Keeping prices down and clean labels up is the challenge for natural pet food ingredient suppliers.
What’s good for people is good for their pets. That’s sound nutritional advice because the basic biochemistries of humans and of the mammals that are their companion animals are much the same, said Pete Maletto, founder and CEO of the New Jersey-based PTM Food Consulting.
Maletto, whose company develops food products for manufacturers, pointed to the growing revolution toward natural and healthy ingredients in manufactured pet food. “It’s amazing what’s going on and taking place in the industry,” Maletto said. “People are reading labels and looking at products they want. For the past three years, manufacturers have been cleaning up pet food labels.”
The “clean-up” goes far beyond packaging; it involves the removal of fillers and poor quality, sometimes adulterated, meats, Maletto said. Increasingly, pet food is being made with natural flavors, with lower carbohydrate and higher protein content, and with a host of supplements to promote health and wellness. “There are smart people out there really trying to make it,” he added.
State of the Market
The growing markets for natural and healthy pet foods are “mostly coastal,” Maletto said, adding that is the usual pattern of growth for markets in America.
For natural ingredients and products for animals, the market is strong, noted Melinda Fernyhough Culver, a veterinarian and PhD who is the business development manager for nutritional sciences for the Ohio-based ABITEC Corporation. But she pointed to a large issue: “The price for these ingredients and products can be inhibitory for those wishing to supply these to their pets. So there is a limit to the ability of certain market segments to purchase these types of products.”
Culver, however, does foresee the demand “remaining high as people become more concerned about how the food that is fed to their pets can affect their overall health—something that is gaining more traction as more evidence is discovered.”
Consumers looking for more natural food ingredients for themselves want the same for their pets, according to Jane Petrolino, vice president for HORN Animal Wellness, a business unit of the California-based HORN specialty chemical and ingredient distributor. “The phenomenon is known as the ‘humanization of pets’,” she said. “And, unlike the human food industry, there actually is a definition of the term ‘natural’ in the Association of American Feed Control Official’s (AAFCO) Official Publication. This can help product manufacturers and marketers seeking to make natural claims.” Though pet food and supplement space is growing steadily, the regulations governing the inclusion of natural products are complicated and unclear, noted Anurag Pande, a PhD and vice president of scientific affairs for Sabinsa Corporation, a manufacturer, supplier and marketer of herbal extracts, cosmeceuticals, minerals, dietary supplements and specialty fine chemicals for the nutritional, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries, headquartered in New Jersey.
How diet influences the health and behavior of companion animals is getting increased attention from researchers.
“With cats, there is interest in determining how our modern diets (mostly with a high level of carbohydrates) affect the animal and obesity rates compared to a more ancestral higher fat, higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet,” said Culver. “There is similar interest in dogs and determining if the modern diet has altered genes such that the modern dog is more of an omnivore.”
Culver continued, “Other research focuses on alternate protein sources and the health of the animal as well as how alternate starches can impact the health of the animal. A very hot area is the gut and modulation of the immune system and digestion of different nutritional components. The microflora within the gut and imbalances of said microflora is a large research area as well.”
HORN has seen concern over weight management, diabetes, and age-related disorders, Petrolino noted. “Ingredients such as pea protein, potato protein, DHAgold (DHA source), L-carnitine, flax and medium-chain triglycerides are all showing promise as ingredients used in condition-specific formulations.”
Researchers also are looking for longevity benefits, to “extend the life of animals and humans,” said Maletto. “Both have a lot of disease.” Maletto, who worked for Dr. Robert Atkins after earning a bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and food science from the University of Nebraska in the 1990s, said the principles of the now-deceased Atkins hold true for pet nutrition. “Animals need a protein-heavy diet with good fat and amino acids,” he said. A plate of leftover pasta, he noted, is not advisable. The latest research, he added, has included fiber, nuts and seeds. “Greens,” he added, “are getting big.” So are chickpeas, cranberry protein, vegetables and fruits.
