Consumers continue to seek natural foods for their dogs and cats, and manufacturers are developing more offerings in response.
It looks like natural will always be on trend. Pet owners are still seeking natural foods, and they want more variations of these foods for their dogs and cats. Consumers are demanding different features, everything from grain-free to Made in the USA to raw, and manufacturers are responding with more flavors and presentations to satisfy these health-minded shoppers.  

“We see pet owners becoming increasingly educated and making more informed decisions about what ingredients they choose for their pets,” says Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Long Beach, Calif.-based Redbarn. “Our research suggests that choosing natural products with easily understood, whole-food ingredients will continue to be a huge selling point for customers.” 

Cooper says Redbarn has been following the trend of increased humanization in the pet industry, while also listening to consumer feedback. Understanding that pet owners want Made in the USA, natural and grain-free options, in 2015 the company launched two lines—All-Natural, Grain-Free Canned Patès and Stews. The foods contain added functional ingredients to support common canine health issues such as immune support, weight control, and skin and joint health. The Patè line has six formulas and protein choices: Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Ocean Fish, Duck, and Turkey. The Canned Stews are available in five recipes: Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Turkey and Steak and Egg. 

Others agree that grain-free is still an important feature. “The interest in grain-free pet food continues to grow,” says Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing and communications for WellPet. “Additionally, pet parents want to feel confident that the food they are feeding will help contribute to positive health benefits in their pet.” 

Earlier this year the Tewksbury, Ma.-based WellPet launched the Wellness Complete Health Grain Free dry food line for dogs, and is adding three recipes to the line: Puppy Chicken, Chicken Meal & Salmon Meal Recipe, Small Breed Deboned Turkey & Chicken Meal Recipe, and Large Breed Deboned Chicken and Chicken Meal Recipe. Each of these grain-free dry dog food recipes are designed to help support what the company refers to as the five “Signs of Wellness,” which are visible indicators that the pet is at their healthiest—healthy energy levels, soft skin and coat, healthy digestion, strong immune system, and healthy eyes, teeth and gums. 

The company is also adding more grain-free options to its Holistic Select dry dog recipes, including Holistic Select Grain Free Adult Health Large & Giant Breed, and Holistic Select Grain Free Puppy Health.  For cats, the company is expanding the line of Wellness Kittles cat treats by adding Kittles Duck & Cranberries, Whitefish & Cranberries, and Turkey & Cranberries options to the existing Chicken & Cranberries, Tuna & Cranberries, and Salmon & Cranberries recipes. Kittles are made with healthy, natural ingredients and have less than two calories per treat. 

The new products meet pet owners’ demand for quality and ingredients, says Leary-Coutu. “They want to be assured that the recipe they are choosing for their pet is rich in nutrition and includes similar good-for-you ingredients like those that are found in human foods.” 

Human-grade ingredients are another important feature of natural pet foods. Corpus Christi, Texas-based Frenchie’s Kitchen uses USA-sourced, whole-food ingredients.  “This new direction reflects what people are looking for in dog food,” says Sara Kuris-Morgan, founder and CEO. “The same questions they are asking for themselves are the ones they are now asking for their animals.”

Kuris-Morgan notes that the vitamins and minerals in Frenchie’s Kitchen’s fresh cooked, frozen food for dogs come from ingredients such as carrots, which are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, fiber and carotene; green beans, a source of dietary fiber loaded with vitamins and minerals; and spinach, a rich source of iron and extremely rich in antioxidants and other vitamins. 

“There is a reason behind each ingredient included in our recipes,” she says. “Our ingredient deck is clean and simple, easy to understand. There isn’t anything on the ingredient panel that you cannot pronounce and we are very proud of that.” The entrees are hand packed in small batches in a USDA human-food facility. 

Pets are living longer lives, and it is important for them to maintain a high quality of life, says James Chen, brand manager for AvoDerm pet food. With that in mind the Irwindale, Calif.-based AvoDerm, a brand of Central Garden & Pet Company, created the Health Solutions line for dogs. AvoDerm Joint Health formula has high levels of naturally sourced glucosamine and chondroitin available to help dogs maintain healthy joints throughout their lives. AvoDerm Senior Health+ formula has a special blend of natural ingredients to help aging dogs maintain healthy joints, healthy eyes and brains, a healthy immune system, and like all AvoDerm products, healthy skin and coat. 

Chen says the category is still seeing innovation. “The natural pet food category is constantly evolving, but grain free is by far the most important feature consumers are looking for,” he says. “It’s also important to have quality, animal protein as the first ingredient and have no fillers.” He predicts there will be continued innovation on proteins, in their source of origin, form and variety, and more products catering to smaller dogs and cats.  

More grain-free options are also available from Canidae Pet Food, which introduced grain free and potato free formulas and updated recipes in its Under the Sun line for dogs and cats. First introduced in 2015, Under the Sun offers a cost-effective pet food made with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables and a variety of quality single animal protein sources. Under the Sun’s new recipes are formulated with easy digestion in mind for fewer pet sensitivities, and exclude potatoes and pork. 

The new recipes include fruits and vegetables, including pumpkin, carrots, butternut squash, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, apples, blueberries, and herbs. As with all of Canidae’s product lines, Under the Sun does not contain corn, wheat, soy or chicken by-product meal. Under the Sun also added three dry grain-free and potato-free dog formulas to the line and one new dry cat formula. New Under the Sun formulas include: Small Breed, made with a reduced kibble size for smaller breed dogs; Large Breed, formulated for large breed dogs and containing glucosamine and chondroitin;  Whitefish Recipe, a single animal/fish protein option in a new flavor; and Turkey Recipe for Adult Cats, a new flavor option. 

Cats are also getting attention from manufacturers, including Green Bay, Wis.-based Vital Essentials, which this month is launching Vital Cat Entrées. Kevin Malnor, vice president of sales and marketing, says the food will complement Vital Essentials’ seven-SKU Vital Cat Treat line. The raw pet food brand offers a full line for cats, which includes three frozen options and two freeze dried options in four protein sources: Chicken, Turkey, Duck, and Rabbit. Vital Essentials’ Vital Cat line will have 31 SKUs.

Malnor says the most important features in natural pet foods are simplicity, minimal processing, and bio-availability for pets’ digestive systems. “The Vital Essentials diet follows nature’s example with no added fruits or vegetables, just meat, vital organs, and bones,” he says. Vital Cat Entrées are made with fresh, whole, single sourced USDA animal protein and are grain-free and gluten-free. “Vital Essentials’ goal is to fulfill the demand from discerning cat parents for a natural carnivore prey model diet similar to our raw entrées for dogs,” says Malnor. 

The category will continue to grow. “More companies are adjusting their strategies and searching for ways to enter and penetrate the category, thus enabling them to cater to this rapidly growing market,” says Malnor. “Consumers are looking for new choices, more variety and seeking innovative products that are convenient and minimally processed.”

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