Natural pet food is more popular than ever, thanks in no small part to the fact that it effectively meets a variety of pet owner demands. Just as consumers are looking for upgraded versions of their own foods, they’re also seeking high-quality food for their pets. These shoppers expect natural foods to have a range of attributes, from less processing to organic ingredients to simply just being healthier. While "natural" has been a buzzword in the pet food industry for awhile now, terms like "air-dried," "raw" and "freeze-dried" have been getting a lot of attention recently.
"Pet parents are demanding higher-quality foods with higher-quality ingredients, and transparency on where the ingredients are coming from," says Dr. Bob Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal with his wife, Susan. "In addition, what we’re seeing is people are convinced that highly-processed foods are not as good as the raw foods."
At the same time, he says, people might wonder whether raw food is safe, making them hesitant to switch from canned and kibble to raw. That reluctance to transition is contributing to the growth of freeze-dried and air-dried food.
"There is this movement towards a happy medium," says Susan Goldstein. "You have enlightened pet parents, and they are looking for fresh, organic foods."
Westport, Conn.-based Earth Animal sources organic produce whenever possible, and has its own manufacturing plant in Maryland.
The company’s new Wisdom line uses high-velocity winds to air-dry the food. The recipes consist of 70 percent humanely-raised chicken, 20 percent proprietary Dr. Bob’s Vitality Cubes—a blend of air-dried fruit, vegetables, seeds and sprouts—and 10 percent organic fruit and vegetables, including blueberries, apples, carrots, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
"Instead of grinding everything together into one kibble, we keep the meat, fruits and vegetables, vitamins and minerals in separate components, and then we mix it," Dr. Bob Goldstein says. "The end result is complete and balanced food."
One way to introduce more natural foods into a pet’s diet is through supplements, toppers and broths.
"Frozen and raw foods used to be left to the fringes," says Lindsay Meyers, marketing manager for Primal Pet Foods, based in San Francisco. "Now with products like goat milk, broth and freeze-dried and frozen raw toppers, a huge segment of otherwise traditional kibble feeders are able to dip their toes into raw and fresh foods by adding a splash or a scoop to meals."
The newest product from Primal Pet Foods is a line of frozen whole food toppers called Primal Edible Elixirs. These functional food products are broth-based and contain 100 percent organic produce. The three varieties include Healthy Green Smoothie (for Immunity Boost) with organic greens, organic chia seeds and a blend of organic medicinal mushrooms; Winter Squash Puree (for Digestive Support), a base of organic butternut squash with organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a probiotic blend; and Omega Mussel Mélange (for Joint Health) with steamed mussels, organic olive oil and turmeric.
As the demand for natural food increases, companies have to get creative with their recipes in order to stay competitive.
"We love cooking with new ingredients proven to help support the health and wellness of our cats and dogs, like chia seeds and fish oils," says Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Long Beach, Calif.-based Redbarn. "But outside of ingredients and cooking temperatures, there’s also a noticeable desire to move away from the ‘one kibble fits all’ approach to home-cooked, raw or customizable meals."
Being that pet owners are likely too busy to cook meals for their pets, they’re looking for food that provides nutrition, is easy to feed and uses responsibly-sourced ingredients.
Redbarn answers these demands through its Chicken Cuts, Beef Cuts and Filets Flaked in Broth (and gravy) for cats. The Chicken Cuts and Beef Cuts are single-protein, U.S.-made, grain-free treats for dogs. Each bag includes 1.5 lbs. of slow-roasted beef or poultry, and contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives. The Filets Flaked in Broth are available in Tuna and Pumpkin, Chicken and Tuna, Tuna and Salmon, Tuna and Turkey, and Salmon and Shrimp.
"Redbarn Filets are for our health-conscious cat parents, fueling cats with high protein, high moisture recipes," says Cooper.
Single-protein recipes have been gaining traction, specifically in the cat food segment. To account for this increased demand, New Zealand-based Ziwi Pets is adding two canned cat foods, Hoki and Mackerel, to its Ziwi peak Wet lineup.
"What we hear from cat parents is they want more single-protein options and more variety," says Mary Helen Horn, president and executive director of Ziwi Pets. "Especially with super premium, pet parents are buying the food because the animals had a health issue or they don’t love to eat their food."
Ziwi Peak Wet Mackerel for Cats contains wild-caught and sustainable blue mackerel, which contains essential omega-3s. Ziwi Peak Wet Hoki Recipe for Cats contains wild-caught and sustainably-certified hoki fish, a rich source of protein featuring white flesh and a delicate texture.
However, high-protein food isn’t just limited to the feline side of the industry.
"The hottest topic today is high-meat products," says Dan Schmitz, national sales manager for KLN Family Brands in Perham, Minn. "More and more pet parents believe all-natural food is the healthy choice, and the confidence level has elevated to a point where responsible pet owners know they are doing the right thing for their dog or cat."
The company’s NutriSource brand is expanding its Grain Free line, Whole Grain line, Small Bites category and can and treat offerings. Overall, Schmitz says the natural food category is growing, as savvy consumers become more selective.
"I feel the future is very bright," he says. "I do feel pet parents need to feel comfortable with the company behind the all-natural food they are feeding."