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Meals that Matter

Superfood ingredients and novel proteins offer pets potential health benefits as well as mealtime excitement.



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Pet food and treats have lately seen a proliferation of the inclusion of superfood and novel ingredients. Nutritionally dense superfoods are believed to deliver their share of healthful benefits, such as fighting disease, boosting energy and maintaining good health. Novel proteins provide their own nutritional advantages, including possibly alleviating allergy issues or simply providing mealtime variety. 

“As consumers understand more about their own diets, they are also demanding better ingredients and recipes that will liven up mealtime for their pets,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass. “Novel ingredients check both of those boxes.” 

Protein is one of the main causes of dietary intolerance, and as concern for food sensitivities in pets continues to grow, determining the ingredient a pet is reacting to can be a challenge, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. 

Lonnie Schwimmer, president of Koha Pet Food in Delray Beach, Fla., noted that proteins such as kangaroo, venison or guinea fowl, which might not have been fed to a pet previously, can lower the chances of developing these issues.

When it comes to determining an already-present food sensitivity, Joni Anderson, practice manager for T.H.E. Cat Hospital in Tustin, Calif., and T.H.E. Westside Cat Practice in Marina Del Rey, Calif., said that consumer education is crucial.

“Food trials are very regimented and specific, and everyone in the pet’s household must be aware of the ingredient being eliminated, which could be hidden in an innocently fed treat,” she said.

By feeding recipes with superfood ingredients, owners feel their pets are receiving a balance of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals while providing more flavors and textures to enjoy at mealtime, Leary-Coutu said.

A wide range of beneficial, nutrient-rich superfoods are now available, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis. For example, ingredients such as pumpkin, which is an easily digested source of vitamins A and C, coconut for skin health, or mung beans, which support good bacterial flora, are finding their way into dog and cat foods and treats.

“Superfoods offer a new way to deliver superior nutrition, with recognizable ingredients that we already know are beneficial,” Hudson said.

For these reasons, pet owners seeking natural solutions to address common pet health concerns often turn to superfoods, said Joe Livermore, director of sales and marketing for Blackwood Pet Food, a brand of Lisbon, Ohio-based BrightPet Nutrition Group.

While consumer motivations to purchase foods containing novel proteins and superfood ingredients are many, Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of Jiminy’s in Berkeley, Calif., noted that many pet owners might simply be seeking variety.

“Consumers don’t want to eat the same thing every day and believe that their ‘baby’ feels the same way,” she said. “We want our pets to live a long, healthy life, and choosing the best food possible can help make this a reality.”

Fresh Offerings with Novel and Superfood Ingredients

As interest in novel ingredients and superfoods escalates, manufacturers are heeding the call when they develop new products.

Created exclusively for diminutive diners, Tiki Dog Aloha Petites dry recipes feature fresh-baked kibble in a size and shape suited for the smaller mouth, and the line includes a Grain-Free Lamb Luau recipe for those seeking novel proteins. Nutrient-dense organ meats add taste and texture for superior palatability, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.

“Tiki Dog wet foods offer seven whole-food protein combinations of flaked fish and shredded chicken, steamed fresh, and hand-packed in pouches and cans,” Hudson added. “Additionally, coconut, sweet potato, pumpkin and kale, combined with omega 3 and 6, provide key nutrients to help small dogs live happier and healthier lives.”

Petcurean Pet Nutrition recently expanded its Go! Sensitivity + Shine limited-ingredient line to include Marine Stewardship Council-certified, sustainably harvested Alaskan pollock recipes for cats and dogs. 

“One of the most abundant and versatile fish in the world, Alaskan pollock is an excellent source of protein, minerals and omega fatty acids, and is low in carbohydrates, cholesterol and fat,” said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Petcurean has added new stew and pâté recipes to its Now Fresh line for dogs and cats. Featuring human-grade ingredients in a nutrient-rich turkey bone broth, the selections are packed with superfoods such as carrots, peas, cranberries, sweet potatoes and apples—all excellent sources of antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber to support digestive health, Immega said. 

Blackwood Pet Food recently introduced five all-natural, nutritious snack formulas. The jerky-style training-sized treats offer health-driven ingredients such as duck, catfish, coconut oil, blueberries, kale and pumpkin, said Joe Livermore, director of sales and marketing for Blackwood Pet Food, a brand of Lisbon, Ohio-based BrightPet Nutrition Group.

WellPet recently debuted several recipes across its family of brands, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for the Tewksbury, Mass.-based company.

For those seeking novel proteins, Wellness Core RawRev, a combination of high-protein, grain-free kibble and 100 percent raw meat, is available in a freeze-dried Lamb recipe for a savory, nutrient-rich meal, Leary-Coutu said. 

