Most people rotate the food they eat on a daily basis, multiple times a day. Not only do we need a variety of nutrients that can only be obtained by consuming multiple food groups, changing things up day to day and meal to meal enhances the eating experience. Well, pets are no different; and as the humanization trend continues to gain popularity, pet owners are realizing that pets greatly benefit from variety in their diets. In response, pet food manufacturers are working to provide pets with a wide range of products designed to make our furry friends’ meals more well-balanced and palatable.
"Cats and dogs can benefit from a varied diet just as humans do; a monotonous diet of the exact same food for years on end (especially when it’s severely over-processed, like most conventional kibble and cans) can result in boredom, a higher risk of food allergies and even a less robust microbiome," says Lucy Postins, founder and chief integrity officer of The Honest Kitchen. "Toppers provide a fun and functional way for pet parents to provide some much-needed variety into their pets’ daily meals."
The Honest Kitchen offers toppers that are 100 percent human-grade and come in several varieties. The company’s latest topper, the 99 percent meat topper line, is designed to enhance the total protein and amino acid content of pets’ meals.
One of the great things about pet food mixers and toppers is that they make it relatively easy to deliver that extra boost of nutrition to a pet’s bowl.
"Adding a mixer or topper to your dog’s existing diet is an easy step to take without having to change your entire dog’s diet," says Sue Delegan, co-founder and CEO of Brutus Broth, which offers Beef Bone Broth and Chicken Bone Broth fortified with joint supporting supplements.
"People have used bone broth for thousands of years for the health benefits," says Delegan. "Now, those same benefits are available for their beloved dogs. It helps picky eaters, or those with issues chewing, by softening the kibble and adding a boost of flavor to their daily dish."
Despite the nutritional benefits toppers and mixers can provide, Jilliann Smith, director of communications, Merrick PetCare, stresses that toppers are a supplement to a complete and well-balanced diet. "We see the main purpose of a topper or mixer is to enhance and add variety to the food bowl," she says.
"[Toppers] are not complete meals—and, as a rule, they’re not intended for special dietary needs," adds Duane Johnson, CMO of Sojos Pet Food and Toppers. "That said, toppers like Sojos ProteinPlus offer pet parents a convenient way to explore their pets’ preferences for the tastes and textures of freeze-dried raw—while adding a variety of nutritious proteins, plus select superfoods, to everyday main meals."
While there is a growing selection of products that are specifically marketed as meal supplements, many raw, fresh and freeze-dried foods can also be used as a complement to more traditional diets.
"We love to encourage the use of all our products as ‘toppers,’" says Lindsay Meyers BS CVT, product development and veterinary outreach manager of Primal Pet Foods. Primal offers frozen raw, fresh and freeze-dried products that can be used in combination for any type of feeder, as well as hydration products that can be poured over kibble, canned or raw meals.
Next year, says Meyers, the company will be updating its mix and grind line to make these products more convenient as toppers.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pet food add-ins. Mixers and toppers are available in a variety of options, some of which are specific to the needs of animals or pets.
According to Delegan, because not all mixers and toppers are made for the same purpose, pet parents need to be careful when choosing a supplement for their pet’s diet.
"Many toppers on the market are used as flavor enhancers, but not for added nutritional benefits, like Brutus Broth," she explains. "It is important for consumers to check the labels... there can be many hidden preservatives and artificial ingredients."
Smith agrees that pet parents should make sure they’re aware of what ingredients are in pet food toppers and mixers and says that they should be mindful of how much they are feeding their pets.
"We like to remind pet parents to adjust their kibble servings to take the calories of a topper or mixer into consideration, so they avoid overfeeding their dog or cat," she says.
With this in mind, Merrick offers a calorie counter on its website to help prevent owners from overfeeding their pets. It allows consumers to customize food bowls by combining the company’s wet and dry foods.
Primal Pet Food also offers an online resource to help guide pet parents to the right toppers for their pets. The web-based tool from Primal asks how the owner primarily feeds their pet, offers a recommendation based on the response and explains why it’s beneficial.
At the end of the day, it’s up to pet parents to be informed about their pet’s specific needs to ensure they’re getting the most optimal option for their pet.
"Pet parents must be aware of their particular pet’s nutritional needs and allergies," says Delegan. "Always check the labels to make sure that there aren’t any hidden allergens that a pet may have an adverse reaction to. Some toppers can contain high amounts of sodium."
Delegan recommends that pet parents should consult their vet about any new item introduced into a pet’s diet and to help prevent the pet from experiencing any repercussions.
One way to encourage pet parents to look into toppers is to have them consider their own diets. With 2020’s New Year’s resolutions, pet parents can set health goals for themselves and their pets, considering their personal diet can help put things in perspective when it comes to how it must be for a dog each day.
"We would never eat a 100 percent processed food diet," says Meyers. "Pet parents and retailers often forget that, regardless of quality, kibble foods are very highly processed. Not every pet parent is able to feed a 100 percent raw or fresh food diet, but 100 percent of pet parents should be feeding some!"
Meyers also says that it is important that retailers understand how to address pricing with their customers, especially for frozen and fresh food products.
"Many new-to-frozen consumers are intimidated by the perceived cost of fresh food," says Meyers. "Letting them know that a small bottle of goat milk, broth or an Elixir is under $10 is important!"
Meyers suggests displaying fresh food topper products in a lightened glass freezer, and to keep it, if possible, near the checkout area. That way, employees can conveniently recommend products to customers in the fridge as they check out. Recommendations from pet store associates play a huge role in providing pet parents with any information about these add-on products.
One way to draw customer’s attention is by making sure to have visible signage, so pet parents can see and quickly learn about their benefits. Smith recommends that retailers should always make sure to have toppers displayed alongside kibble, so owners can make the connection between the two products easily.
Postins shares that The Honest Kitchen experienced a "robust" increase in sales across the board when its toppers were placed in the kibble aisle. She attributes this increase to the topper’s ability to act as a "first-taster of the brand."
It’s also important to consider that pet food toppers and mixers can be used in fun, unique ways to make a pet’s meal time more exciting for them, and for their human companions.
"Toppers are not just to ‘top a meal with,’" says Delegan. "Many customers make fun treats and freeze our bone broth to make ‘pupsicles.’ Dog owners also use mixers and toppers in homemade treats and meals — even those who feed raw will use bone broth or other toppers to supplement their pet’s diet."
Customers that take time preparing their pet’s meal with more care, are also spending more time with their pets.
"The human-animal bond is undoubtedly the more important ‘ingredient’ in pet food," says Smith. "Preparing a meal is a great bonding experience with your pet." PB