Fatty Acids and Probiotics
Maletto pointed to research on foods such as omega-3 fatty acids to inflammation, which he defined as an underlying cause of many diseases, including cardiovascular problems and cancers. “None of these are created unless there’s inflammation,” he said.
Pande spoke of probiotics. “There is a long history of use of certain probiotic strains in humans. However, the question many may be asking is whether probiotics can help in pet health.”
Recent studies, he added, have shown the benefits of probiotics in managing digestive health. To deliver efficacy, stability of probiotics is required. “The probiotics have to survive formulation conditions, packaging, storage, shipping, and finally, the low pH conditions in the digestive canal of the pet,” Pande explained. “In many cases the cold chain needed to keep many probiotics viable until they are consumed is difficult to maintain. The question also arises of what kind of probiotics should be given to pets, since the microbiota of humans and animals differ. Therefore the choice of the bacteria, and its delivery system is an important point to consider. LactoSpore, a spore-forming probiotic, provides a single strain of spore forming bacteria and hence is able to survive the harsh environment of processing as well as gut, without the need of maintaining any cold chain.”
Top Health Concerns
“I would have to say that the top health concerns may differ if you are speaking to a veterinarian or a pet parent,” Culver said. “Certainly, obesity is a top concern for veterinarians as more than half of the dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Obesity in companion animals leads to many other health concerns such as diabetes, skin issues and arthritis.”
Pande listed obesity, joint problems and digestive health issues, noting that more than 50 percent of cats and dogs are overweight and suffering from obesity related issues. “The need for balanced nutrition and supplementation is well understood by veterinarians today,” he said. “Good delivery system, proper choice of nutrients, and clinical evidence are of great importance when it comes to pet supplementation. Natural products such as turmeric-based ingredients and digestive enzyme blends can be of great help to manage inflammatory and digestive disorders. Probiotic supplementation should be part of most pet’s food regimen from time to time.”
Culver added dental disease as a top health concern. “Almost 90 percent of dogs over the age of three have some form of dental disease, which has been linked to heart disease and kidney disease,” she said. “…Many owners are reluctant to check their pet’s mouth for the very obvious signs of dental disease.”
Both Maletto and Culver named allergies as a top concern. “In companion animals, allergies to any of the aforementioned items will show in the skin and, sometimes, as gastrointestinal problems (such as diarrhea),” Culver stated.
Petrolino noted, “Historically, much of the nutrition research done on humans has served to support ingredient/nutrient application in pets. This can become problematic when pet food and treat marketers want to make definitive claims about the efficacy of certain ingredients or finished products. It is encouraging to see more companies conducting clinical studies with the specific species … dogs or cats … with the expectation that they can then make better supported claims on their products.”
Ensuring Ingredient Safety
PTM follows a protocol of heavy metal testing, looking for mercury content in fish and for arsenic content in soil-grown plants, Maletta said. Culver explained that ABITEC begins its manufacturing process with high-quality raw materials, which are essential components for a superior final product. The company’s manufacturing locations incorporate a quality management system based on ISO 9001, which is the internationally recognized standard for Quality Management Systems (QMS); Codex Alimentarius HACCP principles, and IPEC guidelines as applicable. In most cases, ABITEC’s facilities have been certified and possess GFSI-BRC Global Standard for Food Safety, ISO 14001 & OHSAS 18001 certification and/or registration, and have undergone batch processes, quality practices, product recall and traceability drills.
“We operate our business safely and in compliance with all applicable federal, state, or local laws, rules or regulations,” she said. “The result is a quality and safety profile for products that is well-documented with studies and registrations with regulatory agencies worldwide. We also maintain kosher and halal certifications for all products that meet qualification standards. In addition to these certifications, many of our products have been filed with the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) through a drug master file (DMF) or are listed in the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).”
Pande pointed to the need for what he termed “the proper delivery system.” He explained, “Excess treatment or harsh conditions of formulations, or the sterilization process may be detrimental to the activity of certain nutrients such as enzymes and probiotics. Microbial contamination is often a concern in pet food and supplements due to the nature of raw material, hence proper processing and avoiding the possibility of cross contamination is important for safe product formulation. Further it should be said that everything that is safe for humans may not be safe for pets. Therefore, pet supplement safety should be drawn on the evidence from the studies performed on pets and not on humans. Proper recall systems should be in place for managing any safety concerns on the product once it’s in the market.”
