New ingredients in pet food come with new challenges and opportunities.
Old and new ways
In the past, pet food formulation was rather simple: a blend of a couple grains, animal fat, meat meals plus vitamins and minerals. Generally, all ingredients were purchased relatively close to the plant rather than across borders. Plants were close(r) to the primary market, which kept costs in line and profits maximized.
Fast forward. Much of pet food marketing today focuses on ingredient benefits (e.g. real chicken) and the presence/absence of certain ingredients (e.g. no corn). Pet food operations are located in costeffective rural sites, but ingredients are purchased worldwide, creating many logistical challenges. Many ingredients are manufactured in international locations where profitability is maximized (e.g. vitamins). Nevertheless, every year new ingredients are added, challenging the growing inventory necessary to meet market demands around the world. Let’s look at some new ingredients and some of the challenges faced.
New and upcoming ingredients
The demonization of high volume ingredients, like corn, wheat, rice and multiple grains, has created an insatiable appetite for volumes of new grain-free sources of starches and proteins, including peas, chickpeas, tapioca, lentils, and multiple beans. Seed sources have become choices as well (e.g. chia, quinoa, flaxseed).
The desire for unique proteins has led to foods with venison, bison, water buffalo, boar, trout, alligator, and quail. Obviously, these supplies are limited and may come from multiple places in the world.
Products with higher and higher levels of protein create a need for reliable and predictable volumes. In some regions, protein supplies are limited to three, four major sources and quality is variable. The quality of meat ingredients often limits the types of food that can be made (e.g. value versus holistic).
New protein sources, like algae meal and insect meal, are future options, but not always received well by consumers. New sources of fish proteins from the human food industry are launching in the US from sustainable sources of the highest food quality (Alaskan pollock). Certain vegetable proteins have helped in meeting demand (e.g. legumes like pea, beans).
Nutritional requirements, new products and energy production have led to a need for new supplies of fats and oils. Many renderers have looked at the high potential of using animal oils as biofuels, thus moving supplies away from pet foods. Like protein supplies, fats and oils are variable in quality and supply in many locations around the world. Nutritional needs for more omega 3 fatty acids have pushed to sources like krill meal, fish meals and oils, canola oil and algal oils.
Not surprisingly, a dozen different fruits and vegetables are used in pet food formulations. Many come from several countries and are dried, frozen or fresh (e.g. carrots, peas, green beans, pumpkin, sweet potato). Newer foods will have shredded and cubed vegetables and fruits that are freeze-dried or airdried and then blended with extruded kibble.
Besides the major ingredients – protein, starch and fat – there are unique challenges that now have unique solutions. Probiotics delivery has been a longterm issue for pet foods. Probiotics (lactic acid bacteria) quickly die off on the outside of dry pet food, due to higher water activity. Unique technology currently exists, to stabilize probiotics and blend them with specific prebiotics to help immunity and digestive health.
Finally, stability of pet foods naturally has been difficult without using synthetic chemicals (e.g. sorbic acid). Consumer demand is driving new antimicrobialsfrom fermentation.
With local supply, it was easier to visit ingredient suppliers on a regular basis for quality audits. With worldwide suppliers, this is a travel and coordination nightmare. Smaller to medium companies have to rely on certificates of analysis, documentation and conversation to ensure the quality of newer ingredients. Receiving ingredients from thousands of miles away may work out fine, but what if metal fragments or mycotoxins are found upon receipt – how do you ship it back? How do you ensure no rancidity? Or infestation? Or mould? Food quality is critical, but safety for consumers and their familypets is paramount.
Moreover, new ingredients don’t come with long track records of analysis that show variability over time, to help support product quality. Without deep investigation, many plants face variable starch levels in potato flour, uncertain fat quality in certain fish meals and higher bone levels in meat meals. Added upon this is the complexity of delivery and quantityneeded to sustain a new product.
The growth of new and more restrictive regulatory platforms like the Food Safety Modernization Act in the U.S. (FSMA) has opened regulator inspection worldwide. The food industry’s goal is ingredient traceability back to sources worldwide in case of recall. The pet food industry is a worldwide business – yet country to country regulatory officials do not support it equally.
Just because an ingredient can be supplied does not mean it can be used. There is no master universal approved list of ingredients for worldwide production. In the U.S., a new ingredient must be either GRAS-approved (Generally Reqarded as Safe) or an FDA-approved food additive. No other approval process is acceptable. The road can be long and expensive.
From a marketing viewpoint, some producers wanted to ‘brag’ about where the food was made (e.g. Made in the U.S.). Regulations require that those ingredients come from that location, restricting some ingredients from other countries. Now it is quite common to always ask the ‘country of origin’ for these reasons.
New ingredients bring multiple procurement, production and regulatory challenges. These are opportunities for growth and present an exciting path forward.
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