WellPet’s recently revamped Holistic Select recipes for dogs and cats includes a rabbit-based formulation, adding a unique lean-protein option. With guaranteed high levels of probiotics and digestive enzymes, the recipes continue to deliver complete digestive support for pets, Leary-Coutu added.

Koha Pet Food recently released two dehydrated mixes created specifically for wet dog food, said Lonnie Schwimmer, president of the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company. Koha’s Green Mix includes dehydrated kale and kelp, providing excellent fiber levels to support healthy digestion. The Omega Mix offers flaxseed and coconut for skin and coat health, Schwimmer said.

“Other mixes in the market were designed for a raw diet or for home-cooked pet food,” Schwimmer said. “With Koha, you simply add water and canned wet food for an easy-to-prepare, healthy and delicious meal.”

Nutritious, tasty and sustainable, Jiminy’s recently introduced dog treats are made with cricket protein, said Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of the Berkeley, Calif.-based company. 

“As an alternative protein source, crickets combine great nutrition and low environmental impact with a nutty flavor that dogs love,” Carlson said. “Pound for pound, crickets offer more protein, are higher in iron and fiber, and lower in fat than beef.”

Along with the Original Flavor Cricket Cookie, Peanut Butter & Blueberry and Sweet Potato & Apple recipes are available. 

Based on a human snack, Dogs Love Snapeas offers the health benefits of peas with the added proteins that dogs love, said Paula Savarese, president of Healthy Treats Inc. in Naples, Fla. 

“Peas are an excellent source of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals,” Savarese said.

Three limited-ingredient and gluten- and wheat-free flavors are seasoned with dehydrated beef, chicken or Himalayan yak cheese. Each made-in-the-USA recipe includes brown rice and sunflower oil.

Dietary Guidance 

With the amount of superfood and novel ingredient options available, selecting a recipe to suit the unique nutritional needs of each pet can be overwhelming, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

For this reason, a sales associate’s ability to offer guidance and explain the benefits of these foods is crucial, according to pet specialty retailers and manufacturers.

Joni Anderson, practice manager for T.H.E. Cat Hospital in Tustin, Calif., and T.H.E. Westside Cat Practice in Marina Del Rey, Calif., both of which feature a small retail shop, agreed.

“We ask a lot of questions,” she said. “We want to determine if the pet has been diagnosed with a food allergy. If the cat is our patient, we can look up the history, and, often, the doctor will have made a recommendation. We don’t want to introduce a unique protein, for instance, if it’s not necessary because should it be needed down the road, it’s no longer novel.”

Jeff Manley, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Stuff, a Bentley’s Pet Stuff company with stores in Georgia, noted the value of attaining insight into a pet’s current diet.

“The grade of food being fed gives us a reference for starting a conversation about nutrition,” Manley said. 

Further, TailsSpin store associates are well versed regarding the benefits of various superfood ingredients, he said.

“It is within our culture to offer pet food and treat brands that contain these nutrient-rich ingredients,” Manley said.

For relevant products, such as with its Tiki Dog Aloha Petites line, Whitebridge Pet Brands clearly states on the front of its bags that the diets include superfoods, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for the St. Louis-based company.

“Many pet owners recognize the importance of superfoods, but chopping up kale or sprouting mung beans for their dogs is not a convenient option,” she said.

Consumers often feel more comfortable buying a product comprising ingredients found in their own diets, said Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas.

“‘Superfood’ is one of those terms that has bled over from the human-food marketing industry,” she said. “Sometimes, when I’m talking with customers about the hierarchy of good dog or cat food, I will use the term ‘holistic’ when referencing superfood ingredients.” 

Developing Trends

“Currently, consumers are looking for new ingredients that are not only nutritionally beneficial, but good for the planet,” said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass., noted growing interest in unique protein sources paired with superfood ingredients, prepared using processes that maintain nutritional integrity. 

“People are moving beyond ‘turkey and cranberry’ and looking for boar or venison enriched with fresh spinach and chickpeas,” Leary-Coutu said. 

Insect protein is quickly gaining traction as a viable protein choice for both people and pets because it is seen as an eco-friendly protein alternative, Immega said. 

“Everything from cricket protein bars to treats and toppers are becoming more readily available,” she said.

Interest in hemp and cannabidiol is also on the rise, said Paula Savarese, president of Naples, Fla.-based Healthy Treats Inc., maker of Dogs Love Kale and Dogs Love Snapeas treats.

“These ingredients are going to need a lot of attention from the retailer in order to educate the consumer,” Savarese said.  

“In our business, wants and needs come to us through pet owners, retailers and industry experts in pet nutrition,” said Joe Livermore, director of sales and marketing for Blackwood Pet Food, a brand of Lisbon, Ohio-based BrightPet Nutrition Group. “We then move into a research phase to determine the benefits and safety of an ingredient that’s included in a recipe.”

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