Alternative proteins – does the pet food industry really need them?

With a growing world population will there be enough proteins to continue providing for pets?

Increasing production

While the global population growth rate is expected to fall from 1.1% to 0.9% by 2027, the world population still continues to grow by 74 million people per year, according to OECD-FAO. As such, to meet a growing society’s ‘hunger’ for meat and fish, production will continue to increase. Fish production will rise from 174 MT to 195 MT (metric tons), with an average growth of 1.1%. However, this growth comes with a heavy dependence on feed production prices needing to remain low in order to continue increasing production. 

Total global livestock production is expected to reach around 366 million tonnes by 2027. This includes ‘fifth-quarter’ materials (skin, bone, hooves, blood, offal, et cetera), equivalent to up to 50% of livestock weight, which is unsuitable for human needs due to regulatory requirements. This ‘fifth-quarter’ however is an important raw material source in pet food.

The fifth-quarter

One logical conclusion is that the global pet food industry has adequate fifth-quarter supplies to satisfy current and future demands for meat in both wet and dry pet food. However, the supply situation faces both internal and external pressures: 

  • premiumisation 
  • humanisation
  • global pet food market development 

External pressures 

  • sustainable nutrition
  • climate change
  • increasing consumer spending power and switch to meat-based proteins
  • development of novel ‘added value’ products, for example bioactives

Uncertainty therefore exists in the future protein supply for pet food. Responsible pet food manufacturers need to be aware of the threat and look at the opportunities offered through sustainable, alternative proteins.

Alternative proteins 

A wide range of stakeholders, including R&D experts, consumers, investors and UN sustainability initiatives, are driving alternative protein development. Whilst diverse in nature – including plant based, algal, bacterial and cultured ‘lab meat’ – they share the common aim of optimising scarce resources like land and water.

While offering many potential advantages, such as sustainability, health and wellbeing benefits, alternative proteins do not appeal to all consumers and pet parents. For some consumers, particularly millennials and Generation Z (born in 1981 onwards), alternative proteins are interesting based on their curiosity to try new things and health and sustainability benefits. 

However, other consumer groups will be more difficult to persuade based on concerns around ‘Frankenstein food’, food safety and acceptability grounds. There is potential for alternative proteins to face similar challenges to the launch of novel foods like sushi in the US in the 1960’s. Being based on ‘raw’ fish presented a major hurdle to sushi commercialisation because of consumer perceptions of food safety and acceptability.

Winning with alternative proteins in pet food

Although entomophagy (eating insects as food) is widespread, notably in South East Asia, academics still hesitate whether insects will be a worldwide solution due to consumer acceptance issues. However, they believe that the key to successful implementations of alternative proteins, like insects, is to focus on the nutritional benefits.

Insects for example deliver a similar nutrient profile to other protein sources in both human and animal diets. They therefore have the potential for successful adoption as a novel, alternative protein source to replace existing protein sources in pet food manufacturing. 

Sustainable manufacturing 

Through updated protein sourcing, manufacturers ensure the nutritional sustainability of pet food, enabling future generations to enjoy pets as companion animals. Further to this, the use of alternative proteins – like insects – opens opportunities for pet food manufacturers to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and is therefore attractive for marketing and corporate social responsibility purposes.


David Primrose

Founder Synergy Food Ingredients
How millennials and pets in cities change the pet industry landscape. Alternative protein development.