Rice starch – The secret to success in clean label pet foods

The Covid pandemic has impacted many areas of life, even how we relate to our pets. According to recent research, 86% of people have bonded more deeply with their four legged friends and well over a third have seen their anxiety reduced by them in this tough season. As people continue to place a priority on their companion animals, many are wanting to make healthier choices not only for themselves, but for their pets as well.

This is being translated into the types of products and ingredients people want to feed their small animals. Here, Karel Thurman, commercial director BENEO Animal Nutrition, discusses how pet food manufacturers can make the most of the functional and nutritional benefits of rice starch to ensure their products are of the highest quality and have maximum consumer appeal.

It’s all in the label

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The number of consumers who consider their pet a family member is on the rise and 42% of UK pet food buyers now consider their animal a ‘foodie’ . A recent BENEO survey on attitudes towards pet foods in the US, UK, Brazil, Germany and China found that almost three-quarters of dog owners (73%) and 66% of cat owners look at the ingredients list when purchasing a new pet food product. The survey findings also highlighted that three quarters of pet owners are looking for feed products that contain less, or no, ingredients they dislike, such as artificial colours and flavourings, and actively avoid products with fillers, additives or chemical ingredients.

With on-pack information clearly such a key driver of pet food purchasing patterns, BENEO also asked cat and dog owners what else they looked at apart from the ingredients list. 73% of dog owners and 70% of cat owners agreed that brands should make it easier to track the origin of the ingredients used in their pet food, for example through an app.

All things natural

Pet owners want the ingredients in their pet’s food to be natural and healthy, but also understandable and recognisable to them. One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is cleaning up the label on wet pet foods to cater for this growing trend as, traditionally, these contain guar, cassia or xanthan hydrocolloids, carrageenan or locust beans. These additives have been used for many years as a cost-effective way to create the appropriate viscosity in the different types of wet pet food. However, with a rise in demand for natural and recognisable ingredients on-pack, more and more manufacturers are looking to replace these gums with clean label ingredients such as rice starches.

Rice starch in wet pet foods

With approximately 3,310 million kilograms of wet cat and dog pet food currently sold in Europe, creating clean label alternatives of common texturising additives could prove very profitable for manufacturers.

When it comes to veterinary and premium wet pet food products, an ideal clean label alternative to modified starches is rice starch. This is due to the fact that it is a high quality ingredient that is recognised as natural by consumers. More than half of pet owners feel that rice ingredients such as rice protein and rice starch sound natural, and therefore appealing for their pet.

Rice starch also performs exceptionally well from a technical perspective. In trials carried out by BENEO, results have shown that by adding just 3% of BENEO’s native waxy rice starch to a recipe, a similar viscosity is achieved in wet pet food gravies as those containing traditional gums, whilst also catering for clean label demand.

Functionally, rice starch is able to create soft gel structures and creamy textures. BENEO’s portfolio of rice starches is produced from different rice varieties (indica, japonica and waxy), with different ratios of amylose and amylopectin, allowing manufacturers to create a wide range of different textures, from soft gravies to firm jelly-like textures. It also has excellent stability during shelflife and temperature fluctuations (offering freeze-thaw stability) and prevents the syneresis that can occur with other starches. BENEO has even developed a functional native rice starch that is a clean label texturiser and that can withstand harsher pH, temperature or shear conditions. 

Rice starch in pet snacks and treats

Rice starch can be used as a technological aid to optimise the extrusion behaviour in extruded pet snacks and treats, as well as in baked products, such as dog cookies. With its high hot set temperature, the inclusion of rice starch improves the porosity and surface of extruded and baked snacks, allowing for a good bite in the final product. Additionally, rice starch has a neutral taste and colour, with good palatability, so that it won’t influence negatively the organoleptic profile of the pet food product.

Rice starch also carries a range of nutritional benefits, with the most important being highly digestible – compared to gums and modified starches – thanks to its small granule size, and being free of most common allergens. This means it suitable for use in products aimed at young or sensitive pets and in hypoallergenic pet foods. Also, as a pure carbohydrate source, rice starch can be included in conjunction with a single protein source to create complete diets, or as treats for allergic pets.

On-pack labelling

The European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) Code of Good Labelling Practice for Pet Food offers guidance on how to label pet food products for the benefit of pet owners. Key points in the code include permitted claims and the use of consumer-friendly descriptors such as the term “natural”. Although not mandatory, the FEDIAF encourages pet food manufacturers to practice this code alongside European legislation. BENEO’s native regular and functional native rice starches can be labelled ‘natural’ according to the FEDIAF guidelines.

Globally, consumers are increasingly looking for health boosting products due to the pandemic and the same approach is being adopted for their pets. With ‘natural credentials’ so key to many pet owners’ purchasing decisions, rice starch is well placed to help manufacturers looking to remove artificial preservatives and flavourings from their pet food ingredients’ labels and make the most of this growing clean label trend.

BENEO-Animal Nutrition offers a broad range of natural ingredients with nutritional benefits. The product range is comprised of vegetable proteins, digestible carbohydrates and prebiotic chicory root fibres. BENEO-Animal Nutrition extends BENEO´s unique expertise in human food to the world of pet food, livestock feed and aqua feed.

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