Responding to consumer desires for more well rounded nutrition, an increasing number of manufacturers are adding more fruits and vegetables to their pet foods and treats.
In the 20 years Tammy Isabelle has worked in the pet department of Morristown Agway in Morristown, N.J., she has witnessed lots of changes in both the marketing and ingredient contents of dog and cat food—and how consumers shop for their four-legged friends.
“I go into our Pet Room and I’m constantly seeing bags turned around which is telling me customers are now reading the ingredient panel,” says Isabelle, Pet Room manager of the massive store. She finds that more pets have health issues today, prompting consumers to lean towards limited-ingredient diets—often a mix of multi-proteins plus fruits and vegetables, and even some that are strictly produce-based.
“We’ve had a few people inquire about vegan diets for their dogs because they themselves are vegan,” she says. That prompted her to add Petcurean’s Gather Endless Valley to Morristown Agway’s lineup. “We brought that in because we had requests—not a lot—but we try to have something for everyone.”
Other manufacturers are playing up the packaging to showcase what is inside the bag. “If it has blueberries, it will show that,” Isabelle says. “We also carry N&D (Natural & Delicious) made by Farmina in Italy. They have some really unique vegetables and fruits—like artichokes, broccoli and pomegranate—that they add to their food.”
“The move to include more produce in pet foods is being driven by both consumers and veterinarians,” says Glenn Novotny, president of Emerald Pet, based in Walnut Creek, Calif. “It is due to the benefits we are seeing on the human side. Pumpkin has always been known to settle the stomach. It is a natural ingredient that helps to aid in things like digestion. Sweet potato does that too, while blueberries are high in antioxidants. We are using the benefits that we get from those fruits and vegetables on the human side and applying them to our dogs.”
Dave DeLorenzo, president of Vetscience, the Dallas-based manufacturer of Fruitables brand pet treats, says that long-term trends in pet food follow trends in the human diet. “As humans start to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into their diets and become more keen on that, we see they are readily adopting those types of products for their pets as well—and actively seek them out on store shelves,” he says.
“Retailers should ask themselves everyday if they are a retailer or a healer,” suggests Susan Goldstein, CEO of Earth Animal, a manufacturer of holistic foods, treats, herbal supplements and herbal flea collars, based in Westport, Conn. “It really makes one think that at the end of the day a retailer can close their door and say ‘I really made a difference in the quality of the life of these animals.’ That can be done through vitamins, herbs and diet.”
Among the items Earth Animal offers is a line of oven baked dog treats that includes Pizza Crisps with tomatoes and olive oil, Fairground’s Best with coconut and peanut butter, and Farmer’s Pick with pumpkin and chicken.
“When it comes to pet foods, we are starting to emulate what we do for ourselves,” Goldstein says. “Pet parents are really health-enlightened now. Antioxidants are big right now. And pomegranate juice is hot.”
The Honest Kitchen, Inc., a San Diego-based manufacturer of human-grade foods for dogs and cats made with gently dehydrated ingredients that company officials say leave most of the natural nutrients intact, is another manufacturer that is high on the inclusion of produce.
“We use a wide array of produce from apples and papayas to coconut, parsnips, chard, quinoa, pumpkin and green beans,” says Lucy Postins, founder and chief integrity officer. “Colorful, gently dehydrated veggies and fruits deliver the same health benefits to pets as people; they contain vital phytonutrients that support total health, immunity and a variety of essential functions in the body, such as eye and heart health and cell communication,” she says.
“Our produce is sourced from around the world, but we do not accept any ingredients that have been grown or processed in China.”
Loving Pets Corp., headquartered in Cranberry, N.J., manufactures a line of Puffsters Snack Chips in Apple and Chicken, Banana and Apple, Sweet Potato and Apple, and Cranberry and Apple varieties. Loving Pets also manufactures Barksters, a sweet potato-based line of 100 percent U.S.-made pet treats in chicken, beef and liver varieties.
It’s Purely Natural is another popular line of dog treats from Loving Pets. Two of its offerings have names that sound more at home behind the pastry counter at Starbucks than in the dog treat aisle: Chicken and Brown Rice Biscotti with Sweet Potato Chunks, and Chicken and Brown Rice Biscotti with Whole Cranberries.
