Pet Nutrition's All-Natural Niche
Major conferences cite oversaturation of natural claims, but the clean label movement could bring clarity to pet nutrition.
If virtually every product in pet nutrition calls itself “all natural,” how can this designation continue to be meaningful? And most important for pet food and treat manufacturers and retailers, where does the natural niche go from here?
Two recent trade events geared toward the natural products industry suggest that the answer might lie in a growing phenomenon called the “clean label movement.” At Natural Products Expo East, held in Baltimore this September, several seminars and presentations were targeted to steer manufacturers in the direction of label reform and to assess the state of the natural category and the role that clean label will play in its future. Earlier this year, Food Product Design, a trade magazine for the human food industry, held a Clean Label Digital Summit with several presenters, from ingredient manufacturers to product formulators, all offering specific guidance for reformulating products to achieve clean label goals.
So what is a clean label food product, and how can this trend be applied to pet foods and treats?
In a clean label product, ingredients are familiar to consumers as foods or whole food components, they are pronounceable, and the sheer number of ingredients is greatly reduced. This reduction of ingredients chiefly targets synthetic “laboratory-created” ingredients such as chemical preservatives and artificial flavorings or colors, as well as removing “altered” food ingredients such as GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. The result is a more comforting ingredient panel and an overall sense of transparency in the product packaging and presentation.
In the pet nutrition business, we’ve gone all in on “all natural.” Consumers are barraged with buzzwords such as “all natural,” “healthy,” “holistic,” “human grade” and many more. We’ve also become the “land of the frees”—grain free, gluten free, preservative free and other “free” claims shout out from almost every package on the shelves.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to specialty retailers is that the “golden goose” of natural pet is getting more roasted every day by big-box, mass and grocery retailers climbing onto the bandwagon.
One way to fight back is for specialty pet retailers to start educating consumers about the substantive differences between products simply marketed as being natural and the higher level of purity and clarity exemplified by clean label formulations and presentation.
Anthony Bennie is founder and chief nutrition officer for Clear Conscience Pet in Cape Coral, Fla. The company staked a trademark claim in 2014 to the combined term “CleanLabel” and repackaged its line to highlight this change. The company also is in the process of creating the CleanLabel Pet Co-Op, a new distribution platform that will offer retailers a selection of clean label pet products from several manufacturers in one location for easier purchasing. To learn more about the co-op, visit clearconsciencepet.com/cleanlabel or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.