovation from pet food producers to include highly nutritional, healthy and natural ingredients in their treats, supplements and food. For functional pet food ingredients, this year has seen huge success in the quality, knowledge on health benefits, innovation and sustainability.”
Salmon farming, which produces Biomega’s human-grade salmon ingredients, is part of the company’s desire to include sustainability in its ingredient production. | Courtesy Biomega
Research: Giving functional ingredient suppliers a leg up in pet food
Whether consumer-based or focusing on the functional aspects of particular ingredients, research has kept functional ingredient suppliers at the top of their game when it comes to serving the pet food industry.
Beneo’s consumer surveys revealed that three-quarters of pet owners are looking for feed products that contain less or no ingredients they dislike, such as such as artificial colors and flavorings, and that actively avoid products with fillers, additives or chemical ingredients. This allowed the company to stay ahead of a shift in pet food production focusing on all-natural, recognizable ingredients.
“Seventy-three percent of dog owners and 70% of cat owners agreed that brands should make it easier to track the origin of the ingredients used in their pet food,” said Thurman. “These findings highlight how the rising human food trends for clean label, transparency and sustainable sourcing are now being echoed in the pet sector and in some instances, are even more pronounced. This opens up huge scope for new product development that taps into these growing areas of interest.”
Kerry’s own consumer survey found that consumers are paying more attention to nutrition’s role in pet health and wellness than ever, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And, 69% of these concerned consumers have considered adding immune strength-enhancing products to their pet’s diet,” said Wethal. “For consumers who have already taken steps to improve pet immunity through nutrition, 38% turned to supplements, 35% purchased immunity-enhancing food and 25% purchased treats that claimed to support immune health.” All important information for an ingredient supplier looking to provide assistance in those areas.
Zinpro’s long history of functional ingredient research involving all kinds of animals has provided the company with a solid base for keeping up with wherever the trends go.
“We’ve been doing research for the last 50 years looking at skin and coat and feathering health,” said Dr. Dana Tomlinson, global RNS species leader, specialty for Zinpro. The company has seen an influx in requests for functional solutions to skin and coat issues in the pet space. “We have observational work we’ve done in frogs, in turtles, we’ve been supplementing alligators for years. Whether [research partners] are trying to get better reproduction, better offspring health [or something else], we’ve known through our many years of research what will work in improving skin and coat. We’re building healthier, more viable animals from the inside out, animals who have better health throughout their lifetimes.”