New product developments in pet foods with the use of functional fiber products are showing continuous growth across the globe, and the nutritional and technical benefits of specific fiber ingredients continue to gain more and more attention by the pet food industry. The better understanding about the functionalities of different fiber types are often key to successful product developments that go beyond traditional applications such as pure fiber enrichment in dry foods.
Texture and uniformity of pet foods are key quality attributes that are important to appeal both pet owners and their furry friends. Given the variable nature of pet food ingredients and the complexity of the manufacturing process, creating the right consistency can be a challenge for the manufacturer. From a functional standpoint a novel type of fiber based on long cellulose particles is gaining enormous traction in various types of “grain free” recipes with higher meat inclusion.
In extruded and baked applications the long and fibrillated fibers help to improve binding of ingredients and to add a particular firm texture in the final product. Thereby only small amounts of the fiber also prove to shorten drying time. Long cellulose fibers tend to keep the surface of the extruded product open and support moisture evaporation.
In wet pet foods the long and thin cellulose particle enhances texture in meat chunks and reduces syneresis because of the high water retention and emulsion capabilities of the fiber. During retorting the fiber network helps to maintain the shape of the chunk and prevents unpleasant cook-out effects into the gravy. Additional cost saving effects can be achieved through the replacement of more expensive binder sources when reformulating lower-cost pet foods with cellulose fiber.
In recent years there has been rapid growth with smaller pet food segments like raw/frozen foods and meal toppers. These product categories allow pet parents to put their own touch on mealtimes. However, unlike more traditional formats like dry and wet foods, the category of pre-prepared complete raw foods is still more a niche segment because handling and preparation time of frozen foods does not provide the same level of convenience as opening a bag or a tin. In frozen foods, for example, the issue of syneresis is still very common. This means if pet owners are defrosting such foods prior to feeding, the molded products start loosing their shape and most of the liquids like water and blood start to leak out which does not look attractive to the pet owner. To overcome such issues, cellulose gels that are designed for human food applications such as ice cream or beverages, are used today also in fresh and frozen foods. Existing frozen food lines were redesigned with these easy dispersible cellulose gels to offer more convenience for pet owners. Cellulose gels are typically made by the process of copolymerization with Microcrystalline cellulose and other gums to create unique properties that are usually not found in conventional fiber gums. The fiber exhibits strong gel thickening behavior while having a good suspension ability, but also functions as emulsifier, fat and water binder.
Beyond fresh and frozen pet foods, the segment of toppings, gravies and mix-ins is another emerging product category where manufacturers and pet owners can benefit from the strong stabilizing system of a fiber gel. Special vet-broth formulas, for example, are today supplemented with fiber gels to create a strong viscous emulsion when the powdered blend is mixed with water to support pets that need additional hydration. The unique film forming properties of the fiber gel are also helping to preserve freshness of dry foods once the meal topper is served as a supplement by the pet owner. Because of the fat-like characteristics, cellulose gels are creating a more creamy texture of the final product that can increase appetite appeal for picky eaters.
Cat and dog food products are more sophisticated than ever and reflect many of the trends that are seen in food products for humans. Foods that come in different flavors, textures and shapes, claim to help maintain active lifestyles, and address specific health needs by the use of unique, marketable and functional ingredients. The downside of many nutritional and sometimes very costly ingredients is that they may potentially improve the quality of life for pets, but they are not visible to grab the attention of impulse buyers that are willing to spoil their pets with special treats and foods. So developing innovative marketing concepts with appealing ingredients is still a major challenge for the pet food industry.
Microbeads made from natural and biodegradable cellulose fiber ingredients are a new concept creating an exciting innovation platform for the pet food industry from which to launch more complete solutions in dental foods. Although initially developed as cleansing and polishing ingredients in all type of personal care products for humans, the fiber pearls are today used in pet food formulations that target the oral care claim. The cellulose microbeads are compressed by an intense mechanical process to create round shaped pearls with a size of up to 1mm. These co-processed fiber pearls resist impact by heat and moisture and survive even harsh manufacturing processes such extrusion, tableting or retorting. This guarantees good visibility in the final product. Due to this unique characteristic the pet food industry is using these ingredients as abrasive agents for enhanced dental foods and to make oral care products looking more appealing to the consumers.
As pet owners increasingly look for clean label, sustainable and natural products finding the right fiber ingredient is more important than ever. More recently, plant-derived co-products of the human food chain became a ripe source of innovation for fiber ingredients. Fibers made of local sourced apples, for example, are becoming a preferred choice in a variety of pet foods and treats because of its unique composition of insoluble and soluble fibers, as well as pectin. Apple fiber is typically made of upcycled pomace procured from juicing companies. From a functional standpoint, the pectin content helps bind moisture and oil in pet foods and treats to enhance processability, moistness and final texture. In semimoist foods it may even replace chemical emulsifiers and moisture-binding agents. On top of it, this type of fiber delivers nutritional benefits due to prebiotic effects and provides also a positive sustainability story for brands.
Latest developments in the field of fiber ingredients provide plenty of new opportunities for innovation. As pet food product developers brainstorm the next big chewy dog treat or nutritionally complete cat food, they may want to consider some of the suggestions that offer ways to differentiate products and break into untapped areas in the pet food industry.