Humanisation of pet food
Over half of British households own a pet, of which the vast majority are dogs and cats.2 They have become an integral part of our lives and members of the family. As such, the food we give our beloved ‘fur babies’ has become more important, with many owners looking to offer their pets a dish that closely mimics their own. Barbecue chicken and peanut butter snacks have become common flavours on the pet food shelf, while the appearance of pet food is also evolving, moving away from foodstuff that is off-putting to humans.
More recently, the human trend towards healthier eating is creating pet foods that are gluten free, featuring sweet potato or ancient grains and functional ingredients like chia seeds and prebiotics. The quality of the ingredients now holds greater significance, and meat by-products are being replaced by prime cuts of beef and free-range chicken breast. The problem is that this places an even bigger strain on the supply of animal proteins that the growing human population also demands.
With elevated attention on the climate crisis, people are now looking for more sustainable solutions, and the shelf space of meat replacements, like vegetable burgers and soy-based ‘chicken’ nuggets, is steadily growing. This trend will also likely create an expectation from pet owners for similar products for their pets.
The millennial generation represents the largest group of pet owners today, and they value spending their money ethically. In fact, 73 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for products or services that are sustainable or help promote a positive impact on the world – whether it’s for them or their pets.3
Another important group is the vegan and vegetarian population. Half of vegans and a third of vegetarians cite their concerns for the planet as a reason for going plant-based.4 While this group is still small, it is growing and several vegan dog foods have started to emerge. This will be a tough market initially, as many people still believe dogs are totally carnivorous. However, this is a misconception as it is now believed that dogs’ metabolisms have evolved to the point that they can now eat plant-based diets without any issues. This is not true for cats, however, who are obligate carnivores and need meat to thrive. Consequently, an alternative protein diet like insects may well be the best option for owners wanting a plant-based, healthy and sustainable option for their pet.
Insect protein – a planet-friendly alternative
According to the United Nations (UN), the worldwide livestock industry accounts for more than 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.5 What you might not know is that these emissions are generated not only by food production for people, but for our pets too. In fact, dogs and cats eat an incredible 20 percent of all the world’s meat and fish, which puts an additional strain on the sector and increases its impact on climate change.6 Cattle also produce an immense amount of methane, another greenhouse gas, with the average cow expelling around 200 litres per day. In contrast, producing 1kg of insect protein from a popular edible insect requires 92 percent less space, 99 percent less water, and releases 99 percent less carbon than producing the same amount of beef protein.7
And that is not all. The larvae are raised eating fruit and vegetable waste from human food processing that would otherwise end up in landfill. They are truly natural-born recyclers. They require no fertilisers or pesticides and are ethically farmed in a space that closely mimics their natural habitat.
Overall, insects are a far more environmentally friendly protein source than traditional meats, with essentially the same nutritional value. So why have we not all jumped on this wonderful alternative?
One major barrier has been the fact that the use of insects in feed in the European Union (EU) was previously prohibited. Things started to change in 2017 when new EU regulation authorised the use of insect proteins in aquaculture, where the need for an alternative protein source was evident. Aquaculture has been the fastest growing sector in agriculture; however, to grow fish you need lots of fish meal – a nutrient-rich product consisting of by-products of wild-caught fish. This created a high demand for wild fish with which to produce farmed fish, leading to the rapid decline of wild fish stocks.8
With the success in aquaculture, insect protein was approved for pet food next.9 This approval made it possible for startups like Percuro to lead the industry with product innovation that provides both healthy and sustainable meal options for our pets.
Most recently, in May 2021, the European Commission voted in favour of authorising house crickets (Acheta domesticus) and yellow mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) to enter the EU market as an approved novel food for people.10 So healthy and sustainable cricket crunchies and pasta made from mealworm flour are on their way to market!
Healthy protein boost
Insects are packed with healthy proteins. For example, insect protein of the Hermetia illucens (a fly) contains all the essential amino acids at the right level.11 Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and play an important role in the growth and development of our bodies as well as the maintenance of healthy muscle and weight.
A sign of protein quality is the level of digestibility – another field in which insects trump meat, in this case chicken, according to the results of a study conducted by the University of Wageningen.
On top of all these protein benefits, insects are rich in minerals like calcium, iron and zinc and there is no way for them to absorb antibiotic residues, unlike with livestock.
However, despite all these positives, insect-based foods will only be a success if they taste good. I’ve actually nibbled on our insect dog food kibble as well as the oven-baked insect protein snack and found it to be very pleasant, with a nutty, savoury yet sweet flavour.
From ancestral to entovegan
Over the years we have seen several food trends linked to the way our ancestors ate; including raw and minimally processed foods for humans and BARF (bone and raw food) feeding for dogs. This has become a growing trend, with many seeking to incorporate high levels of protein via fresh and freeze-dried meats. But like people, animals have evolved – the little chihuahua is no longer a wolf, and their diets have changed alongside ours.
This has been coupled with an increased awareness about our planet’s health, with climate change requiring us to rethink our eating behaviours.
More and more people are changing their habits. In 2021, about 14 percent of surveyed Brits stated that they follow a flexitarian diet.12 This mindset and willingness to change in order to positively impact our planet is fertile ground for insect-based recipes to start growing. With the recent approval of insects as a novel food, I am sure more new brands in this area will appear on our shelves – not just for pets but for humans too.
About the author
Iwan Tamm is the Chief Marketing Officer of Percuro, a leading insect-protein and plant-based pet food that strives for better health of pets and a more sustainable planet. Iwan has over 20 years of experience in the pet food industry and has lived and worked in the Netherlands, UK, US, Japan, Czech Republic and Switzerland to better understand and meet the needs of a growing global pet population.
- Edible insects. Future prospects for food and feed security. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2013. https://www.fao.org/3/i3253e/i3253e.pdf
- Characteristics Of Millennials That Support Sustainable Development Goals, Forbes June 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/margueritacheng/2019/06/19/8-characteristics-of-millennials-that-support-sustainable-development-goals-sdgs/
- Meet Britain’s vegans and vegetarians. YouGov Jan, 2022. https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2022/01/20/meet-britains-vegans-and-vegetarians
- Garnett T. 2009. Livestock-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Impacts and Options for Policy Makers
- Okin GS. 2017. Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats, Plos One. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0181301
- Van Huis A, et al. 2013. Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security, FAO
- Insects as a feed ingredient for fish culture: Status and trends. Aquaculture and Fisheries, Volume 7, Issue 2, March 2022. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468550X21001465
- The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF). https://ipiff.org/insects-eu-legislation/
- Official Journal of the European Union Feb 2022, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32022R0188&from=EN
- Bosch G, et al. 2014. Protein quality of insects as potential ingredients for dog and cat foods, Journal of Nutritional Science https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4473158/