The Latest Trends in Dog Food

From nutritious ingredients to sustainability to questions about grain-free, consumers are looking for the best products for their pups.




Dogs have to depend on their humans to make the best choices for their health because, well, animals can’t decide for themselves if they want to try the latest high-protein diet or go gluten free. As pet owners take on this responsibility, they are seeking the latest information on what to feed their dogs. They’re seeking high-quality ingredients and new formats, and, after a recent statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they have a couple of questions about grain-free diets.


One of the biggest trends now is transparency, especially as it relates to supply chain management. One of the biggest demands is for clean-reading labels, so pet parents know exactly what’s going in their dog’s food.


“Whether that is a single-source, limited-ingredient diet or a multi protein-source diet, customers are thinking ‘less is more’ when it comes to kibble,” says Dan Schmitz, national sales manager for Tuffy’s Petfood in Perham, Minn.


The company recently introduced Turkey & Rice, Large Breed Trout & Rice, and Large Breed Beef & Rice in its NutriSource lineup, and a Small Bite food in Chicken & Rice. The Pure Vita Lineup includes three Small Bite Foods: a grain inclusive Small Bite Duck & Oatmeal, and two Grain Free Small Bites, Turkey & Sweet Potato,and Salmon & Pea.


Of course, “It’s not enough just to list ingredients anymore,” explains Chris Moore, chief operating officer for Earth Animal. “Consumers want to know, ‘Did that ingredient come from Asia, or did it come from the U.S., and do you know the name of the farm?’”


Moore adds that the transparency trend is closely related to environmental and social responsibility. Consumers are looking for foods that come from animals that were humanely-raised, so Southport, Conn.-based Earth Animal partners with the Global Animal Partnership, an animal welfare food labeling program. The company also works with TerraCycle to set up bins in stores, allowing customers to bring empty bags of any pet foods to recycle, because, according to Moore, most dog food bags are not recycled.


The newest product from Earth Animal is Wisdom, which uses what the company calls high-velocity winds to air dry the food. Wisdom consists of 70 percent protein from humanely-raised animals, 20 percent Dr. Bob’s Vitality Cubes of fruit, vegetables, seeds and sprouts, and 10 percent organic fruit and vegetables.


To keep up with the environmental sustainability trend, Nulo partnered with TerraCycle to create a recycling program for its flexible packaging for its Challenger food line.


“Sourcing ingredients that meet sustainability standards and packaging that can be diverted away from traditional waste streams were key objectives for our super premium line,” says Heather Acuff, product development manager. “Our ingredient suppliers have been invaluable in helping us navigate the organic and sustainable supply stream, and we’re excited to see the positive impact this product line will make.”


Champion Petfoods, based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has its own take on transparency. The company set up a Transparency Council of third-party independent veterinarians and pet lovers.


“Council members have been given full access to our kitchens and supplier network to observe and report on our ingredient sourcing and food preparation methods,” says Don King, vice president of marketing. The reports are viewable online on Champion Petfoods’ website.


King adds that Champion Petfoods has invested heavily in building a regional network of vetted and approved farms, ranches and fisheries that supply the company’s kitchens with the majority of the fresh and raw protein ingredients it requires.


“We continue to maintain some of the pet industry’s highest standards on sustainability practices and food safety,” he says.


Grain-Free vs. the FDA

Grain-free has been dominating the news lately. In June, the FDA issued a statement that it had begun investigating reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods—many labeled as grain-free—in July 2018. The statement noted, “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.” The agency indicated it was still investigating several factors, including whether a lack of taurine in these foods might play a role in DCM.


Dr. Bob Goldstein, veterinarian and co-founder of Earth Animal, says the FDA’s statement was premature.


“I, as a veterinarian, do not agree with what they are saying,” he says. “I don’t think there is any validity to it.”


Earth Animal’s retail store has been fielding questions from worried pet owners. “Our own store is being inundated with calls saying should I switch from grain-free food to non-grain-free,” says Dr. Goldstein. “What we’re saying is, we don’t think there is proof, but if you are concerned, just buy taurine.”


One manufacturer that is including taurine in its ingredient messaging is Nulo Pet Food in Austin, Texas. Nulo is launching two foods that feature a high-meat nutritional platform with ancient grains. Nulo Challenger is positioned as a super-premium line, featuring up to 90 percent animal-based protein from ethically-sourced ingredients, such as pasture-raised lamb from New Zealand, farm-raised guinea fowl and wild-caught Acadian redfish. The organic ancient grains include oats, millet, barley and rye.


“Our labels include a guaranteed level of taurine to address recent pet owner concerns about cardiovascular health in dogs,” says Acuff.


The other new line is Nulo Frontrunner, a value-premium diet for dogs that contains 77 percent animal-based protein and premium ancient grains including oats, barley and quinoa. Nulo Frontrunner has high meat levels, low-glycemic grains and the patented GanedenBC probiotic to support digestive and immune health.


Educating Retailers

As always, the desire for a healthy diet is always trending.


“Today’s pet parents are more concerned than ever in feeding diets reflecting the trends in preventative health for their fur babies,” says Brad Gruber, president and chief operating officer of Health Extension Pet Care in Hauppauge, N.Y.


That concern is driving the growth in foods that answer specific nutritional needs for dogs based on age, breed, size and weight, activity level and indoor or outdoor types as well as allergies and health conditions. Also on-trend are human-grade ingredients, as well as raw and freeze-dried foods designed to reflect what dogs and cats would eat in the wild.


Retailers might look to manufacturers to help them keep up with the various trends and make information easily accessible.


“Manufacturers have to make sure their websites are not only up to date with the most current information, but are interactive and easy enough to navigate so when retailers are searching for information, they can readily find it,” Gruber says. “Some retailers don’t even know what information they are looking for until they begin to navigate through a manufacturer’s site.”


Health Extension helps by offering individualized or group consultation and conducts in-store trainings regularly. The company offers half hour lunch-and-learns and webinars for store staff.


“Role playing is a fun and interactive way to learn,” Gruber says. “Retailers have to be more open to sales trainings offered by distributor and vendor reps about their products.”


For its trade show booth, Champion Petfoods developed an interactive video wall where retailers and distributors can learn about the company’s Biologically Appropriate recipes, how it sources ingredients and product quality and safety. There is also a virtual reality experience that allows retailers to tour the DogStar Kitchen in Kentucky.


“We are seeing more manufacturers use video to tell the story of their ingredient sourcing and food preparation techniques from farm to bowl,” King says. “It helps, we feel, to hear from the actual farmer about their practices and how fresh ingredients are supplied.”


Champion added new flavors to the ACANA Singles line, as well as new line of treats that are recipe matched to the newest Singles dog food flavors, Beef & Pumpkin and Turkey & Greens. Champion also made improvements to the ultra-premium ORIJEN Freeze-Dried products and redesigned the packaging. ORIJEN’s Freeze-Dried line is made with 90 percent quality animal proteins and is formulated with 100 percent raw ingredients and non-GMO fruits and vegetables.


“We believe the trend towards higher-quality pet foods that use human-grade ingredients in preparation will continue to dominate [the growing] segments of the pet food business,” King says. “It’s encouraging to see more pet food suppliers upgrading the quality of ingredients used. The general health and well being of pets will benefit from these improvements.”  PB


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