This article was published in the March 2024 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our March digital edition.

Despite the wide variety of new pet food formulations available, kibble continues to dominate as the most produced and consumed option. However, it’s important to note that not all kibble is created equal. As consumer preferences and concerns evolve, there’s a clear trend toward functional formulations that provide targeted health benefits. Individualization of diets is also gaining popularity, as well as a focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing.

Additionally, manufacturers are leveraging advanced technology to develop innovative new kibble formulas and enhance safety measures. These emerging trends mark a shift away from traditional, one-size-fits-all kibble options and toward a more personalized, health-conscious, and environmentally friendly approach to pet nutrition.


Functional formulations

As pet owners become increasingly aware of the impact of diet on their pet’s overall health and wellbeing, they are seeking out kibble formulations that offer specific functional benefits. This can include ingredients such as probiotics for digestive health, antioxidants for immune support, and joint supplements for mobility. Manufacturers are responding to this demand by incorporating these ingredients into their recipes, making them more convenient and accessible for pet owners.

“There’s no doubt that new solutions-oriented recipes will continue to emerge that prioritize common issues pet owners deal with,” said Theresa Lantz, MSc, Petcurean.

“More and more, we’re seeing a demand for functional formulations and specialized food options — think supplements, meal toppers, and the ability to ‘build the bowl’ and personalize a pet’s meal with functional ingredients and additional options,” said Theresa Lantz, MSc, companion animal nutritionist, Petcurean, Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. “There’s no doubt that new solutions-oriented recipes will continue to emerge that prioritize common issues pet owners deal with, such as animal protein sensitivities, heart health, anxiety and stress, and breed-specific issues, among other things.”

Petcurean’s Go! Solutions collection is a good example of this trend, with formulations tailored to address specific health concerns such as weight management, digestive support, and skin and coat health. With recipes for both cats and dogs, this range offers a variety of functional options for pet owners to choose from.

“Our Go! Solutions collection is carefully crafted by our team of qualified nutritionists to meet a wide range of specific dietary needs and health conditions, using only premium quality ingredients,” Lantz explained. “These functional recipes are designed for all life stages and support specific needs such as skin and coat health, limited ingredient recipes for food sensitivities, and recipes packed with meat protein for pets with high energy needs. Regardless of which recipe pet parents choose for their pets, all recipes in this collection provide complete and balanced nutrition without any byproduct meals and artificial preservatives — and that don’t compromise on taste.”

Petcurean's Go! Solutions functional dog and cat food portfolio

Petcurean’s Go! Solutions line addresses specific health concerns in dogs and cats including weight management and joint care

| Source: Petcurean

With digestive health high on the list of concerns for pet owners, prebiotics and probiotics are two of the most sought-after functional ingredients in kibble formulations. These beneficial bacteria can help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora and improve digestion, leading to better nutrient absorption and overall health.

“There is much discussion today about the microbiome — and unlocking the secrets of the microbiome and its impact on pet health can help pets live longer, healthier lives. That has led to more demand and interest in probiotics,” said Kurt Venator, DVM, Ph.D., chief veterinary officer for Nestlé Purina, St. Louis, Mo. “As living organisms, probiotics are much more sensitive to typical processing, shipping and storage conditions that can impact their efficacy. That is why kibble continues to be the best application for probiotics due to low moisture.”


Individualization is key

Building on the demand for functional formulations, there’s also a growing trend toward individualized diets for pets. These personalized diets take into account a pet’s unique health needs, age, breed, and other factors that may affect their dietary requirements.

“Individualization of a diet is something pet owners are becoming increasingly more interested in, whether for pet breed, age, medical condition, or other aspects of their pet’s life,” said Todd East, DVM, director of veterinary affairs for Royal Canin, St. Charles, Mo. “Royal Canin has always been at the forefront when it comes to individualization with lines such as our Breed Health Nutrition® diets, therapeutic Multifunction products for pets with multiple medical conditions, and ROYAL CANIN® Individualis™. We have a nutrient-based approach that puts cats and dogs at the center of the innovation process, as they need specific nutrients to sustain their health. Because of this, we research breed-specific traits and combine scientific and nutritional research from our network of experts to create precise nutrition for pets.”

Royal Canin's breed-specific dog food

Royal Canin offers Breed Health Nutrition® diets that deliver nutrients specific to certain breeds of dogs. 

| Source: Royal Canin

Royal Canin’s Individualis exemplifies the trend toward individualized diets. The brand provides tailor-made kibble formulations that cater to the unique characteristics of each pet, taking into account factors like breed, age, and health risks. The process involves a collaborative effort between the pet owner, their veterinarian, and Royal Canin’s team of experts to determine the ideal blend of nutrients for each individual pet. This highly personalized approach is gaining popularity among pet owners who want to ensure their pets receive the best possible nutrition for their unique needs.


