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Puppy Love: Natural Ingredients for Healthy Pets

Albion Minerals®
Pet Health Pet Health

Whether cute mixed breed or perfect purebred, pet parents view their furry companions as family, which means they want to keep them as healthy as possible.

Now more than ever, people consider their pets to be a part of their family. Pet parents often treat their pets like children, and they are willing to spend money to ensure their health and happiness. According to a study titled “Global Pet Food Ingredients Market Growth Opportunities, 2021,” by Research and Markets, “The key driver for the global pet food ingredients market is the trend of humanization of pets … Growing consciousness [among] pet owners toward their pet’s joint health, immunity and digestive health, skin health and general wellness is driving the demand for functional and specialized ingredients, such as probiotics, prebiotics, glucosamine, chondroitin, melatonin, omega-3 fatty acids and others.”

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in pet adoption due to isolation and loneliness, further driving demand. As a result, pet food and supplement manufacturers have increased their demand for natural, healthy ingredients for their products to meet the needs of this quickly growing consumer base.

Julie Gasper, portfolio manager of Cargill (Ankeny, IA) shared information from the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) Pet Owner survey from 2019-2020, which showed that “74 [percent] of dog and 71 [percent] of cat owners prioritize health benefits; 63 [percent] of dog owners and 61 [percent] of cat owners agreed that buying pet products made in the U.S. is important; 54 [percent] of dog owners and 52 [percent] of cat owners feel that buying ethically sourced pet products is important; and 50 [percent] of dog owners and 48 [percent] of cat owners feel BPA-free pet products [are] important.” She added that “safety, ‘natural’ claims and the desire for products to contain no corn, wheat, soy or dairy are common demands. Pet parents also look for no artificial color, flavors and preservatives.”

In addition, Casey Jones, president of Primo Animal Health (Phoenix, AZ), noted that the pet health supplement category is up 10 percent in two years, according to APPA’s 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey. It stated that “44 [percent] of dog owners currently give their pet some type of vitamins or other supplements, up from 34 [percent] in 2018.”

Don Bloch, senior national account executive, Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics (Chino, CA), added that “the pet health supplement market is … projected to reach $1 billion by 2027. We’re noticing that people are becoming interested in taking charge of their own health, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, and they want their pets to be healthy as well.”

It’s evident that consumers take the health of their pets seriously. As a result, food and supplement manufacturers are responding to these consumer trends with more and more innovative products, using natural ingredients.

Trends/State of the Pet Health Market

The pet health ingredient market has been booming, according to Brian McGrath, vice president of Life Science, Acme-Hardesty Company (Blue Bell, PA). “We are seeing significant trends toward use of vitamins, probiotics, fiber, [and] even CBD and real meat protein (real meat is desired), as well as herbs, gut health additives such as goat milk products and coconut oil (caprylates), anti-yeast and anti-fungal. The same ingredients sold to humans for arthritis, diabetes, energy, better immunity, etc. are also used for pet health.” He noted that work from home trends are a significant driver impacting the category.

McGrath continued, noting that additional trends include plant-based proteins and prebiotic ingredients; inside out health benefits; eco-friendly/green products; focus on nutritive components; humanization of pets; anxiety/behavioral (increase in calming effect); increasing awareness of better energy and pet-life improvement; more exercise and improved diets; and trends often following human-owner trends. “Many of the benefits which humans realize from diet and nutritional supplements apply with pet health,” said McGrath. “Thus, we are seeing significant overlap between our human and pet health solutions.” All in all, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients used in pet food and supplements, and they demand the best for their animal companions.

Gasper added, “Historically, when pet owners were asked what they look for in a pet food, the answers always topping the list were ‘protein’ and ‘vitamins.’” However, nowadays probiotics have become popular, as they have grown prominently in human nutrition. “Shoppers look for the mention of that along with CFUs (colony forming units) for an assessment that the product has ‘friendly bacteria’ that can support gut health.” She also shared that both prebiotics and postbiotics are beginning to gain traction as well.

In concurrence with McGrath, Gasper noted that the pandemic has had an impact on the market. Since people are spending more time at home than ever before, she explained, “they’ve had the opportunity to interact with their pets on an almost constant basis and two things have happened: one, while pets in the U.S. were already generally considered to be part of the family, pet parents appreciate, now more than ever, how important their pet is to them when it comes to stress relief and companionship … and two, by spending so much time with their pet, they’ve been more in tune with subtle changes in pet health or behavior that previously may have gone unnoticed.”

