When it comes to dog food and treats today, ingredients matter. Dog owners are taking the time to read the labels and are specifically seeking certain ingredients for their dogs’ diets, including novel proteins and superfoods.
"Pet parents are more educated and more aware of what is going into their dog’s food," said Betsy Key Hooker Hintzmann, owner and partner at Four Dogs Pet Supplies in Charlotte, N.C. "And when their dog is experiencing an issue, they are more likely to look at their diet."
Hooker Hintzmann said this has made some dog owners more likely to consider food and treats with novel proteins.
According to Jilliann Smith, director of communications for Merrick Pet Care, a pet food manufacturer in Amarillo, Texas, many pet owners like to add new flavors and more variety into their pet’s diet, which is why they will turn to unique protein sources such as bison, wild boar, quail, rabbit or venison. Oftentimes, these foods also offer great health benefits.
"We have several recipes in our Merrick Backcountry line that feature a tasty blend of novel proteins that are rich in amino acids to provide the building blocks for muscle growth and maintenance," Smith said.
Brian Butler, director of sales for Grandma Lucy’s, a manufacturer of freeze-dried pet food in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., said that the company considers novel proteins to be "those not normally found in mass-market pet food." For Grandma Lucy’s, this includes options such as rabbit, wild Alaskan pollock, wild salmon and venison.
"These protein options help dogs that are picky or who struggle with protein intolerances," Butler added.
Adding Superfoods to the Pet Bowl
In addition to novel proteins, many dog food manufacturers are incorporating superfoods into their recipes.
"Superfoods are the nutrient-rich ingredients like pumpkin, turmeric, coconut, kale and berries that help boost your pet’s intake of antioxidants in a natural way," Smith said. "These whole foods tend to be classified as functional ingredients and are packed with more benefits per bite. Our Castor & Pollux Organix recipes, which are [U.S. Department of Agriculture] USDA-certified organic, are crafted with a blend of superfoods including organic flaxseed, organic blueberries and organic coconut oil."
While some dog owners love seeing ingredients that they know and love themselves in their pets’ food and treats, there is also a bit of skepticism on behalf of some retailers. The matter appears to come down to just how much of that ingredient is actually present.
Hooker Hintzmann said that dog owners do like seeing "ingredients they recognize" on the label.
"When it comes to superfoods, the trends trail behind what’s popular with human diets," Hooker Hintzmann noted. "So it’s no big surprise we’re now seeing lots of cranberries, blueberries, quinoa and beets added to dog foods. These are some of the same superfoods that have been trending with people."
While Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore., agreed that some dog owners like the idea of superfoods in their pet’s food, McCohan said that, oftentimes, the benefits get lost when the foods are "found so far down on the ingredient panel that their impact is minimal—to nothing."
"False marketing on the bag persuades owners into thinking they are buying a great bag of meat with superfoods to help the overall health of their pet," McCohan said. "But when something like cranberries is seventeenth on the list, what is it really doing? Wanting the stereotypical ‘superfoods’ for their health benefits does not matter when you don’t take into consideration the quality of said ‘superfood.’ You can pay extra for that kibble that shows all the superfoods you want, but processing it down into a cereal nugget that has to have added vitamins and minerals to make it ‘complete and balanced’ won’t give you any ‘superfood health benefits.’"
Help Them Mae the Right Choices
In general, choosing the right pet food can be an overwhelming experience for pet owners, many of whom will likely be looking for some guidance.
"Educating consumers about pet food and what their pet needs based on their breed, age, activity level and overall health is extremely important," said John Kampeter, vice president of sales for Taste of the Wild in Meta, Mo.
Betsy Key Hooker Hintzmann, owner and partner at Four Dogs Pet Supplies in Charlotte, N.C., said that the process at her store is usually to ask a lot of questions about the dog before guiding consumers to two or three choices that might be best for their pet.
"We definitely find that dog parents want options," Hooker Hintzmann said. "So we usually narrow it down to a select few that would meet their needs. If it’s an allergy issue, then we might guide them on novel proteins that they can try. Rarely does a customer come in specifically asking for squid or boar—but we might move to those choices if we’ve tried other options."
Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets, a pet store in Dallas, said that novel protein sales are driven by allergies at her store as well.
"Venison and rabbit are commonly requested," Redwine said. "Kangaroo does OK for us, too. The biggest drawback on novel proteins is cost. They usually cost way more than proteins like chicken or beef."
Because ingredients are important to today’s consumers, Brian Butler, director of sales for Grandma Lucy’s, a manufacturer of freeze-dried pet food in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., said that retailers should be prepared to answer questions.
"Explanation of the ingredients and their benefits by retail staff is an important part of customer education," Butler said. "Grandma Lucy’s highlights ingredients on the back of the bag, making for easy discussion with potential customers."
Standout Proteins and Superfoods
Retailers can find new offerings in both novel proteins and superfood ingredients for their dog food aisles.
Taste of the Wild in Meta, Mo., recently expanded its line to offer Taste of the Wild with Ancient Grains. This new line of dry dog food combines the same meats found in the company’s original recipes with a special blend of four ancient grains—grain sorghum, millet, quinoa and chia seed. The line includes proteins such as venison, bison and lamb.
Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas, recently introduced Merrick Backcountry High Plains recipes, which features a blend of proteins with wild boar, turkey and beef.
Grandma Lucy’s, based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., has introduced Pumpkin Pouches, which can be added to any meal. There are four pumpkin recipes—Inflammation, Digestive, Skin & Coat and Bladder—and they are packed with superfood ingredients, according to the company.