How can we innovate in the pet food industry?
Innovation is usually associated with the idea of progress and searching for new methods, starting from the knowledge that precedes it, in order to improve something that already exists, solve a problem or facilitate an activity.
According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE, for its acronym in Spanish), the word innovation refers to the creation or modification of a product and its introduction to the market.
Nowadays, there are a lot of pet food brands striving to attract consumers to buy their 'innovative' foods. Looking at this effort to attract pet owners' attention, we find products with characteristics such as: grain-free, breed-specific, healthy properties, original diets, exotic ingredients, fresh ingredients, and the like.
To develop an innovative product, it is necessary to define the category and the coverage, know the latest market launches (graph 1) and investigate the consumer.
Graph 1. Main global health claims by region (% of launches) (last 12 months, ending 3Q2021)
If we see the graph to analyze the declarations shown in the products launched to the market in a year, we observe that two categories stand out: clean labeling, a trend of human consumption, and the health issue, which is worth mentioning the importance of protein content, as well as its source.
When we investigate the consumer, we should ask ourselves: what is the pet parent looking for in the purchase? Market releases largely answer this question, but my answer would be: pet performance! Pet performance should be seen by their parents with a naked eye, which means: the pet enjoys the food (palatability), looks healthy (hair and feces quality), understands the commands of their parents (improved cognition), is always alert to interact (energetically), and last but not least, their see the pet happy!
In many cases, innovation is strongly linked to creativity, discovery, and invention. Therefore, a creative process is necessary to make changes that involve introducing something new.
Pet food innovation can range from modern packaging, either to maintain a nutritional value or improve sustainability, which can contain: high-quality ingredients (human-grade), superior shapes and textures (state-of-the-art manufacturing processes), connection with the pet owner (breed, age, health benefits, simple and clear information), meet a pet need (nursing homes, active dogs), special ingredients (protein source, probiotics, prebiotics, organic minerals), and the like.
One way to innovate is by optimizing nutrients to provide an extra nutritional value beyond the basics. We should remember that pet performance is achieved when they have nutritional precision, which is achievable with the use not only of correct nutrient levels but with high-quality raw material sources selection. This makes food more digestible, more bioavailable, safer, and, above all, guarantees that the nutrient reaches the pet's mouth in the precise amount.
Saying "vitamins and minerals" requires us to take care of micronutrient sources to ensure that a portion of food contributes to what a pet needs. There are commercial presentations of vitamins in crystals, spray-drying, microspheres, cross-linked or armored, and each of the above has different stability and bioavailability. Making a good choice will allow us to guarantee that statement. On the other hand, there are also different trace minerals sources. They range from inorganic minerals (sulfates or oxides, which have a high reactive power due to their high solubility, and therefore, are capable of binding or degrading other nutrients in the diet) to organic minerals or hydroxy-minerals sources that are more bioavailable, less reactive and that favor food consumption.
In the quest to provide better pet health, science-based ingredients must be used to guarantee the performance that the pet parent is looking for. For example, when talking about strengthening the defenses of the dog or cat, one way is to support the immune system through the correct contribution or combination of biological antioxidants to the dog or cat's body, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, polyphenols, etc. Another way to stimulate the immune system is through polysaccharides consumption, such as beta-glucans that will help activate macrophage receptors.
When we affirm skin health, we are offering external health, which is a sign of integral health indirectly, since any pet owner will observe it with a naked eye, not only for the love of their pet but because they will show a healthy coat (shiny and strong hair). In this case, there are different tools or strategies to achieve optimal skin and coat quality, as well as the use of adequate vitamin H (biotin) levels beyond nutritional needs, the inclusion of highly bioavailable sources of trace minerals such as zinc, copper, or manganese, or working with adequate levels and reliable sources of DHA-omega-3, whether of animal (fish) or plant (seaweed) origin.
One statement well associated with pets' integral health is nutritional value focused on joint health. In this category, some ingredients have a certain chondroprotective function and, in addition, can offer an anti-inflammatory benefit to the joints, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, type I and type II collagen, DHA-omega-3 or egg hyperimmune proteins.
To conclude, we can say that innovation is making great use of creativity, which means that we do not need a new process or ingredient, but what we already have correctly, efficiently, and always with the evidence that it will work for the pets benefit, and most of all, fulfilling the declaration that the pet parent is looking for.
Fuente: Armando Luis Enriquez