And Petrolino commented, “Forthcoming expectations from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the past few years have given pet food manufacturers the heads up on tighter regulations being put in place to ensure the safety of pet products. Companies now focus added attention on good manufacturing practices (GMPs) including ingredient quality, sourcing and traceability.”
Utilizing Finished Products
Petrolino reported that HORN Animal Wellness has been very proactive working with manufacturers of finished products and that processing conditions such as heat, acid and pressure can have deleterious effects on sensitive nutritional ingredients. “Manufacturers need to be familiar with how to formulate with these unique ingredients to ensure the full efficacy of the ingredient in the finished product,” she said.
She added that some nutritional ingredients may contribute unique flavors or “off odors” to pets that have keen senses of smell. “Ultimately, if we want to deliver enhanced nutrition, we need the pet to actually eat the product, which is why tools like palatability studies are important,” Petrolino stated.
“Partnering with a seasoned distributor like HORN helps manufacturers gain reassurance in the quality and efficacy of the ingredients in their finished products,” she added. “Additionally, this partnership can provide manufacturers with the level of formulation expertise needed to achieve reliable and experienced technical support.”
HORN Animal Wellness purchases ABITEC’s CAPTEX Medium Chain Triglycerides for use in its products. Culver explained its benefits.
“First, it is important to note that medium chain triglycerides are composed only of fatty acids that are eight or ten carbons long,” Culver said. “Lauric acid (C12)—often cited as a medium chain fatty acid found abundantly in coconut oil—is not due to its metabolic pathway.”
Supplementation with CAPTEX Medium Chain Triglycerides, she added, has been shown to support cognition in rats, dogs and humans. “I believe this would also work in cats but there are no studies demonstrating this,” she said. CAPTEX also is credited with a healthy weight balance in humans, rats, chicks and other animals, but there have been no studies in companion animals though).
Culver concluded, “Additionally, because of the rapid metabolism of CAPTEX Medium Chain Triglycerides, they are a great, easy to digest source of energy for performance animals (such as sled dogs, and performance horses), neonatal animals (puppies and kittens), and geriatric/convalescing animals.
Noting the trend toward “natural,” Pande stated, “There is a great demand for natural preservatives, coloring, and flavoring in the pet food industry. Enzyme-based blends are of interest to pet food manufacturers as well as pet supplement manufacturers. These enzymes can be used in the food processing area to make the meat tenderer as well as supplementing the food for better digestive benefits.”
Culver spoke of “inherent difficulties in using new or innovative ingredients to meet the needs of today’s pet.” One, she noted, is cost. “Many of the better, more bioavailable ingredients are quite costly and, when added to animal formulae, greatly increase the formula cost. Additionally, other ingredients that may have benefits for the animal are quite costly to add to a formulation at an effective level (CoQ10 for example).”
A second challenge Culver said is “the regulatory body. I know that there are changes planned for AAFCO/FDA CVM (Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine), but it does hinder the ability to offer new ingredients for pets.
“However,” Culver continued, “I do know that there is a place for these regulations—we are all stewards of the animals and it is a great responsibility as they are voiceless. Manufacturers can help to meet pets’ needs by reviewing the literature for ingredients that have some basis in science and are allowed in pet foods (as outlined by AAFCO) and by adding them in the formula at levels for which the animal will realize the intended benefit.”
Pande pointed to the importance of regulatory bodies and industry associations such as AAFCO to form associations for streamlining shortcomings of pet food regulations, as well as making regulations friendlier to introducing the new ingredients in the market. NIE
For More Information:
ABITEC Corporation, (614) 312-9276
HORN, (800) 442-4676; (714) 523-6339
PTM Food Consulting, (888) 736-6339
Sabinsa Corporation, (732) 777-1111