Isle of Dogs manufacturers “whole foods” treats and foods for dogs and cats made with very minimally processed proteins containing 90 percent meat, fish or chicken and organ meats.
“Our nutrient-rich line of Isle of Dogs functional baked and soft treats incorporates a variety of produce to help benefit a dog’s overall health,” says John Hart, president of Isle of Dogs, based in Germantown, Wis. “We include apples, as they are easy on sensitive stomachs and are packed with fiber; blueberries, proven to help control dogs’ sugar levels and cardiovascular health; cherries, which are packed with antioxidants and vitamin A, great for vision and skin; sweet potatoes, which boost immune function; and pumpkin, another good source of vitamin A to help fight infection.”
Emerald Pet recently launched a line of Purely Prime all-natural Turkey Sausage and Turkey Bacon treats that contain produce. “One of our recipes has pumpkin and whole chia seeds mixed in with the turkey,” Novotny says. “That helps with digestion. It is a superfood with the chia seeds. We have another one that has carrot and quinoa, which is also high in omegas.”
Emerald Pet also has a line of treats called Duckies that incorporate pumpkin, sweet potato, cranberries and blueberries as key ingredients.
“We use all USA-sourced ingredients,” Novotny says. “That is important to the consumer. They like knowing it is all-natural and a USA ingredient. Locally sourced is not only important from a safety factor, but because it is supporting the American economy,” he says.
Retailers would be wise to tout the health benefits of produce inclusions to shoppers, Hart suggests.
“One good educational idea would be to focus on the low-calorie benefit of most treats containing fruits and vegetables, versus other ingredients” he says. “Not only are fruits and vegetables lower in calories, they provide other health benefits such as [acting as] sources of fiber and vitamins. Some fruits and veggies help support immune health and are considered to be a great source of antioxidant support.”
Postins says, “Retailers can use shelf signage, educational nutrition seminars and displays to help further inform shoppers about the benefits of fruits and vegetables for pets. It’s also essential to have an educated store staff who can competently answer questions.”
“The genesis of Fruitables was actually research into pumpkin as a feed ingredient for pets,” says DeLorenzo. “We found that pumpkin has some very wonderful qualities. First, it is very palatable and has an almost universal acceptance by both dogs and cats. Second, it is very low calorie; and third, it is high fiber. We did a lot of research into that and did some clinical research on weight loss, and decided to incorporate pumpkin into our treats back in 2008. At that point in time there were not a lot of treats with fruits and vegetables in them.”
That is why company officials decided to use pumpkin as the key ingredient, followed by an accent flavor—pumpkin and blueberry, for example.
“The palatability is very good because we used pumpkin and those accent flavors—and the aroma was the killer,” DeLorenzo says. “We basically designed the product for the human sensory experience because they are the ones making the buying decisions.”
DeLorenzo notes that fruits and vegetables are excellent natural sources of different vitamins and minerals, beta-carotene, and antioxidants. And Fruitables’ latest produce-based offering has really taken off—Watermelon Skinny Minis chewy treats.
“We talk to people at trade shows and they tell us ‘I give my dog bananas all the time,’ or ‘I give my dog a slice of apple or a slice of pear.’ So a lot of times pet parents will adopt treats for things they are already feeding. When we launched Watermelon, I can’t tell you how many times people came up to us and said, ‘I give my dog cubes of watermelon and he goes crazy over it!’”
Vetscience officials investigate potential new products based on what is popular in the human diet, DeLorenzo says. “We take our cues from what people are feeding themselves and a lot of times they will feed their pets something and we’ll do research and see if it is safe for animals, if it is something that might be marketable for a pet, and if it fits into the recipe and our brand architecture,” he says.
Fruitables Skinny Minis are also available in Pumpkin Mango, Apple Bacon, Pumpkin Berry, Rotisserie Chicken and Grilled Bison flavors.
Founded by actor Dick Van Patten, Burbank, Calif.-based Natural Balance Pet Foods prides itself on its L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets that incorporate nourishing fruits and vegetables.
Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Platefuls pouched cat food with gravy, for example, counts beets, alfalfa, cranberry, pumpkin, spinach and parsley among its ingredients, while its Delectable Delights Catatouille Cat Stew contains “cut green beans and carrots you can see!” PB