Sustainability and ethical sourcing

Aside from functional formulations and individualized diets, another significant trend in pet food is the focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing. As more consumers become environmentally conscious, they are seeking out companies that prioritize sustainable practices in their production processes. This includes using ethically sourced ingredients, reducing waste, and implementing eco-friendly packaging options.

“We are seeing a big shift toward sustainability in every facet of the pet industry, including premium pet food, with one survey showing that more than half of respondents were mindful of sustainability when purchasing pet food,” Lantz said. “At Petcurean, sustainability is a core value, and it informs everything we do from sustainable and ethical ingredient procurement to the packaging we use — we’re making the switch to recyclable packaging by 2025. Regardless of the latest trends, however, our team of expert nutritionists is dedicated to constantly innovating premium pet food options that prioritize optimal health and wellness of our pets.”

“Pet parents are concerned with not only what is in their pets’ food, but also how it was made,” said Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, veterinarian director for “Many owners are purchasing foods from manufacturers that focus on sustainability, eco-friendliness, and energy efficient manufacturing. When possible, many owners prefer food made from locally sourced ingredients.”

Champion Petfoods Butcher's Favorites combines kibble with jerky bits

ACANA Butcher’s Favorites™ combine ACANA kibble with chewy pieces of jerky. 

| Source: Champion Petfoods

When it comes to ingredient sourcing, insect proteins are gaining traction as a sustainable and ethically sourced alternative to traditional animal proteins. Insects require less land, water and feed to produce the same amount of protein as traditional livestock, making them a more environmentally friendly option.

“Our recently launched Go! Solutions Sensitivities Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Insect Recipe was launched to give the increasing number of environmentally conscious pet parents a more sustainable alternative protein option for their pets that has less impact on the environment,” Lantz explained. “Made with black soldier fly larvae, this innovative recipe uses substantially less land, water and resources than traditional livestock. Ultimately, our mission is to help pet parents do the very best they can to keep their precious pets healthy, safe, active and happy, and it’s what drives our innovation and commitment to creating premium quality pet food.”


Technological innovations

Another trend transforming the kibble market is the use of technology to drive innovation and meet the changing demands of consumers. This has led to the development of new processing techniques, packaging solutions, and food safety measures to ensure the highest quality products for pets.

“The industry is becoming more interested in how pet food products are being processed. We’ve seen baked or dehydrated offerings in the kibble aisle in recent years, but these formulas are still exposed to high heat like a traditional extruded kibble,” said Matt Pirz, president, Primal Pet Foods, Fairfield, Calif. “Primal just launched a new product format that is unlike anything on the market today. Kibble in the Raw delivers the benefits of raw nutrition and mimics the feeding experience of kibble. We are putting nearly 13 lbs of raw beef, pork, fish, or chicken into every 9-lb bag of Kibble in the Raw; all the raw meat, fish and poultry is freeze-dried rather than being baked, extruded, dehydrated or exposed to high heat.”

Primal Pet Foods Kibble in the Raw

Primal Pet Foods launched a new product format — Kibble in the Raw — that delivers the nutritional benefits of raw pet food while mimicking the feeding experience of kibble

| Source: Primal Pet Foods

Amber Simpson, quality management specialist at Petcurean, emphasized the company’s comprehensive approach to quality throughout the entire production process. This ensures that every aspect, from ingredient sourcing to final packaging, meets the highest standards of safety and quality.

“Every step in making our kibble — from conceptualization to manufacturing and packaging — is completed under our unwavering commitment to quality,” she said. “Before ingredients enter our manufacturing facilities, they are tested for bacteria, toxins and a nutritional composition. This diligence continues through the production process, with regular and frequent testing and monitoring of in-process and finished product for key quality parameters. A batch of kibble doesn’t leave the facility until it passes our release process and even then, we keep samples of each lot and regularly complete supplementary quality and nutritional testing for our own internal quality program. Petcurean’s high standards for partnership are a reflection of our passion and commitment to putting our pets first in everything we do, and this is just a snapshot of what goes into our kibble production process.”

Champion Petfoods, the makers of ORIJEN and ACANA pet foods, is one company that has consistently focused on enhancing food safety and quality. They achieve this through innovative practices and strict adherence to regulatory standards, setting a high benchmark for the industry.

“Champion Petfoods secured a perfect Safe Quality Food (SQF) score of 100 in both its Kentucky DogStar and Alberta NorthStar kitchens — a nearly unheard-of achievement,” said Ernie Ambrose, vice president of marketing, ORIJEN and ACANA, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “We’re committed to providing safe, high quality, nutritious pet foods and treats to pets around the world, and we aim to exceed the food safety and quality standards of the pet food industry, customer expectations and regulatory requirements.”

As we look to the future, it’s clear that the pet food industry will continue to innovate and evolve with changing consumer demands and technological advancements. Given its popularity, kibble will remain at the forefront of this innovation, with companies finding new ways to enhance important aspects like nutrition, sustainability and safety.

Read more about product development, ingredients and formulation.