Novel pet food ingredients call for consumer education

Alternative proteins and other novel pet food ingredients get a lot of hype, but consumers may be unlikely to buy them if they are too unfamiliar.

(Hamsterman ,
(Hamsterman ,

While numerous consumer surveys over the past several years have shown pet owners becoming more interested in alternative proteins and various functional ingredients in the pet foods they buy, a new report indicates education may be in order for some people to consider feeding their beloved pets these substances.

For example, among 762 pet owners in Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. surveyed by Pets International magazine/Global Pets and Yummypets, an online social community for pet owners, 47% said they’re unlikely to purchase pet foods with insect protein. Only 21% said they’d be likely to, while 32% were undecided. “American consumers are slightly less open to trying insects, while U.K. consumers are most likely to buy them,” wrote Philippe Vanderhoydonck, managing director of Global Pets and author of the article.

Of course, the reluctance to buy pet foods containing insect protein probably stems mainly from the “yuck factor”; most people in the Western world don’t eat insects and can’t envision other family members, including furry ones, eating them, either. But this is also still a very small, new and relatively unknown source of protein; perhaps as information, research and usage of insects increase, more pet owners will be willing to feed them to their pets.

The fact that pet owners in the U.K., which may be a little ahead of other markets in terms of insect protein development, lean toward greater acceptance shows the influence of familiarity.

Upcycled ingredients, other alternative proteins still unfamiliar

Other examples of alternative proteins where lower willingness to buy seems to correlate with lower awareness and knowledge about them include algae and yeast and collagen. Just 27% and 28%, respectively, of survey respondents said they’d be willing to purchase pet foods containing these.

And then there are upcycled ingredients, which, like insect protein, are getting a fair amount of hype and attention in the industry; yet 66% of survey respondents said they’re not familiar with these ingredients. Similar to interest in insects, U.K. pet owners seem most familiar with upcycled ingredients, and U.S. owners, the least. Not surprisingly, younger pet owners are more likely to know the term “upcycled” than are older ones.

Unlike with insects, a robust 54% of respondents said they’d be willing to try feeding pet food or treats with upcycled ingredients. In keeping with the education theme, 24% said the first step to considering them would be learning more about them.

If I eat it, maybe I’ll feed it to my pet

None of the examples above are common ingredients in human food. Naturally, pet owner familiarity with and willingness to purchase rise when the ingredients are ones they may eat or consume. For instance, 51% of survey respondents said they are likely to buy pet foods with eggs as protein sources. The same holds for probiotics, which people are increasingly taking themselves as information about their benefits and usage becomes more and more available. They captured the top spot, at 63%, among ingredients in pet food that survey respondents are likely to buy. (Relatedly, a 2021 global consumer survey by Beneo, a supplier of probiotics and other ingredients to the pet food industry, found 80% saying a prebiotic claim on a pet food label affected their interest in buying it.)

Another category getting increased attention is pet supplements; in the Global Pets/Yummpets survey, 62% said they’re likely to buy them. Data from LEK Consulting shows pet supplement sales increased 18-19% from 2019 through 2022, though from a small base. (The data also included non-consumable wellness products for pets, such as shampoos.) This jibes with the growing number of people taking supplements themselves, especially since the pandemic.



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