BY LIZE TT BOND
The canine diet has experienced tremen- dous change during the past 100 years, from table scraps to the burgeoning post-World War II world of mass-produced foods,
where nutritional considerations eventually took a back seat to quickness and convenience—for both humans and pets.
“Grain was initially added to canine diets by
the pet food industry as a filler to decrease cost,”
said Lori Fouts, vice president of sales management for Stewart Pet, a brand of MiracleCorp in
Today, mealtime for four-legged foodies
mirrors the human dining experience as demand for cleaner, more-species-appropriate
nutrition places grain-free foods at the top of
many shopping lists.
“Grain free is popular within the human
market, and because of our parent/child bond
with our pets, we project what we feel is good
for us onto them,” Fouts said.
Today’s consumers are seeking specific attributes in their pet food purchases, said
Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.
“When pet owners spot ‘made in USA,’
‘natural,’ and ‘grain free,’ they respond positively,” Cooper said.
Further, interest is escalating as pet owners witness the benefits of a grain-free diet,
including improved digestibility, healthier
skin and coat, and enhanced energy, said
Pete Brace, vice president of communications
and pet parent relations at Merrick Pet Care in
While the primary desire among pet owners is to enhance the overall health and well-being of their companion animals through a more
nutritionally sound diet, there are other motivating factors to selecting a grain-free option,
said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice
president of sales at Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
“Medical necessity is equally important,”
Pets experiencing food sensitivities or allergies, obesity or digestive issues have had positive results when converting to a grain-free
food, Fouts said.
In response, veterinarians are advising
owners of patients with a suspected allergy issue to try a grain-free diet as the first
step to resolving a wide range of symptoms,
For weight control, the protein increase in
grain-free foods provides a more satisfying
meal, making overeating less likely, Fouts said.
“The portion of the dog population estimated to be overweight is as high as 60 percent, and this has led to growing interest in
low-calorie formulas and raw-food diets,”
For these reasons, the designation “grain
free” denotes high quality for many consum-
ers, said Barry Berman, founder of NexPet, a
co-op for independent retailers, and Grandma
Mae’s Country Naturals, both in New York.
“We are seeing national brands advertising
grain free as synonymous with quality, so the
trend is continuing,” Berman said.
Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey
Pets in Dallas, noted an uptick in demand for
grain-free dog food over the past five years,
adding that she prefers foods formulated using
low-glycemic binders such as peas and lentils.
“Since we encourage rotational feeding, I
also like brands that offer a variety of proteins,”
At Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Wag N’
Wash Natural Food & Bakery, with corporate
and franchise locations in several states, grain-free foods occupy the majority of the product
mix, said co-founder Jef Strauss.
“The lion’s share of what we carry in kib-
ble is grain free, as are all of our raw foods,”
Strauss said. “Consumers are realizing that
even though the grain used in some foods
may be from a wholesome, good source, it’s
not necessarily something that is bioavailable
to companion animals.”
While consumer perception of grain-free
formulas is that of a more healthful diet for
their pets, the term “grain free” does not
always ensure quality, according to Robert
Downey, president of Annamaet Petfoods in
“Because grain-free products tend to be
higher in protein and fat, they are lower in carbohydrates, and many consumers see that as
a positive,” Downey said. “But just like every
category, there are some very good grain-free
products, but also some that are not so good.”
The many health attributes associated with a grain-free diet
translate to increasingly strong consumer demand.
GRAIN-FREE FOOD OPTIONS ABOUND
The many health attributes associated with a change
to a grain-free diet make for strong consumer
demand and, in answer, manufacturers are expanding
Redbarn Pet Products’ recently released Grain-Free Rolled Food is created using fresh, high-quality,
hand-selected ingredients, such as real meat, poultry
and garden-fresh vegetables, said Rashell Cooper,
marketing director for the Long Beach, Calif., company. The rolls can be shredded or grated as a topper
over dry food, or cubed as a treat, pill concealer or
training aid. The product is prepared and packaged
with an oxygen barrier, allowing food to remain fresh
without artificial preservatives or the use of refrigeration until opened, Cooper added.
Stewart Pet’s Raw Naturals Puppy Formula is the
most recent addition to the brand’s lineup of limited-ingredient, grain-free and gluten-free foods.
“Research has shown that a proper diet in the
early stages of life is critical, so we developed our
puppy formula to provide complete and balanced
nutrition for every stage of a youngster’s development,” said Lori Fouts, vice president of sales
management for Stewart Pet, a brand of MiracleCorp in Moraine, Ohio.
The food includes DHA to improve cognitive
learning, calcium to support proper bone development and antioxidants to build a strong immune
system, according to Fouts.
“From birth, being raised on a grain-free diet provides dogs the building blocks to a life of exceptional
health,” Fouts said.
Merrick Pet Care introduced two grain-free
formulas for dogs, Grain Free Real Venison + Chickpeas Recipe and Grain Free Real Rabbit + Chickpeas
Recipe, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for the Amarillo,
Beyond offering exotic proteins, the products are
potato free for those seeking a lower-glycemic option
for their pets, Brace noted.
Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals’ new low-fat,
chicken-free recipe is formulated for dogs that should
avoid chicken for sensitivity or allergy reasons or for
protein rotation, said Barry Berman, founder of NexPet, a co-op for independent retailers, and Grandma
Mae’s Country Naturals, both in New York.
The extremely palatable food features non-GMO,
limited ingredients, he said.
“Pet parents will also appreciate the low-fat formula when feeding their senior dogs, or dogs that may
need to lose or control their weight,” Berman added.
Annamaet Petfood’s Sustain is an ethically formulated sustainably sourced food, said Robert Downey,
president of the Telford, Pa., company. The product is
made with certified sustainable, line-caught Alaskan
cod in an appetizing, grain-free recipe, Downey said.
“The low-fat formula joins a range of non-GMO
dry foods, including limited-ingredient/single-pro-tein formulas in venison and chicken introduced in
2016, with duck and lamb coming out in early 2017,”
Brown rice 19.4%
Plain/white rice 10.1%
Brewers rice 8.4%
OF ALL DOG