Lastly, Gasper stated that there is a growing understanding “that there is a community of microbes present in the gut that are very important to the pet’s gut and immune health … aka the microbiome.” As a result, she elaborated, “fresh foods (with limited ingredient formulas), often made with human-grade ingredients that are processed and sold refrigerated, is another growing trend in the pet food space.”

Jones concurred with McGrath and Gasper regarding the pandemic driving growth in the pet health ingredient category. “Customers are preferring more natural active ingredients and cleaner labels with easier to understand, inactive ingredients,” she explained. “This is a delicate balance for manufacturers, as we want to deliver safe, effective products that are appealing to the animal and have a good shelf life that also meet the perceived concerns with ingredient names that may not be easy to pronounce.”

She also noted another emerging trend—the bioavailability of ingredients. Consumers, she explained, are not satisfied with simply knowing the active ingredients in a supplement; they want to know that it is in a form that can be readily absorbed by the body. “This can be the raw ingredient itself, or combining the raw ingredient with another active that works symbiotically to allow the animal’s body to better make use of the product.”

Jones added that pet owners have three primary concerns when deciding whether to give their pets supplements: “1. They identify a concern in their own health and want to support that issue in their pet as well; 2. They want to support their pet’s general health and extend their life; 3. They notice a condition in their pet that they would like to support nutritionally, prior to attempting to treat the animal with veterinary medications.”

Bloch provided some additional insight and statistics about the market. “About 76 percent of Millennials own pets, and they are largely taking an interest in their pets’ health, investing more in products that promote wellness,” he explained. “For dogs alone, #dogsupplements has 17.5 million views on TikTok. Pet owners also want natural and transparent ingredients and labeling, with 69 percent of Millennials looking for food made from natural ingredients.” He also concurred with the sentiment that human health trends relate to pet health trends in the industry.

Natural Ingredients for Pet Health

According to McGrath, Acme-Hardesty Company offers bio-based, responsibly sourced solutions for pets, including MCT, glycerin, botanicals, organic proteins and pre-biotics. Their two most successful ingredients have been “MCT, [which is] known for ketogenic properties that can improve the overall metabolism of a pet,” as well as “glycerin, which is known to provide hyper hydration.” The company employs a rigorous internal qualification process in order to maintain traceability, sustainability regulatory updates, GMP (good manufacturing practice) compliance and full understanding of the technology. In addition, “we have increased our marketing budget in pet health to help explain the importance of and differentiation of our pet health products,” said McGrath.

Cargill offers EpiCor Pets, “a postbiotic product composed of metabolites and beneficial compounds made through a natural fermentation process. Our postbiotic ingredient has natural antioxidant power and supports a dog’s immune defenses to help them live more healthy days,” explained Gasper. “Our EpiCor Pets Ingredient is among those experiencing strong growth as many pet supplement manufacturers find value in leveraging an ingredient that has strong growth in the human health space. Given that pet owners often feel that what’s good for them is also good for their pet, EpiCor Pets is a product that offers the rare benefit of a branded human product that also has research and data in pets,” she continued.

Gasper stressed that caution should be exercised when manufacturing ingredients for the pet health space. “When talking about ingredients, it’s extremely important to consider effectiveness or functionality in the target animal. There are many examples of foods or ingredients that we could consider to be healthy for ourselves that are downright dangerous for pets,” she explained. She continued, “As we look at products for dogs and cats versus those for humans, it’s both substantially easier and substantially harder to get the equation ‘just right’ for pets,” she stated. “On one hand, pets only have access to the products that we as pet parents give them. So, it’s easier sometimes as pets tend to eat the same thing day after day … this allows for products that require consistent feeding to really shine. On the other hand, this means we have a great deal of responsibility as pet parents and pet product manufacturers. Things like product consistency and safety are key given the day after day ingestion of the same product, in most cases.”

As far as why EpiCor chose to create a postbiotic ingredient, Gasper explained, “the effects of postbiotics are not diminished by normal digestion or food processing methods, making them an excellent choice to deliver gut and immune benefits, whereas delivery of probiotics for the same benefits is much more difficult.” Furthermore, probiotics must be kept alive through processing and shelf life, unlike postbiotics.

