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Appetite for Nutrition

Dog food is mirroring trends in human nutrition, with more USA-made, clean diets in natural formulations available on the market.


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Superfoods like broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin have become popular ingredients in natural dog foods.

Dog owners are on the prowl for natural, grain-free, more nutritious and less processed food, according to retailers. At Yorba Linda Feed Store in Yorba Linda, Calif., manager Aaron Gallegos said,

“Customers want to find a more natural, less processed food,” adding that grain free is often used as a hypoallergenic diet.

Nancy Stewart, manager and buyer at Bark Avenue Pet Supply in Mesa, Ariz., said, “Customers are asking for minimally processed, nutritious foods.” 

Matthew Connors, owner of Pets Plus in Tewksbury, Mass.,  cited antibiotic-free diets, humanly raised sources and alternative proteins as trends he’s seeing in natural diets right now.

Manufacturers are taking note of these trends, too.

“The grain-free segment of natural food continues to grow as retailers and consumers are demanding more items that are grain free,” said Jim Reimann, brand manager for American Pet Nutrition in Ogden, Utah. 

He also has noticed a recent trend in potato-free foods.

“This is driven by consumers recognizing that when grains were removed from pet foods, many of those were replaced by potatoes—an ingredient high in carbs and starch,” Reimann said. “So there has been a trend to remove this ingredient in pet food.”

Stewart reported that raw is up. 

“Raw is growing year over year at close to 30 percent for the third year in a row,” he said. “Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are right behind raw in growth numbers.”

Coupled with the demand for minimally processed products is a focus on clean ingredient statements and local sourcing.

“[Consumers] are seeking out brands that they can know and trust, along with manufacturers that have a history of excellence and an output of products that are safe and nutritious,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis.

David Rizzo, director of operations for Zuke’s in Durango, Colo., reported similar findings.

“The biggest trend we’re seeing is a push toward transparency,” he said. “Consumers are placing high value on quality, safe-to-eat proteins and want to know where their treats are made, where the ingredients came from and why they were chosen.” 

Because customers want to buy from companies they can trust, Bark Avenue Pet Supply provides background on the manufacturers it carries and why the store has confidence in them, Stewart said.

Manufacturers are helping retailers explain their processes to customers in a variety of ways.

Zuke’s, for example, added a map on the back of its treat packaging to show “where the product’s high-quality meat, fruits and vegetables are sourced from,” Rizzo said.

Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., said that trends such as freeze-dried meats and premium protein choices meet consumer desire for high-protein options.

“We see these desires manifesting in trends like natural products, clean labels, whole-food ingredients and diets that speak to the activity levels of individual pets,” she said. “Adding functional superfood ingredients speaks to their desire for clean labels with easily understood ingredients.”

Industry participants said that these are exciting times in natural diets—for dogs, their owners and pet businesses.

“The greatest thing about today’s market is the amazing amount of choices and variety,” Stewart said. “We can literally tailor a diet to any need. The other encouraging trend is the availability of foods with few, or no, synthetics.”

Natural à La Carte

In the spring, Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis., released Chicken au Frommage as part of its Four-Star Nutritionals line. The grain-free entrée is crafted with chicken, cheese, lentils, peas, eggs, sweet potatoes, prebiotics and probiotics.

The manufacturer also introduced grain-free canned entrées for dogs in Venison & Lentil Pâté, Turkey, Duck & Sweet Potato Pâté and Whitefish & Lentil Pâté. Formulated to be nutritionally complete for exclusive feeding, the entrées can also be used as treats, toppers or special occasion meals, according to the manufacturer. More recipes are planned into the new year.

Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla., debuted Daily Dish stews in June. Prepared with tender chunks of chicken, beef, lamb or turkey, the grain-free recipes include chickpeas, apples, peas and pumpkin, said company officials. Made from 100 percent human-grade ingredients, the stews come in Beef, Beef with Chicken, Chicken, and Turkey with Lamb, and fourth-quarter additions include Turkey Stew and Turkey with Salmon Stew.

Also in June, Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., unveiled its Redbarn Wildwood Stews line, with premium protein as the first ingredient. The made-in-the-USA foods contain novel proteins such as trout, duck and quail in palatable gravy for dogs, and they are free from common canine allergens such as soy, corn and grain, according to the company.

