Dogs, like their human counterparts, can experience sensitivities from the foods they eat. Fortunately, pet owners can limit the ingredients that cause their dogs discomfort. First, however, they need to identify the source of the problem, according to industry insiders. To do that, they sometimes need help from both manufacturers and retailers, who can help steer concerned pet owners to limited-ingredient diet (LID) solutions.
To help dog owners, it’s important to understand what they are looking for, and LID offerings may be confusing for many, reported Reed Howlett, founder and CEO of Freely Pet, a pet food manufacturer in Brentwood, Mo.
“Pet parents are looking to LID for simplicity, both in recipe and in the communication of what’s in the food—and what’s not—and why,” Howlett said.
Rachel Clark, brand manager for Edmonton, Alberta, Canada-based premium pet food maker Champion Petfoods, also sees this desire for simplicity.
“Pet lovers who have healthy dogs that experience mild food sensitivities are looking for simple, natural diets with ingredient panels they can easily read and understand, all without compromising on flavor,” she said.
Jason Ast, co-owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C., sees concerned owners in their times of desperation and offers free food consultations by appointment in the store.
“By the time a customer comes in to a specialty store like ours, they simply want their dog to not hurt or suffer anymore,” Ast said. “I can tell you the simple act of taking an hour to discuss a customer’s dog and possible sensitivities goes a long way. People want answers. They want guidance. And they want their family member to not be in any sort of pain or discomfort.”
Following the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) report on a potential link between grain-free foods and canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), many customers have shifted to grain-friendly limited-ingredient diets, reported Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore.
“We have plenty of customers coming in to our stores because their vets are telling them they need to switch from grain-free to grain-friendly foods,” McCohan said. “With limited-ingredient diets, the conversation can be a little bit trickier as most dogs shifted to grain-free limited-ingredient diets in the first place due to allergies and/or intolerances to something, be it food or environment. The common assumption is that the grain-free bag of limited-ingredient food is nothing but meat, while the grain-friendly bag is full of ‘fillers.’”
Identity Pet Nutrition believes labeling is an effective way to get ingredient information across.
“We were the first company to put ‘legume-free’ on our packaging,” said Jeremy Petersen, founder, president and CEO of the Denver-based pet food company. “That labeling has really made us stand out in the eyes of the consumer. We were able to meet their desire for high animal-based protein content as well as legume-free.”
Simple solutions are in demand, but protein-specific products are also trending, according to Heather Hickey, vice president of North America sales for Ziwi Pets, an all-natural pet food manufacturer with North American headquarters in Overland Park, Kan.
“The most common trend that can bring pet owners into the limited-ingredient diet category is identifying possible protein allergies,” she said. “Pet owners have the ability to limit the ingredients and proteins in their pet’s diet to identify any issues their dog may have with specific proteins.”
Howlett has also noticed an increased focus on single-source protein and meat as the first ingredient.
“We’re also seeing a trend toward the thoughtful protein philosophies of LID diets, both with and without grains, because consumers are realizing that allergies are not always linked to the grain portion of their pet foods,” Howlett said.
Manufacturers such as Champion Petfoods are innovating their product lines to meet protein-specific needs, which is why the company’s Acana Singles Limited Ingredient Diets are offered in five flavors.
“This line of dog food caters to both the picky eater and the diet-sensitive dog, offering a recipe with high inclusions of animal ingredients from a single protein source within a shorter, more intentional ingredient panel,” Clark said.
Feeding Into Feedback
Customer demand and feedback drive product development, yet expert nutritional advice is important, too, manufacturers report.
Reed Howlett, founder and CEO of Freely Pet, a pet food manufacturer in Brentwood, Mo., said customer feedback is key, but the company also relies on expert advice from its nutrition center.
“We pay close attention to the consumer experience while being led first and foremost by our staff of nutrition experts and vets when considering or developing any new products,” Howlett said.
Rachel Clark, brand manager for Edmonton, Alberta, Canada-based premium pet food maker Champion Petfoods, sees customer feedback as important as well.
“At the forefront of our product development is the research our team does to ensure that we are staying ahead of emerging pet food trends and that there is real science behind every one of our recipes,” she said.
For example, Champion Petfoods recently enhanced its Acana Singles Limited Ingredient Diet dog food to include even more animal protein, fewer legumes and no peas.
At Ziwi Pets, an all-natural pet food manufacturer with North American headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., consumer demand is a key driving factor in new product development, said Heather Hickey, vice president of North America sales.
“We continue to see demand from consumers for high-quality foods with ethical and sustainable sourcing practices as well as functional ingredients,” she said.
In response, Ziwi’s new Provenance Series features three new recipes featuring proteins from three separate unique regions in New Zealand.