Panel discussion on...
Will the petfood production boomerang back to
the sustainable approach it started from?
The commercial petfood trade takes the consumers from feeding their pets with table scraps to feeding them with ready to eat full nutrition food especially developed for their dogs and cats. The first petfood was originally based on by-products and was thereby well ahead of its time in relations to sustainability. The use of especially animal protein by-products reduced the waste from the meat industry while it also suited both the dogs and the cats very well as their 1st choice of protein would often be i.e. offal and rarely be the muscle meat. However, over the last 10 years the pet owners have “evolved” and become pet parents, while their dogs and cats became four-legged family members. As part of this pet humanization, petfood, that is more comparable to the food eaten by the two-legged part of the family entered the market. This means that some of today’s petfood is based on human grade ingredients, competing in the market for human food. The dogs and cats have become our babies and only the best is good enough -but this is judged by human standards so it might be that the pet parent choose a product with chicken breast, even though most cats and dogs would prefer chicken liver over a piece of chicken breast any day…
Sustainability in becoming of increasing focus of the consumer this includes securing sufficient food for the growing global populations so will these consumers be questioning the human grad petfood products? One might think that they will not “compromise” on food for their four-legged babies, but maybe a parallel could be drawn to trends from the two-legged babies. Baby toys developed from being made from wood to being made from plastic. As plastic toys became more popular wooden toys were to some extend being looked down on. However over the recent years this developing has turned, an increasing number of very desirable wooden toys have entered the market -they parents gladly buy them both because it has turned out that plastic toys are not the best solution for the baby’s health but also not good for planet. Could the same be the case for human grade petfood if the pet parents gain a better understanding of the pet’s needs and preferences?
We should not forget that many consumers are accepting by-product based petfood, so there are many such products in the market -so could the pet parents who might be converting from human grade petfood not just convert to these products? Well, in theory yes, but…
The replacement of feeding table scraps to the dogs and cat to feeding commercial petfood initially was focused on Western Europe and the US, therefore these markets also gain the earliest petfood production foothold making many players from these regions dominant players in today’s global petfood market. Many producers are expanding or considering expanding their capacity at their current locations to cater for the increasing demand especially from the export markets.
At the same time these producers are facing challenges in sourcing sufficient animal proteins in their national market as all meat and meat by-products are utilized. Hence new proteins from i.e., insect and algae are becoming increasingly popular. These proteins come with strong sustainability claims as their productions are more CO2 gentle than traditional animal production. But it is important not to forget that though breeding insects is significantly more sustainable it is still additional productions in comparison to using by-products that are already available in the market.
Also If we return to “only the best for my pet” philosophy from above and the judging by human standards, there might be a mind block for some consumers in feeding their pets insects, something that is only commonly used for human consumption in very few countries. So is insect protein a viable larger scale alternative for the producers? Should the producers increase their import of other raw materials to supplement local supplies? -or?
We should not forget that a major part of the petfood from the above producers is exported and arrive in the young petfood markets with many kilometres under its belt, -in some cases the raw material has had a journey of their own before becoming petfood. But are theses kilometres necessary to cater for these markets?
While the exporting countries have a high utilization rate of their meat and meat by-products part of the petfood is exported to the young petfood markets in countries where by-products are often not utilized and even thrown out and put into landfill causing major environmental problems.
There is still much growth to be had in the global petfood market, both in the very young petfood markets but also in markets where petfood has been gaining foothold for the last 15 years -here 50% or more of the pet population might still be feed table scraps. Hence there will be an increasing petfood demand for many years to come and we need to rethink how the petfood trade is able to cater for this growth in a sustainable way. It is necessary that we petfood producer are broadening our geographic outlook on sustainability, so we are not just considering the best solutions that are on our doorstep, and consider the local environment.
- We need to consider the best solutions for catering for all the markets we are active in.
- We need to consider sustainability throughout the whole value chain
- We need to consider the resources that are already available in the global market
- We need to consider not just the local but the global environment.
References and notes
- World Health Organization WHO, Food Safety key facts, Dec. 2022
- European Commission, EU toolbox of good practices, Feb. 2023
- Nature research, Cultivating gourmet meat in the lab, 2023
- Evaluation of the Deliciousness of Meat Alternatives, Shimadzu Corporation, 2023
The Queen of Petfood, CEO & Owner -
Aller Petfood Group
President - EnviroFlight
Business Intelligence Senior Manager - GS1 Italy
Petfood product Manager - Innovafeed
US growth Director - Innovafeed
CEO - Italfeed
Technical Consultant - Pet Food Solutions
Vice President, Quality, Nutrition & Compliance - Primal Pet Foods