It’s a dog’s life: why premium pet food brands need clear ingredient labelling

Clare Daley
April 18, 2022
5 min read
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It’s a dog’s life: why premium pet food brands need clear ingredient labelling

Pets are central to our families.

6 in 10 households have at least one domestic animal, with dogs, cats and rabbits the most popular furry friends. And our love for these creatures runs deep: half of owners admit to loving their pet more than their partner!

Understandably, people want the best for their animals, and this is creating lucrative opportunities for pet food companies. The global pet food ingredients market is set to surpass $20 billion by 2032, as owners are prepared to pay premium prices for premium products. But brands need to prove the quality of their ingredients if they want to build trusted customer relationships.  

Thriving at the top-end of the pet food market means doing more than just meeting animal feed labelling requirements. Companies need to use their packaging to clearly convey their use of high quality ingredients, and the benefits they yield, to give animal lovers the confidence they’re making the best choice for their beloved pets.  

What are the laws on pet food labelling?

Under EU law (which the UK still follows), pet food labelling falls under general animal feed legislation – so the same framework governs dog food and cat food as agricultural food for livestock.

Unlike human food labelling, pet food labels don’t always list every single ingredient. Instead, ingredients can be labelled by category. For example, pet food labels can cite ‘meat and animal derivatives’ to show the product contains animal-based ingredients. Oils and fats can also be labelled by category. Similar guidelines are followed internationally, in markets like the USA.

Behind the label, there are also regulations on the origin of certain ingredients; although many people don’t find this information. For example, pet food manufacturers can utilise animal by-products from human food – like organ meat, which is nutrient rich, but most people don’t find it culturally palatable – provided the animal is in good health.

Are current pet food labelling laws problematic?

There are logical reasons why pet food labelling is broader-brush than human food labelling. Grouping ingredients by category means the packaging doesn’t always need to be updated if the recipe changes – for example, a particular ingredient is not available. Creating room for compliant substitution helps to keep pet food production cost-effective.

It also means that animal feed legislation can be applied across multiple sectors and use cases. There’s no need to create separate policies for different types of pets. And this makes it easier for companies to expand their range into new food types.

However, broad legislation has its drawbacks. Because pet food falls under animal feed guidelines, some end customers have difficulty understanding labelling terminology that is more relevant for farmers. To tackle this, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association has produced fact sheets to help people understand pet food labels.

Equally, owners who are particularly concerned about what they’re feeding their animals can’t always get the ingredient transparency they crave through standard pet food nutrition labels.

There have also been examples of broad categorisation leading to misuse of ingredients. A recent Frontiers in Marine Science study involving pet food companies in Singapore found that a third of all products with fish, white fish or ocean fish on the ingredient label contained DNA from sharks – including endangered shark species.

How are premium pet food brands making labelling more transparent?

To improve ingredient transparency and increase customer trust, some premium pet food brands have decided to go beyond industry requirements – providing more detail on exactly what goes into their products.

Lily’s Kitchen is a good example of this. Company founder, Henrietta Morrison, wanted to create a product with “honest, natural ingredients” when her dog Lily fell ill with sore, itchy skin. Its dog and cat foods are clearly labelled with exactly what meats go into each product, along with a clear list of what herbs and botanicals have been used.

New Zealand brand Nood (which recently made its UK supermarket debut) is another example of a premium pet food developed to provide “good honest nutrition”. In addition to itemised ingredients in full on the label, Nood features images of the core ingredients on its front-of-pack design, plus a percentage breakdown of what its products comprise of.

Nood’s not the only pet food brand using its packaging to make clear statements. Current feed labelling legislation permits companies to make declarations beyond statutory requirements – for example, promoting the protein or fibre content in products. However, these claims must be quantifiable and provable, to make sure customers aren’t being misled.

A good example of clear, compelling product labelling claims is Brilliant Salmon Oil. In addition to being non-GMO and free from additives and antibiotics, the product is made to human grade standards.

What about sustainable pet food?

Another major growth market driving premium pet food sales is sustainable and plant-based living. While some pets naturally eat herbivorous diets, brands are finding ways to tap into rising interest in plant-based products for carnivorous animals like cats and dogs.

One example of this is McKinna Plant Labs , which has developed Noochy Poochy, a vegan dog food containing nutritional yeast that is 28% protein. Being clear about percentages allows customers to compare its products like-for-like with meat and fish-based pet foods.

Vegan cat food is a trickier subject, as cats can’t produce certain proteins themselves – they rely on animal products such as beef, chicken and fish for taurine supplies, for example. Taurine deficiency can result in cats developing a cardiovascular condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is potentially fatal.

To make manufacturing more environmentally friendly, however, some cat food brands are exploring alternative protein sources that can be sustainably produced compared to traditional meats. For example, Lovebug is an insect-based dry cat food, and the brand clearly states how this enhances its eco-credentials: insects take up 80% less land per kilo of protein than beef and can be reared on a diet of surplus fruit and vegetables.

Clear labelling breeds confident customer relationships

As the premium pet food market continues to grow, industry bodies will face new production and packaging regulation challenges. Already, questions are developing around the use of cell-cultured meat in pet food; cellular agriculture investment group Agronomics recently announced the launch of its own dog food brand.

But whether it’s next-generation processes or just using traditional, quality ingredients, clear labelling is essential to helping premium pet food brands grow customer relationships. Transparency and authenticity are key when animal lovers choose what to feed their best friends.

Need help developing your pet food proposition? Hooley Brown supports brands with NPD and creating compliant packaging and labelling. Get in touch to find out more.

This blog post was written in April 2022. Facts were correct at the time of writing.

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