Clean eating or eating clean refers to a diet where one consumes foods in its whole and natural state, avoiding refined sugars and processed foods in a bid to become healthier overall. Some versions of the diet encourage the omission of dairy, gluten and grains or even promote the consumption of raw foods. Part of the influence behind the diet is to eat like our ancestors would before fast and modern life took over and it is followed by many celebrities and health enthusiasts. As with many current pet trends and due to the fact pets are more highly esteemed in the opinions of their owners, it is no surprise that the desire to have a clean diet is one that pet parents want for their companions.
Responding to that demand from consumers, Mars Petcare announced it had launched a new ‘clean eating’ pet food brand Nutro with a “clean feed” philosophy in September. The idea of giving pets a clean diet is not new, but branding a pet food range as such is not so commonly seen as the term is usually reserved for people and the foods they eat and the diets they follow.
What is clean pet food?
In basic terms, clean pet food can be described as food which is simple, with no additives or unnecessary ingredients. Romain Dumas, European natural GM of Mars Petcare says the company conducted research into the clean eating trend and found that not only was it growing but 52 percent of consumers believed food with fewer ingredients was healthier. He adds: “If I look at our data, clean eating will drive two thirds of the UK pet care sector by 2020 – by 2020 the value of natural brands could increase by £300m.”
He points out that within the cat and dog food sectors in particular, there has been “dynamic growth within specialist products” especially those which promise to provide health and lifestyle benefits. He says: “We see that they are ready to pay for a premium for quality for both themselves and their pets. That’s why we see such a trend and why we have decided to promote it in this way and to launch in that area.”
As what for ‘clean eating’ means to a pet owner when choosing a pet food, Dumas says it is about “being simple, purposeful and trustworthy”, which is the ethos the Nutro range tries to embody. This is echoed by numerous pet food brands as Chris Lock, managing director of Lily’s Kitchen says an “ingredients list [should be] recognisable and the benefits clear”, while Freshpet’s director of marketing and head of e-commerce Jake Trainor believes it represents food “at its most natural state”.
Which came first, the human or the dog?
When it comes to clean eating, it is at times difficult to know where the human influence begins and the pet one ends. Unlike the trend of humanisation which was explored in August’s issue of Pet Gazette and assumes that the human lifestyle is imposed on pets and reflected in what consumers want for their companions, with clean eating some believe the concept that a pet only needs the raw, stripped basics has led humans to follow suit and believe that’s all they need too. Deborah Burrows, managing director of The Healthy Pet Food Store, Hampshire which promises to offer “healthy, natural and eco-friendly products” and sells its own range of raw pet food, says she’s noticed a low carbohydrate trend among consumers. “Dogs and cats don’t need carbohydrates in their diets, they have protein-based diets. What’s happened now is that humans are realising, ‘maybe I don’t need that many carbohydrates either’.” She continues: “People are cutting them out as well for weight loss, so it’s the reverse of what you would expect.” As a result, similarly to humanisation, we have households where the humans and pets both eat diets while not necessarily similar in components and ingredients but mirrored in attitude and approach. Lock adds: “We’ve seen natural foods grow in the human food industry and us two legged consumers are now asking the important questions of our food to ensure we’re looking after ourselves and the planet.” Guy Blaskey, founder of Pooch and Mutt, a brand which says it creates “health food for dogs” says premiumisation is also a major factor in the popularity of clean diets as consumers seek a higher class of product in all areas. “You can see across all sectors whether it’s people going from Schweppes to Fever Tree, Heineken to Brewdog, Cadburys to Green and Black.”
However during the research into clean eating, Mars Petcare found it was a trend which began with people and trickled its way into the pet trade. Dumas says: “What we have seen is that pet owners really are choosing foods that mirrors their own desires for natural foods. Nutro approaches this challenge with those three elements which are simplicity, purposeful and trustworthy ingredients.”
Keeping it simple
Clean eating and simplicity are practically synonymous as foods which aren’t processed, don’t have filler ingredients or preservatives tend to be ‘clean’ by their very nature. Trainor comments: “Pet parents want simplicity and transparency in their products, as we do with our own food.” Freshpet recently released an ad campaign where a chef served people the company’s pet food, in an effort to show how trustworthy, clean and safe its product was. Trainor says the company’s food has no “preservatives, meat powders or fillers, or crazy ingredients” people can’t pronounce before adding: “We are so confident in the quality of our dog food that we thought people would even enjoy it.” Burrows adds to this saying all customers want is “clarity of ingredients”.
Eating for health
“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food,” says Blaskey, quoting Greek physician Hippocrates, adding: “The best way to treat disease is to not get disease and one of the key causes is bad diet.” The pet owner consumer pool is diverse, with some even going as far as to choose not to vaccinate their furry and feathered companions, a sect of the market which was examined in March’s issue. While these fears and beliefs aren’t too common and its basis unfounded, minimising the probability of illness and consequently the need vet appointments through food and holistic means is a method all pet businesses are beginning to take note of. Trainor says: “Treating pets like one of the family continues to be a trend which is leading pet owners to increasingly prioritise their pets’ health.”
As clean eating focuses on keeping things natural and simple, it is easier for owners not only to understand the ingredients list but to check each one and look into its benefits for their pet. Dumas says: “It’s really concentrated on the simplicity, we can say that every ingredient has a purpose.”
Although it is agreed that pet owners are willing to pay more for premium, high quality ingredients, it is noted that this isn’t necessary to follow the clean eating trend. Speaking on her store’s own brand range of raw food, Burrows says: “I don’t think in raw people are looking for premium because the whole essence of raw is simplicity.” This sentiment is echoed by Blaskey who adds: “It depends what you call premium. For us it’s good quality ingredients, That doesn’t mean it’s caviar – it can be chicken but it’s not made with animal derivatives; when we say chicken it’s chicken.”
Mars Petcare has attempted to offer this with its Nutro Wild Frontier range, which boasts a “high level of ingredients” and is made with “70 percent of ingredients from animal sources which is high in protein and grain-free”. It has also made the effort to make sure its supply chain remains as ‘clean’ as its brand promises to be, with trusted suppliers and sources.
The clean eating trend – which is arguably a fragment of humanisation and premiumisation – is well meaning; owners are prioritising their pets’ health and going for products which include wholesome, natural ingredients with no filler components. No matter which way brands in the trade choose to market themselves, it’s clear that consumers are putting their money where their mouths are, looking beyond the taglines, reading the ingredients list and choosing what is right for their companions. As Dumas concludes: “We aim for all our pet food to be well balanced and nutritional.”
This feature first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Pet Gazette