More and more people are becoming more concerned by the effects of climate change and actively reducing their meat intake – and that of their pets. Alternative proteins for pet food development need to be on the menu too.
The pet food industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions each year than countries like Mozambique and the Philippines. The UK is very much a nation of pet lovers – 51 million furry companions, to be precise. We spend almost £8bn on pet-related products annually too. As people realise the food their pets eat can contribute to their carbon ‘pawprint’, sales of eco-friendly pet food are rising.
How do pet food producers create quality products that are kind to the planet and friendly to the varied nutritional needs of pets? Naturally, the increase in pet ownership around the world is increasing the demand for pet food. For pet food producers, this presents a clear opportunity. Although the food industry, and the pet food sector, in particular, weren’t high on the agenda at COP26, they will have a significant impact on our ability to reduce carbon emissions.
A recent study showed that an area twice the size of the UK is used to produce dry pet food for cats and dogs each year. Pet food is estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production, such as the release of greenhouse gases. Having a pet is equivalent to owning a car in terms of emissions!
Pet humanisation and sustainability
Today, as nearly half of Europeans cut their meat consumption, the market for environmentally friendly alternatives is growing, and vegan pet food brands are increasing in popularity. Driven by eco- and health-conscious trends, pet owners tend to pass their diet and lifestyle habits on to their pets. This has shaped demand for more premium (natural, raw and organic food), sustainable and human-grade ingredients. For pet food developers, matching the needs of the end ‘customer’ remains just as vital.
Eco-friendly but nutritious
Cats are renowned carnivores. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) does not endorse a vegetarian or vegan diet for cats, who need at least 70% meat in their diet from animal-sourced ingredients. However, dogs can meet their nutritional needs through both animal and plant sources. Both species need a healthy intake of protein, but cats have a higher protein requirement than most other domestic animals.
So, how can pet food producers ensure a sustainable plan while still ensuring that our furry friends get all the nutritional goodness they need to play and grow?
Alternative proteins for pet food development
Luckily, there is a wealth of alternative options that are either proven or emerging as sustainable sources of proteins for pets:
Algae, yeasts and fermented proteins
Today, many pet food companies embrace brewer’s yeast, which is a rich source of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and beta-glucans. More importantly, it satisfies nutrition and supports claims of vegan/non-animal and sustainable diets.
Meanwhile, algae are a novel ingredient consisting of up to 60% of protein, presenting a feasible alternative to raw materials derived from ocean fish. Particularly important as, globally, pets consume about 20% of the world’s meat and fish!
Insects are already an emerging trend in sustainable foods for people, and there’s now growing interest in their use as a sustainable source of protein for pets. Crickets, yellow mealworms, black soldier fly (BSF) are among the most popular insects approved for use in pet food. Insects such as BSF are rich in protein, while the well-balanced amino acid profiles of certain insect ingredients are shown to be comparable to meat and fishmeal.
As consumer preference trickles down to pets, another growing trend is cultured meat products. Cultured meat is grown in a lab. It doesn’t require animals to be slaughtered and could help cut the 64 million tons of carbon from producing meat for dog and cat food. While it’s still early days, by 2025, the global market is expected to be worth $206.6 million.
Developing balanced products
The market for pet food is heading in an eco-friendlier direction. According to a new study, pet treats marketed with sustainable claims saw about 70 per cent sales growth from 2015 through 2019. For producers, it’s essential to be clear on the nutritional balance required as early in the development process as possible, so you can identify protein sources and ingredients that can deliver the nutrients pets need, which vary massively, not just by species but even by breed.