Pet owners are looking for pet food to do a lot of work these days: The food should be healthy, beneficial, fun and delicious. That’s a tall order for a bag of kibble, which is why the pet food industry has diversified so completely — treats, toppers, supplements, add-ins and mixers have all entered pet parents’ vocabularies as well as their pantries.
“Today, pet parents, and especially millennial and Generation Z pet parents, want to elevate their dog’s mealtime enjoyment while feeding products that contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of their dog,” said Dr. Danielle Bernal, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Company. “They want recipes that will give their dogs all-day energy, strong bones and immunity to support all of their shared activities. This is no different in the topper space, as pet parents look for toppers that can be added to an existing kibble or complete and balanced enough to serve as a meal on its own. They are adding more variety and flavors to their dog’s bowl with common go-to recipes including wet meals, mixers, toppers and bowl boosters on top of their pup’s favorite kibble.”
Variety: Toppers for all purposes
The toppers space is beginning to overlap the treats and even supplements spaces, as pet owners mix and match their pet food additions depending on what they think their pet needs. That gives companies quite a bit of leeway to create the kinds of toppers they think their customers will find most useful.
“Pet parents are using Austin and Kat products to enhance their pet's health and quality of life,” said Austin and Kat Sales Manager Nicole Pilarski. “And most Austin and Kat products have multiple natural benefits, which helps cut down on a complicated routine and unnecessary additives in their food.”
The company develops each formula in-house by combining botanicals, adaptogens and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic mushrooms known to support specific need states. Its first five toppers released were for Hip & Joint, Senior Pets, Immune Health, Calm & Quiet and Cats, and the company has also put out a minimal-ingredient Green Lipped Mussel+Turmeric topper blend for pet parents looking for more specific joint support.
Natural Balance offers toppers that can also serve as complete and balanced meals or treats, depending on serving size, acknowledging that many pet parents have taken to the freeze-dried/raw and wet spaces to jazz up their pets’ bowls.
“We recently added two additions to the toppers space,” said Michael Lopes, director of product development for Natural Balance. “Our limited ingredient freeze-dried raw recipes, offered in Beef & Brown Rice or Chicken & Sweet Potato, are made with single animal protein as the number one ingredient. Not only are these freeze-dried nibs highly palatable, but they are also versatile. They offer complete and balanced nutrition for adult dogs and are used as a stand-alone meal, a topper, or a treat.”
The company’s other toppers product, Platefulls, offers adult dogs homestyle meals in a portable pouch. The complete and balanced recipes also work as meals, and are available in Harvest Chicken & Rice, Tender Beef & Potato and Savory Duck & Pumpkin.
“The variety of topper options continues to expand, designed more specifically to address the unique needs of pets in various ages and stages,” said Bernal. “Wellness’s portfolio of toppers for dogs can address specific health concerns, such as heart, joint and/or skin and coat health. We’re also seeing toppers better addressing the concerns and needs of pet parents.”
Wellness entered the fresh pet food sector with another meal-or-topper option, Wellness Bowl Boosters Freshly, meant to “supercharge” dog kibble with high quality meats, grains and vegetables. There’s also a plant-based topper, CORE Bowl Boosters Immune Health Topper, formulated with ingredients like cranberries, papaya, carrots and sweet potatoes. Finally, in May 2022 the company launched Good Dog by Wellness Tender Toppers, which can be used as a grain-free treat or mixed in with a meal, offering savory protein for more mealtime excitement and antioxidant vitamins for immune support and whole-body health.
Raised Right ended up creating toppers based on customer feedback of an existing product.
Raised Right also uses the single-ingredient toppers to further another pet food trend: transparency.
“We think there will be a continued focus on products that have a strong emphasis on product safety and transparency,” said Ruud. “Every single batch of our Shake A Flakes is lab safety tested and we have a hold/release program where we don’t ever ship them unless they pass the lab safety test. For transparency, we post the results of these tests on our website for everyone to see, along with a map tracing each ingredient to its source.”
The future of pet food toppers
With so many different needs to fill, and so many different ways to do it, the toppers segment seems to be a growing way to help pet owners suit their pets’ diets to their individual needs, without having to resort to a high-end customized or veterinary formula.
“We expect to see more targeted health supplements for specific health issues and single-sourced botanical supplements,” said Pilarski. “We are also seeing a focus on cat supplements and small animal support. Consumers are looking for ways to boost their pets' health, no matter what animal they have.”
Pet supplements evolving to accompany nutrition plans