Wild About Meat

Exotic or novel proteins are becoming more popular than ever as pet owners seek variety and nutritional benefits.




Novel proteins are not so novel anymore. While certain types of nontraditional meats might have seemed a little bizarre once, today’s manufacturers and retailers are bringing ‘exotic’ protein sources into the mainstream by offering pet owners an increasing number of diets formulated with goat, kangaroo, wild boar and many other meats. Consumers are seeking out these diets for their dogs and cats for various reasons, and they expect to find these novel foods at their favorite pet specialty stores.


“Retailers should know two things about exotic protein sources,” says Dan Schmitz, national sales manager for KLN Family Brands in Perham, Minn. “The first thing to know is that exotic protein sources aren’t going away. Consumers are continuing to look for new and exciting items for their pets.”


The second thing to keep in mind, says Schmitz, is retailers can talk to shoppers about exotic protein sources when consumers want to know about rotational feeding. Pet owners sometimes want to add some variety to their furry loved ones’ diets, and advocating for the incorporation of some of these nontraditional foods can give the store an ongoing sales boost.


“Consumer demands are constantly changing,” says Schmitz. “As a pet food manufacturer, we need to not only meet current customer demands, but also come out with new, innovative products that consumers haven’t yet thought of.”


KLN has added two foods that feature exotic protein sources to the NutriSource Grain Free line. One is Woodlands Select, featuring wild boar as the No. 1 ingredient. The other new item is a Prairie Select formula that features quail as the No. 1 ingredient. Also, in the Pure Vita lineup the company introduced a venison product, and in the Natural Planet line there is a kangaroo and venison product.


In yet another example of the humanization of pets, consumers are familiar with exotic proteins because they might have seen them in fine dining restaurants or gourmet food stores and are now buying the pet versions for their dogs and cats. “Today’s selection of novel proteins for pets reads like a menu of foods that you would find at a very high-end specialty meat retailer,” says Brad Gruber, president and chief operating officer of Deer Park, N.Y.-based Health Extension Pet Care. “Pet parents are willing to pay more money for these exotic pet foods and treats compared to traditional ones.”


Gruber says that people are willing to pay more because exotic proteins are healthier, non-allergenic and raised in a more natural and sanitary state. These benefits appeal to pet owners who are seeking a solution for pets that are overweight or have allergies or sensitivities.


“These novel proteins are leaner and have far fewer calories and fat than conventional proteins,” he says. “Food is primarily the biggest culprit when it comes to bringing on the allergies that about 20 percent of dogs and 40 percent of cats suffer from.”


Another feature that appeals to today’s pet parents is that the proteins are sourced from wild or sustainable farms and are raised in a more humane setting that Gruber says is more environmentally friendly than conventional proteins.


Health Extension recently introduced several items into its Grain Free dog food line in recipes such as Buffalo & Whitefish, Buffalo & Whitefish Little Bites and Venison. The foods also have low glycemic ingredients like chickpeas and lentils, which Gruber says help prevent obesity and provide relief from common allergies. “Our recipes meet or exceed AAFCO nutritional guidelines and are balanced for all life stages,” he says. “We also use other novel ingredients like coconut oil, organic apple cider vinegar, turmeric and colostrum to aid digestion, help boost the immune system and reduce shedding while providing a healthier shinier coat.”


Others agree that pet health is an important driver of exotic protein sales, pointing out that variety in a pet’s diet can be key in this regard.


“Consumers seeking to address common health issues exhibited by their pets often purchase exotic proteins as an alternative to the more common sources of protein that are often associated with allergies and digestive sensitivities,” says Matt Koss, owner of Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco. “Also, consumer trends indicate that exotic proteins are being utilized to expand a pet’s protein rotation, which is an elemental aspect of insuring that allergic reactions to particular food sources are mitigated.”


Among Primal Pet Foods’ offerings are Canine and Feline Venison and Rabbit Frozen and Freeze Dried Formulas.


While he says that exotic proteins can alleviate issues such as allergies and digestive problems, Koss notes that the foods cannot solve every health problem.


“While raw food diets in general and exotic protein formulas in particular cases can contribute to improving the health of most companion animals, consumers should always consult a holistic veterinarian when confronted with persistent pet health issues to discuss nutritional options as a solution to their pet’s current health disposition,” he says.


Seafood is another category that offers some exotic protein choices. That includes cod, says Jennifer Adolphe, senior nutritionist at Petcurean, based in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.


“Cod is not a common type of fish in pet food, making it a great exotic protein choice as it provides another possible protein option for pets with food sensitivities,” she says, noting that cod is an excellent source of high quality protein and essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals including phosphorus, niacin and vitamin B-12.


Last year, Petcurean launched Gather pet food, with certified and organic ingredients. The single-source fish protein Petcurean uses in Gather Wild Ocean is fresh line-caught cod from waters off the coast of Alaska.


“We’re proud to say it comes from one of the world’s best managed, most sustainable fisheries,” says Adolphe. “We blend it with krill, peas, lentils, chickpeas and other essential ingredients to provide a hearty, healthy meal for your adult dog.”  PB


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