Exotic Protein Diets

A well-stocked aisle of exotic protein foods will appeal to consumers who are looking to relieve allergies and introduce some variety into their pet’s diet.




While chicken and beef may be dietary staples, they don’t always offer everything pet owners are looking for. And, depending on where and how those animals were raised, they may not be the healthiest options, either. Enter exotic proteins—designed for pet owners who want to add a little variety to their dog’s diet, these alternative meat sources are ideal for dogs that have sensitive stomachs or suffer from allergies.


“Exotic proteins are highly beneficial,” says Dean Triandafellos, CEO of ROAM, which has offices in New York and New Jersey. “They are leaner proteins than traditional proteins like beef, pork, lamb, etc. Exotic proteins offer a fantastic source of protein at, on average, half the calories of traditional proteins and a fraction of the fat.”


Nutritional benefits aside, exotic protein diets also help break up the regularity of a dog’s diet.


“Pet parents are embracing the idea of rotating protein,” says Emily Warnke, customer service and sales support for Oak Creek, Wis.-based Stella & Chewy’s. She explains that this often consists of pet parents feeding one flavor for two to six weeks, and then switching to a different one for the next two to six. This helps keep protein-based allergies at bay, and even weeds out any potential food allergies.


“Every protein source has a different nutrient profile, so by introducing a new or [exotic] protein to a dog’s diet, you introduce a bit of variety,” explains Michelle Granger, international brand manager for Ziwi USA. “This not only helps ensure a well-rounded diet, but is also beneficial for digestive and gut health.”


Still, there’s a fair amount of hesitation in the exotic proteins aisle.


“Occasionally we will hear from a consumer something like, ‘Why would I give my pet venison? She’d never eat a deer in the wild!’” says Lindsay Meyers, marketing manager for Primal Pet Foods, headquartered in San Francisco. “I think it’s a mistake to think that pets can only eat the meat that they would naturally have access to in the wild.”


Pet parents are also scarred from various food recalls for products that were sourced and made outside of the U.S., meaning some consumers refuse to buy foreign-made items, even if it’s to the detriment of their dog. Retailers should be knowledgeable about where meats are sourced and the companies that make them.


“We source all our products with the utmost care from sustainable sources, without the use of brokers so we know where the ingredients are coming from,” says Neil Thompson, vice president for Valencia, Calif.-based Pets Global. “We perform a multitude of tests on the raw ingredients as well to ensure the highest quality specifications are met.”


The important thing to remind those consumers is just because something’s made outside of the U.S., doesn’t necessarily mean it’s lesser quality. Ziwi is a New Zealand-based company with a U.S. office in Overland Park, Kan., and it uses locally-sourced meat raised on ethical farms in New Zealand.


“Local ingredients do not necessarily equate to higher quality, so taking the time to uncover the details of a product’s ingredients and the sourcing is key,” advises Granger. “Pet guardians that do a bit of research will likely have more confidence and peace of mind with the choice they make for their dog.”


Manufacturers understand the uncertainty pet parents may have to protein that’s sourced outside of the U.S.


“Aversion to imported ingredients comes from fear that those ingredients are inferior or contaminated,” explains Meyers. “For us, the only reason we would import an ingredient is if the quality was superior elsewhere! Regardless of the country of origin, it’s important to know your source and choose a manufacturer you can trust.”


For its part, ROAM, whose offices are in New York and New Jersey, animals that are ethically-raised, land-fed and naturally-culled are “the first boxes we check.” Then, the company looks for the best protein sources from around the globe and in the U.S., whether it’s wild boar and alligator sourced from Louisiana, or ostriches from the Cape of South Africa.


“Think of traditional proteins we know,” says Triandafellos. “Kobe beef is not from here, but it’s recognized as the best beef in the world. There is an incredible global food market available to our pets, and it’s up to the manufacturers of the world to make sure they source and process not based on money, but on quality.”


Retail Support

Given the aversion that may come along with these products, it’s important to ensure that they’re properly marketed and that consumers have all the information they want—or need—at the shelf.


“We support retailers in a multitude of ways: From frequent buyer cards, in-store promotions, event support and just about anything else they need,” explains Thompson.


To make locating these products easier, retailers should create a section dedicated to exotic proteins.


“It also may be smart to group different items together for your customers who may be purchasing these exotic items for specific dietary needs,” advises Meyers.


Even so, there’s still some pet parents who are completely in the dark about the benefits these proteins provide.


“Since many consumers are not yet aware that exotic proteins are available, off shelf displays, highlighted information on the retailer’s website, weekly ads and shelf talkers are all good ways to increase awareness and communicate the benefits,” says Joe Wallington, president and CEO of Jones Natural Chews, based in Rockford, Ill.


Another way retailers can use signage and information about these protein sources is to make an appeal to the eco-friendly consumer.


“Traditional proteins are causing serious stress to our environment,” explains Triandafellos. “By starting to switch to novel proteins, not only can you give your pet a better food, but you can also be environmentally responsible.” PB


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