Ragnhild Dragøy is our VP of Product and Sustainability, which means she is responsible for identifying and implementing initiatives to improve human and planetary health. The article below is her view on how the pet food industry can change the global food system by switching to innovative and sustainable practices.
There is a general agreement that we need to change the global food systems to meet the need for future food and feed while simultaneously conserving our ability to continue to produce food. Innovation in pet food can be one important piece of that puzzle.
Here are a few ways pet food companies and their customers can change the future of our planet.
Switch to more sustainable practices
The pet food market has grown a lot since the Covid pandemic started and is expected to grow more. This growing market can make an impact on global food systems by switching to more sustainable practices. Cat and dog food dominate the market, and the US, China, Brazil and Europe cover a large portion of the pet food sold worldwide.
According to many recent reports, sustainability in pet food is of rising importance for pet owners. However, trends of making pet food from organic and premium ingredients, having pet food with health claims, and “humanizing” pet food could create a pull in the opposite direction. It will be important to provide consumers with the right tools to make sustainable choices.
Focus on certified ingredients
Our partners and their customers want to know whether our fishing activities impact the ecosystem. For this reason, we make sure that the fishery is exceptionally managed, that we certify our activities, support research, and engage in many voluntary activities to ensure that our fishing does not leave any mark on the ecosystem.
More and more producers focus on certified ingredients, including MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified and others. A variety of stainability certifications are trending, but as of now, many consumers find it confusing to know which certifications are valuable and relevant. I really think it is up to us producers to provide guidance for the end consumer.
Choose sustainably sourced marine ingredients
When it comes to ingredients going into pet food, we see that plants and marine ingredients are trending, which is positive. Production of plants and marine ingredients generally has a lower impact on the environment with less emission and fewer resources required for production compared to meat.
One thing a consumer can be aware of is whether the ingredients are sourced sustainably. For example, when it comes to marine ingredients, wild-caught options can sound beneficial, but they may not necessarily be sustainable, as many fisheries are not well managed. This is something we get a lot of questions about in Aker BioMarine, and therefore we put a lot of effort into ensuring and communicating that the fishery of krill is very well managed.
Move to alternative ingredients
I think the most important move towards more sustainable pet food will be within ingredient sourcing. Food resources will be scarce in the future, therefore, we will need to move away from traditionally produced ingredients to more alternative ingredients.
These can range from bacteria, and yeast to fungus, marine sustainable harvested sources and side streams that are good sources of fats, proteins and healthy ingredients. Several pet food producers have already introduced pet food with alternative proteins, including insects.
"The sustainable pet food of the future must meet the nutritional and health needs of pets."
Reduce the carbon “pawprint”
A lot of innovation goes into production and packaging, and these are very positive trends. The concept of reducing the carbon “pawprint” is seeing increased interest through the use of more sustainable ingredients as well as new, more recycled and less intensive packaging.
Better distribution chains are also getting attention. Biodegradable poop bags are a positive solution to a more sustainable pet industry. We might not have all the answers right now, but an increasing focus on sustainable activities is an important start.
Even if we see all these positive trends toward more sustainable pet food come to fruition, we still have a way to go. Turning the pet food industry into a sustainable one will have a huge impact across the globe, but it will be the responsibility of the producers and the consumers as well as the regulatory bodies and the financial systems.
More sustainable pet food needs regulatory approval, and thus regulation must be adapted to and work closely with the producers.
Novel pet food needs to be digestible and safe to eat and the packaging needs to meet the required functionality as well as provide adequate information. Shifting the industry will require investments, and many financial institutions are incentivized to invest in greener activities.
The EU Green Deal and the taxonomy have become a positive trend too. Consumers will likely have to pay a premium for sustainable pet food, and this shouldn't become a hurdle as long as the producers make it clear why it has such a price.
To sum up, the sustainable pet food of the future must meet the nutritional and health needs of pets. It must be safe, traceable, and have a relevant shelf life. Last, but not least, pet food needs to be tasty and attractive to pets.
By adopting all these innovative changes for sustainable pet food and combining them with good-tasting options, we are checking off all the boxes for a product that will appeal to people, pets and the planet alike.