Accounting for a quarter of total meat production, the environmental impact of pet food is considerable. Sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity, and consumers are choosing accordingly.

UK pet ownership grew to an unprecedented 59% of households in 2020/21, as the pandemic increased the amount of time spent at home. Unsurprisingly, dogs and cats were the most popular household pets, with an estimated 12m dogs and 12m cats in UK households.

As the pet population increased, so has consumer spending on pet food and pet-related products and services. Spending reached almost £8bn in 2020, with veterinary and pet services making up half that figure.

Consumers increasingly aware of the environmental impact of pet food

Owners care about their pets’ health and the effect they and their furry friends are having on the planet. Consumers are scrutinising who they buy from, and many of the current trends such as transparency, sustainability, clean label, novel proteins (including plant-based and insect proteins) are converging.

The environmental impact of pet food includes greenhouse gas emissions of 106m tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and dry food alone requires 49m hectares of agricultural land. Proteins are the biggest concern as the supply chain puts significant strain on ecological and social systems. Sustainable agriculture and the responsible sourcing of products and ingredients must be priorities.

Consumers are looking for companies that offer high-quality food while reducing their impact on the planet – for both human and pet products. Plant-based and alt-protein based pet food businesses are being founded and funded, giving owners better options.

“Pet parents are increasingly demanding natural and sustainable solutions for their companion animals,” says Yannick Riou, president of Kemin Nutrisurance. “This is an exciting step in offering our industry new solutions to address the ever-changing needs of pets and pet parents.”

More sustainable ingredients and processes

Jiminy’s star ingredient is insect protein. It started with roasted and ground crickets and expanded to grubs to the satisfaction of dogs in particular. Using insects means using less land and water and is a great sustainable alternative to standard meats.

Biomega Group has developed technology that generates zero waste in salmon harvesting and processing. Parts that don’t go into the human food chain are used to deliver nutrients, healthy fat and protein to pets.

Bond Pet Foods Inc makes the Protein-Packed Dog Treat Bar comprised of a novel dried yeast protein produced using less land, water and energy than conventional proteins. The company is also working on producing chicken and other traditional meat proteins made through a similar fermentation process – and will be commercially available within the next three years.

Wild Earth uses cultured protein made from human-grade koji and offers oats, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, blueberries, pumpkin and spinach, providing dogs with antioxidants, enzymes, fibres, minerals and vitamins.

Sustainable packaging too

Achieving sustainability also requires a focus on the packaging of pet food. Ensuring that it can be easily recycled is also an essential part of reducing the environmental impact of pet food.

Some of the biggest manufacturers are setting ambitious sustainability goals to make their product packaging more sustainable. However, some materials can be difficult to recycle at the consumer end. What’s more, packaging needs to be robust enough to survive the packing and distribution process. UK plant-based pet food startup The Pack recently launched with primary and secondary packaging that is 100% recyclable.

There is still much work to be done, but consumers (and their pets) are beginning to have genuine options for sustainability. It will continue to be a key trend and, eventually, it will surely be a hygiene factor. Today, though, it helps pet food brands stand out in a crowded market.

If you want to discuss formulating nutritious, sustainable pet foods, contact the Doghop team.