Jones said that the primary categories of pet health supplement products are dependent on the species. “For dogs, it is made up of multivitamins, joint health, skin and coat, probiotics and calming. In recent years, we are seeing increased interest in immune boosters and antioxidants. For cats, key products include L-lysine supplements, hairball support, urinary health and calming. Recent years have seen increased interest in multivitamins and probiotics.” She also noted that ingredients that do well in the pet space are largely those that do well in the human space.

Choosing the right delivery format is also crucial for crafting an effective pet health supplement. “If the animal will not consume the active ingredient, it cannot help them,” explained Gasper. “Developing appealing methods of delivery is really important. This is often dependent on the species and even the preferences of the individual animal. For example, cats are notoriously difficult to feed, so we often offer the same active ingredients in several different modes of delivery. Some cats may prefer a highly palatable soft chew, while another will have no interest in consuming the treat like chew and is served better by a paw gel that they naturally groom off themselves.”

Bloch stated that one of the core, long-standing ingredients for pet health are digestive enzymes. “For dogs and cats, those include proteases, amylases, lipases and lactases. For horses, in addition to lipases and amylases, ingredients include hemicellulose and glucoamylase.” Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics’ key offerings include DigeSEB Super Pet, and DigeSEB Equine, which promote optimal digestion in pets or horses. In addition, the company offers Exclzyme Pet and Exclyzyme Equine, “which promote joint health, tissue healing and muscle recovery.” The ImmunoSEB product “is clinically proven to support recovery from post-viral fatigue and promote immune response.”

Bloch also pointed out that “New developments in the probiotics space are spore-forming species such as Bacillus. Bacillus species are unique in that they form a protective endospore around the good bacteria, allowing them to survive at varying pH levels and temperatures. This means more bacteria make it past the harsh environment of the stomach to the gut, and it also means companies can invest fewer resources into refrigeration, warehousing and distribution.” Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics offers SEBiotic, a Bacillus coagulans LBSC probiotic and SEBtilis, a Bacillus subtilis probiotic, both of which are clinically proven to support gut health. The company also offers ProbioSEB CSC3, “a comprehensive blend including three spore-forming probiotics [that] has been shown in research to support recovery from post-viral fatigue and promote immune response.”

Bloch added, “The unique thing about the ingredients we make—enzymes and good bacteria—is that the bodies of dogs, cats and horses produce most of them. It’s just that diet, illness, injury, age and other factors affect the body’s ability to produce them. We offer these ingredients to supplement what the body cannot produce—and what is more effective than using enzymes and probiotics that are already produced by our companion animals?”

Advice for Manufacturers

“It is important for pet health companies to work closely with responsible suppliers who provide formulation expertise, quality assurance and reliable sourcing,” said McGrath. He encouraged “Meaningful, purpose-driven solutions that will enable innovation, targeted toward safety and well-being, and benefiting target consumers.” He also added that detailed labeling and strong marketing are important for informing the end consumer.

“Educate, educate, educate!” Gasper stressed. “Continue to educate pet owners through a variety of means, including on pack, in the press, through whitepapers and on the web, and at shelf, as well as via key influencers and veterinarians. Also, educate not only about the nutritional solution but also how to determine if the research and knowledge are real and credible.” Furthermore, “ensuring that ingredients are both safe and efficacious is a key concern … so manufacturers should rely on those suppliers who have data and research specific to dogs and cats.”

Bloch advised that manufacturers should consider four key points: good manufacturing practices (what kind of facilities and practices does the ingredient manufacturer use? Are they GMP-certified by a reputable organization?); what’s in the products; whether the products are lifestyle friendly; and whether the manufacturers are science and research-backed. “Product manufacturers make their message heard with transparency in labeling and messaging,” explained Bloch. “Nine out of 10 pet owners want transparency in pet food ingredients, and 52 percent of owners look for natural ingredients. Implementing these practices to enhance their products can help certain manufacturers rise above the others.” NIE

For More Information:

Acme-Hardesty Company, www.acme-hardesty.com
Cargill, www.cargill.com
Primo Animal Health, www.primoanimalhealth.com
Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics, www.specialtyenzymes.com

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