The Challenges of Sourcing Pet Food Ingredients in the U.S.

Today more than ever before, consumers look for pet food and treats that are not only made in the USA, but that are also made with ingredients sourced in the USA. This demand presents challenges to manufacturers who want to offer the best ingredients possible, and sometimes that means exploring options elsewhere.

Stacy La Point, founder and president of Fresh Is Best in Milwaukee, said today’s customers seek U.S. ingredients, a trend that took off following the pet food recalls in 2007 linked to ingredients sourced abroad.

"It’s a trust thing," she said. "All our ingredients are sourced here—sometimes a particular vitamin is not manufactured in the USA, and, in that instance, vitamin premix manufacturers have to purchase from a foreign supplier."

Rebecca Tomala, vice president of Matrix Partners Ltd., a Chicago-based advertising and public relations company that works with several pet food manufacturers, noted that the pet food recalls in 2007 forever changed the way consumers evaluate where ingredients are sourced from.

"Sourcing ingredients from U.S. suppliers is absolutely the most dependable and safe route to go, as a manufacturer can confirm their vendor is dedicated to supplying healthy and safe ingredients," she said.

Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn., noted that there are certainly a host of benefits that come with sourcing products in the USA.

"Among those are the ability to purchase from suppliers whose products have been U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected and approved, as well as those entities whose standards align with Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) requirements," she said. "Oversight is another advantage in that it is easier to meet with suppliers face-to-face and inspect the ingredients on-site to be sure the quality standards are continually being met."

Bravo Pet Foods sources its poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as a few others items, from the U.S.

"All ingredients are fairly competitive across the board, but, as in any market, there can be fluctuations in pricing for high-demand ingredients," Miller said. "Since we use human-grade ingredients and do not compromise on quality, the challenge then becomes finding a consistent supply source meeting our standards at a price that still allows us to provide value to the consumer."

Difficult to Source

The Challenges of Sourcing Pet Food Ingredients in the U.S.

Still, the quality of USA-sourced ingredients depends largely on the particular ingredient. For instance, if one is looking to source poultry, fish—Alaskan salmon, in particular—vegetables and fruits, then the best-in-class ingredients will be found in the U.S. However, exotic proteins, spices, and vitamins and minerals are just some of the items that are difficult to source in the states.

"Ingredients such as spices are not readily available in the USA, so if you want the best quality, you have to go beyond borders in order to find suppliers whose quality standards align with yours," Miller said. "As a manufacturer, our emphasis has always been on finding the best-quality ingredients using reputable suppliers."

Tomala said the biggest challenge with sourcing all ingredients within the U.S. is as simple as supply and demand.

"Pet food manufacturers are not only in competition with each other for high-quality ingredients, but they are also competing with the human [food] supply chain," she said. "Many companies have started to broaden their horizons and look to other countries for ingredients. For example, some of the highest-quality venison and lamb are sourced from New Zealand."

Vitamin packs are also becoming increasingly hard to completely source from the U.S. 

La Point noted that certain vitamins are not manufactured in the U.S., so Fresh Is Best must source from other places in these cases.

Tomala concurred.

"Pet food manufacturers have been more actively working with vendors in Europe and Canada to help secure safe vitamin alternatives, and most manufacturers are completely avoiding China for any ingredients," she said.

Miller said it comes down to quality and availability, drawing on the lamb example.

"It’s hard to beat the quality of New Zealand lamb," she said. "It’s pasture-raised, grass-fed and the country’s quality standards are equal to and perhaps even more stringent than ours. Rabbit is more readily available in Europe, and the EU’s quality standards are also exceptional. Some spices, as well as vitamins and minerals, can only be found outside of the USA in countries rich in those particular resources."