Humanization of pets is a major trend driving the pet food market, so pet owners are looking to buy food to suit their tastes, according to Fediaf, the trade body representing the European pet food industry.
Professor Dunn says: “Although traditional dry and wet food continues to dominate the pet food market, non-traditional pet foods, such as raw, freeze-dried, chilled and specialty diets, continue to grow faster than any other sector. On the market” Chan, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Critical Care and Clinical Nutrition at the UK’s Royal Veterinary College.
In some cases, a heavy emphasis is placed on environmental qualifications with a shift from meat products to plant-based or even insect-based products. One company that has seen rapid growth in this field is UK-based Yora Foods, which was officially launched in September 2018. Will Bissett, Managing Director of Yora, had the idea of developing an insect-based dog food six years ago when he worked at Pet’s Corner Ethical pet care retailer. It took time to thoroughly research and test the product. “She had to check boxes for the feed and be beneficial to the dog in terms of digestibility, amino acid profile, and omega-3s.”
They source beetle larvae, also known as black soldier fly, from Protix in the Netherlands – a high-tech farm that produces larvae. Although there are a few similar farms in the UK, they are unable to do so on a large scale, says Bessette.
“Protix feeds the caterpillars with vegetable scraps and sifters the pesticides—and costs a fraction of the resources,” he adds. “We also wanted it to be ethical. The black soldier fly doesn’t have a polished nervous system, but the Dutch farm put them into hibernation before they killed them, so there are no signs of suffering.”
The dog food itself is 40% insect-based, as well as ethically sourced vegetables, and is hypoallergenic, which is one of the driving forces in the pet food market at the moment.
“Initially we made £100 a week, but now it’s £2 million a year.”
Once their research was done, Bessette and co-founder Tom Nisch needed money to implement their idea. Instead of seeking venture capital funding, their president, Dean Richmond, founder of Pet’s Corner, raised the seed money. “We started with a single line of dog food, but are now developing treatments, with wet dog food and cat food in development.”
“At first we made £100 a week but now it’s £2m a year and if we don’t double that every year from now I’d be very upset.”
Their main market is in Europe and the UK, but they have had successes further afield, in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Bessette takes pride in the fact that he tastes all the produce himself – holding firmly to the view that if he doesn’t like it then the animal won’t like it either. “The flavor has to be of the highest quality,” he says. “It’s a mixture of blue cheese and mushrooms,” he adds with a smile.
“The flavor should be of the highest quality. It is a combination of blue cheese and mushrooms.”
Insect-based foods are growing in popularity with other companies entering the market – including the launch of Nestle’s Beyond Nature’s Protein in Switzerland. Bessette isn’t bothered by this—insect-based foods still make up a small percentage of their range, and if there is any interest from a large brand it is an endorsement of the positive benefits of insect-based foods.
France-based Tomojo has also developed an insect-based line of pet food using black soldier flies.
“We initially launched the company with money collected among our friends, family and grants. A year later, we raised 300,000 euros from a holding company in the pet sector,” says Madeleine Morley, one of the founders of the company.
“The outline of insects’ proteins is very similar to that of poultry.”
Their company also produces insect-based food for cats. There have been concerns that insect protein does not contain enough amino acids for a cat diet, but Tomogo says this is not a problem: “The scheme of insect proteins is very similar to poultry proteins: thus the minimal intake of essential amino acids is easy Done. We add taurine to our cat food recipes because it can’t actually be found in insect protein.”
Sales have been strong since I started. In 2019, they sold 11 tons of insect-based pet food. In 2020, they sold more than 60 tons, but Morley explained that business sales had stalled in the pandemic and they struggled to find investors who were willing to support new business. They had to scale back their fundraising ambitions and focus more on their online sales, which have remained steady. They now hope to expand their pet food range to puppies and kittens and will sell their products to a major French retailer next year, having focused so far more on selling directly to vet clinics or via their own website.
Freshly prepared homemade food – which mainly caters to the fine dining needs of pets – is also gaining in popularity. Butternut Box UK uses only high-quality, grain-free ingredients, such as beef flavored with rosemary or cooked with broccoli and sweet potatoes or sustainably caught fish with carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans and crushed lentils. Once it is prepared, it is frozen and then delivered to its customers in insulated boxes. As part of the service, the company asks a few questions about your dog, and then creates a food plan for each week.
It’s a ready-made dog’s answer — but with the benefit of organic and non-allergic credentials. But how well does this effort pay off nutritionally, even for pet owners who make these meals from scratch at home?
“There are no nutritional benefits to homemade diets over commercial or processed foods,” says Professor Chan. Only certain types of meat can be eaten due to food allergies.
Raw meat regimens, such as those offered by companies like Norway-based VOM or the UK’s Nature’s Menu, have been more controversial with various studies warning of the risks that they can contain bacterial pathogens such as salmonella, and even tuberculosis if meat is present. It is not handled properly.
Nature’s Menu says that many nutrients in meat are lost when cooked, and encourages responsible handling of meat to mitigate any risks. Research conducted at the University of Liverpool underscores the need for very careful management of meat in a raw diet: hand hygiene after handling raw meat and thorough disinfection of all contact items is highly recommended in accordance with the normal handling of raw meat in a home kitchen.
Furthermore, it is important to restrict the area where raw meat is fed to avoid the spread of any bacteria present in the home environment and serving as a source of infection.”
This article first appeared in the monthly newsletter Unleashed Pet Tech in association with Purina Accelerator Lab. All content is editorially independent. Sign up for our newsletter here to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the European pet technology industry.