the clean label trend and pet food

Pet Foods Trends

The humanisation and the premiumisation of pet food continue to be major drivers of growth and innovation in the pet food industry. These key trends have led to an explosion of product offerings that largely mirror the trends that dominate human food.

This includes trendy ‘good-for-you’ ingredients, such as blueberries, kale, chia, and pumpkin. Labels touting the claims of “organic”, “free from”, “natural” and “sources of protein” have also percolated down to the pet food chain.  Sources of protein claims accounted for 30% of pet food launches between 2015 to 2016. This was 20% up from the year previously.

pet food clean label

Clean Label Trend

Another key human food trend that has migrated over into the pet food category is “clean”, “clean pet food” and “clean label”. Because pets are now considered by many to be fully fledged family members, pet owners are demanding clear and transparent labelling. Combined with the wake of recent pet food contamination issues, pet owners are keener than ever to know exactly what the food contains, and how it has been prepared.

So, what does “clean label” mean exactly? Unfortunately, there is no legal or regulatory definition. But generally speaking, a clean label refers to a short and easy-to-read ingredients list with recognisable ingredients and products. In addition, “clean label” also refers to the absence of artificial flavours, colours, chemicals and preservatives.

Pet Owners Scrutinising Labels

The clean label trend sees pet owners scrutinising labels to ensure they are feeding their beloved furry family members the most nutritious ingredients possible without any extras that aren’t needed. At the same time, they may demand pet food that is high in vitamins and minerals, rich in protein, organic and gluten-free.

Natural pet foods that contain beneficial ingredients seem to be most desirable. This has resulted in ingredients, such as fruit and vegetables becoming more prevalent in pet foods. At the same time, this has led to a surge in relevant and innovative technologies in manufacturing.

While the gap between the human and pet food market is rapidly shrinking, it’s important to recognise that some human foods are not necessarily healthy for pets. In fact, some foods are even toxic to our dogs and cats. For instance, grapes, raisins and chocolate should be kept away from cats. Equally, avocado, chocolate and certain types of nuts are unsuitable for dogs.

Clean Label Project

So, health-related claims seem to be dominating new pet foods. In the US, 90% of pet food product launches feature health and wellness-related branding, often with multiple claims. But, are these pet food products necessarily safe for your pets?

Jumping on the “clean label” bandwagon is non-profit group The Clean Label Project. Despite the “clean label” tag, the Denver-based group does not appear to have anything to with the “label” at all. Rather, they are focused on bringing more transparency to the food industry. Their listed aim is to educate pet owners, and help them make better choices about the food they are giving their pets.

pet food industry and clean label trend

Some Pet Foods Dangerous

Researchers at the Clean Label Project carried out an extensive study through which they evaluated 900 of the most popular dog and cat food products. Along with evaluating toxins and contaminants, the group also assessed nutritional content and label transparency in an attempt to validate companies’ “high in protein”, “organic”, “source of fibre” and other nutrients marketing claims.

These pet food items were given a rating out of five (1 is worst, 5 is best). Furthermore, the tested pet food products were then all ranked against each other. This is to allow pet owners to easily see how the food they are feeding their furry friends compared to other varieties and brands that have been tested.

According to their findings, some pet foods brands are not only dangerous, but they could be slowly poisoning your cat or dog.

Significant Disconnect Exists

According to the study, some pet food contains lead levels at 16 times the concentration of lead in Michigan, USA’s contaminated drinking water. What’s more, testing also found that arsenic was prevalent in some pet foods. This was 555 times higher than the maximum contaminant level for human drinking water (initiated by The United States Environmental Protection Agency).

Despite there being no actual analytical data provided on the site, researchers from the Clean Label Project revealed that a significant disconnect exists. This is between what pet owners believe they are paying for and the products they actually receive.

In this sense, consumers are buying pet food products based on claims on product labels such as “human-grade”, “organic”, and “highest quality”. However, the Clean Label Project reports that many of these claims aren’t regulated. In addition, they are open to interpretation by consumers and brands. Despite the premium pet owners are often prepared to pay for pet food with these labels, a higher price is not necessarily indicative of purity.

Despite receiving a lot of publicity for these shocking findings, how accurate the Clean Label Project results are remains a big question.

the clean label trend and pet food

What’s This Got to do with HPS?

As the clean label trend accelerates, it’s fundamental that pet food manufacturers understand their products, the ingredients it contains and it’s processing. This is so packaging statements narrowly tailor claims which accurately reflect the product.

HPS works with many of these pet food companies to increase their operational efficiency, improve and automate product transfer, processing and packaging. Our clients include the likes of Mars Petcare, Butchers Petcare, Cambrian Pet Foods and Nestle Purina (read our case studies on pet food manufacture pigging system).

HPS have successfully installed pigging systems in theirs and other processing plants. The wide variety of benefits provided by pigging include increased product yield, waste reduction, improvements in processing speed and the reduction of contamination risks. What’s more, pigging systems are a significant return on investment (ROI), and will likely pay for themselves within twelve months.

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To find out more about what pigging is and how it can improve your operational efficiency, then please get in touch.

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