HAMBURG, GERMANY — MicroHarvest, a German biotech startup specializing in alternative protein ingredients, has partnered with VEGDOG, an animal-free pet food producer, to develop a microbial protein dog treat. According to the companies, the treat represents the “first of its kind” for the dog food market in Europe.

Founded in 2016, VEGDOG specializes in vegan, gluten-free, complete-and-balanced dog nutrition. The company has been focused on using plant-based and alternative proteins in its products to provide high protein, as well as support sustainability.

“Our goal at VEGDOG is to show dog owners that they do not have to rely on meat-based products to feed their pets,” said Tessa Zaune-Figlar, founder and chief executive officer of VEGDOG. “With this modern approach and our high-quality, healthy and tasty products, we have been able to pioneer a new market. By collaborating with our partner MicroHarvest, we are opening a new chapter and bringing to market a promising snack that demonstrates our ability to innovate.”

Founded in April 2021, MicroHarvest leverages microbial fermentation to transform agricultural byproducts into high-quality protein in just 24 hours. The company’s protein ingredients can be used for pet foods and treats, aquaculture feed and human food.

Dubbed VEGDOG Pure Bites Snack, the new dog treats pair microbial protein from MicroHarvest with potato and apple pomace ingredients, creating a hypoallergenic treat. According to VEGDOG, the treat is particularly suitable for dogs with sensitivities to conventional protein sources. Additionally, due to the microbial protein, the treat touts high palatability and digestibility in canines.

“At VEGDOG, we are constantly searching for innovative protein sources that benefit our dogs as well as our planet,” said Carla Steffen, DVM, head of R&D at VEGDOG. “It is of high importance to us to formulate our products based on scientific evidence. As the microbial protein of MicroHarvest is proven to be highly digestible, palatable and sustainable, it ticks all of these boxes.”

According to MicroHarvest, its protein ingredient offers a significant sustainability edge, similar to the benefits of insect-based proteins and surpassing those of plant-based proteins. The company’s microbial ingredient footprint hovers around 1.4 kgs of CO2 equivalent per kg of product. 

With global protein demand expected to rise 50% by 2050, according to MicroHarvest, more alternatives are needed, especially in the pet food industry. Pet food has been a significant focus for the company. 

The company recently conducted an acceptance study for microbial protein amongst 1,162 dog parents in Germany and the United Kingdom, revealing that 77.2% are willing to purchasing dog treats formulated with microbial proteins, and that 78.4% are willing to buy complete-and-balanced dog food made with the same proteins. 

“Our partnership with VEGDOG, coupled with the results of our consumer research, demonstrates the potential for microbial ingredients like ours to offer competitive protein alternatives to the pet food industry,” said Katelijne Bekers, co-founder of MicroHarvest. “Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for pet food shoppers. Still, there are other purchase drivers to consider, like palatability, digestibility, as well as specific nutritional benefits, like low-fat content; these are all benefits that our protein over-delivers on.”

Other pet food products have used microbial sources, like yeasts and mycelium, as ingredients, but, according to MicroHarvest, its protein is the first to be derived from bacteria that are commonly found in kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut. 

“With increasing pressure on the supply chain of animal-derived protein ingredients, our solution is a great way to differentiate the protein source choice for pet food manufacturers, being both highly reliable and scalable,” Bekers added.

In addition to human acceptance, MicroHarvest also found that dogs showed a 10% higher acceptance rate of the microbial protein treats compared to treats made with poultry-derived ingredients. 

“Testing has confirmed that our protein ingredient has a stable nutritional profile containing all the essential amino acids for dogs,” said Ally Motta, animal nutritionist and application specialist at MicroHarvest. “Furthermore, in a live palatability study, we found that the treats containing our ingredient were enthusiastically accepted by 85% of dogs trialed, while treats containing solely poultry meal had a 75% acceptance rate. This confirms the viability of MicroHarvest protein as a rewarding and nutritious treat for dogs.”

Read more about pet treat products.