In the fall, Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y., added its first breed-specific product to the company’s Original line. Formulated as a complete and balanced food, the Large Breed formula comes in a 30-pound size.

Upcoming from Health Extension Pet Care is a grain-free Large Breed recipe. It features minimally processed products with human-grade ingredients, said company officials.

Elevate, manufactured by Ogden, Utah-based American Pet Nutrition, launched at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in July. Free from grain, potato and sweet potato, the super-premium diets are made with real meat as the first ingredient and feature an antioxidant blend for healthy digestion and immune system, according to company officials.

The four available recipes were inspired by the outdoors and the National Parks that share their names. The Acadia recipe uses deboned chicken, premium turkey and duck. The Grand Teton recipe features lamb and premium turkey. The primary ingredient in Smoky Mountain recipe is pork, and the food includes premium wild boar. The Yosemite recipe uses salmon and premium menhaden fish.

Kittrich Corp. in Pomona, Calif., also recently launched its premium dog food: Nature’s Gourmet Pet Food. Offering a medium-sized kibble that is free of grain and starch, the food provides single-sourced protein, a low caloric level and a 10 percent moisture level, said company officials. Owners can choose from Chicken, Fish and Lamb varieties in 4- and 25-pound bags.

The Big Three 

With the increased popularity of natural diets, this segment of dog food continues to evolve with new ingredients. Here is a look at what manufacturers note are the three biggest trends:

 1. Superfoods

Superfoods represent one of the latest ingredients being introduced into dog diets, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla.

“For this reason, ingredients like blueberries, salmon, eggs, pumpkin and chia seeds are rising in popularity,” he said.

Brad Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y., also reported seeing “more nutrient-packed superfoods like chia, kale, sweet potatoes, broccoli and carrots added to foods.”

2. Novel proteins

Novel proteins, such as duck and venison, are popular for dogs suffering with food sensitivities or owners who want to add variety to their dogs’ diets, Pettyan said.

In line with this, many manufacturers are moving to single- meat proteins in their diets, according to Robert Bemis, sales manager for Nature’s Gourmet Pet Food, a brand of Kittrich Corp. in Pomona, Calif.

3. Other novel ingredients

A variety of other novel ingredients are being incorporated into natural diets for dogs. For example, Health Extension Pet Care uses “coconut oil and organic apple cider vinegar to aid digestion, help boost the immune system, and provide a shinier and healthy coat,” Gruber said. “To further enhance these recipes, we use low-glycemic ingredients like chickpeas and lentils, which help prevent obesity and provide relief from common allergies.”

In response to an increase of reported potato allergies, Nature’s Gourmet Pet Food has removed that ingredient and added peas instead, Bemis said.

Advancing the Category 

Having previously owned and operated a community health care center, Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla., said he understands the relationship between good health and pure, natural food. Because of this, Pettyan closely monitors new developments in both human and companion-animal nutrition. And he’s not alone.

Brad Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y., reported that the company follows what consumers demand for themselves.

“We will continue to mirror the trends in human diets and follow consumer social shopping habits,” he said. “We’re simply following the bouncing ball in developing the products today’s consumers are demanding.”

These demands have included premium natural ingredients, local sourcing, customized recipes and variety, plus wanting more transparency and clarification on how products are made, Gruber added.

In addition to quality, Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis., found that variety is a huge driver in natural or premium diet trends for dogs. This “philosophy of diversity” pushes Fromm to “continually think creatively and develop new culinary-inspired entrées with unique formulations,” he said, adding that the company has gone a step further with its artistic packaging and unique recipe names.

In addition to looking at the trends, Robert Bemis, sales manager for Nature’s Gourmet Pet Food, a brand of Kittrich Corp. in Pomona, Calif., said feeding trials are very helpful to see what dogs do well on.

At Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., Rashell Cooper, marketing director, said paying close attention to what customers ask for in their dog food products is key.

“We believe the most important trend in dog food is providing options that cater to our customers’ pets,” she said.

Manufacturers continually seek new and improved ways to bring dogs added health and vitality through natural diets.

“We are constantly looking at trends in human foods and conducting research with consumers to best understand which product features and benefits are most interesting to them,” said Jim Reimann, brand manager for American Pet Nutrition in Ogden, Utah. “As we learn about potential opportunities, we are adapting as an organization to see how we can best deliver against the consumer need.”

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