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

Nearly 90 years have passed since Mars, Incorporated, a family-owned, privately held and century-old business with global headquarters in McLean, Va., entered the pet nutrition industry. Much has changed in the world over the last nine decades, but for London-based Mars Pet Nutrition, a division of the Mars Petcare segment, the goal has always been high-quality, science-backed nutritional nourishment.

Mars acquired its first pet care brand, CHAPPIE canned dog food, from UK-based Chappell Brothers, Ltd. in 1935. Just a few years later in 1939, the company entered the cat food space with the acquisition of KITEKAT. Both brands remain among the company’s now-teeming portfolio to this day.

“Since we entered the pet food market in 1935, our Mars Pet Nutrition business has been powered by science and innovation to ensure we’re meeting today’s pet parents with the best food options for their pets,” said Elise Malandain, Ph.D., vice president of research and development, Mars Pet Nutrition.

Mars Pet Nutrition's SHEBA brand

The Mars Pet Nutrition family of brands reflects a variety of pet owner preferences, price points and nutritional philosophies for dogs and cats, as well as horses and fish. 

Source: The SHEBA brand

Today, Mars Pet Nutrition reaches over 400 million pet parents and is made up of more than 50 brands spanning nutrition, health and services for companion animals — mainly dogs and cats, but also for fish and horses. In other words, this company is no one-trick pony when it comes to providing pet care solutions.


Innovation through the ages

PEDIGREE, WHISKAS, SHEBA, CESAR and IAMS are among Mars Pet Nutrition’s most well-known dog and cat nutrition brands, alongside treat brands GREENIES and TEMPTATIONS. The company also owns Royal Canin, a solution-based pet food brand focused on therapeutic veterinary diets targeting specific health concerns in pets, and the Eukanuba brand, which delivers performance nutrition for highly active and working dogs.

This stacked cast of flagship brands is complemented by a collection of newer names under the Mars Pet Nutrition umbrella, some of which originated within the company and others strategically acquired.

In early 2022, the company acquired direct-to-consumer pet food brand Nom Nom Now, adding fresh nutrition to its offerings. Later that same year, Mars acquired Champion Petfoods and its two premium, biologically appropriate dog and cat food brands, ORIJEN and ACANA.

“We invest heavily in our research and development to have options that support different formats, pack types and formulations based on the changing needs of pets,” Malandain said. “We’re proud to have many ‘firsts’ within the category with innovations like dog dental sticks and pill pockets.”

Each Mars Pet Nutrition brand has its own unique look and feel, but science-backed nutrition is always on the menu

Each Mars Pet Nutrition brand has its own unique look and feel, but science-backed nutrition is always on the menu. 

Source: The TEMPTATIONS brand

With these industry firsts have come opportunities to innovate further, including expanding existing brands to encompass new areas of pet health and wellness that consumers are craving. For example, the GREENIES brand started with a focus on dental dog treats but has since evolved to include supplements for dogs in late 2021, as well as complete-and-balanced dog food formulas and meal toppers in early 2024. The TEMPTATIONS cat treat brand began offering complete-and-balanced diets for cats in the spring of 2023, the SHEBA brand recently added kitten formulas to its mix, and CESAR products continue to evolve to reflect a growing small dog population and active pet owner lifestyles.

As a global company, Mars Pet Nutrition makes it its business to support the industry at large, as well as ensure consumers are equipped with the information they need to feed their pets with confidence. These efforts include supporting the establishment of consistent regulatory and marketing standards in developing markets.

“In developed markets, there are usually regulations and legal controls in place to ensure these standards are applied,” Malandain explained. “But in an emerging market, where controls and standards may not be fully formed and knowledge of pet food specificities may be lacking, we must support the development of consistent quality and food safety, nutritional and labelling standards for pet food across the globe.”


Science-backed nutrition

Supporting the company’s innovation in the areas of pet nutrition and health is the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, a research hub dedicated to advancing the understanding of pet behavior, health and genetics. For the last 60 years, veterinarians and scientists at Waltham have worked in tandem on timely research topics impacting pet health. Today, these initiatives include new methods of disease prediction and prevention, determining contributing factors for healthy weight maintenance, and studying the human-animal bond.

Mars Pet Nutrition's TEMPTATIONS brand

The TEMPTATIONS cat treat brand is one way Mars Pet Nutrition seeks to enhance the human-pet bond by pairing science-backed nutrition with fun and flavorful treating occasions.

Source: Mars Pet Nutrition

Waltham is able to leverage biological samples from thousands of pets through its MARS PETCARE BIOBANK project, which seeks to identify health, lifestyle, behavior and genetic markers linked to disease. The end goal of this project is to individualize care for diseased pets, or those predisposed to certain diseases, according to Malandain.

Additionally, healthy weight maintenance findings by Waltham are being used to reformulate across the Mars Pet Nutrition portfolio and re-educate consumers on feeding guidelines.

On the human-animal bond front, a recent study supported by Waltham found that pet ownership supports cognitive health in aging people. Results showed cat and dog owners had better short-term memory recall compared to non-pet owners. In addition, dog owners who regularly walked their dogs experienced slower cognitive deterioration compared to dog owners who did not walk their canine companions. The study, which at the time of publication was the longest-running scientific study of aging in humans, according to Mars, was published in peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports in September 2023.


For pets and planet

Environmental stewardship is part and parcel of Mars, Incorporated’s long-term business strategy. In fact, the company has committed to achieving a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain by 2030, with the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, through its Net Zero Roadmap initiative. A comprehensive overview of the initiative is available on Mars’ website.

Alongside these company-wide goals, several Mars Pet Nutrition brands have adopted unique sustainability focuses. For example, the company’s NUTRO brand is currently spearheading two projects along this vein — Pledge 4 Planet Supplier Partnerships, and the NUTRO GREATER GROUND program.

“Out long-term ambition is to mobilize all of our suppliers on climate action,” said Elise Malandain, Ph.D., Mars Pet Nutrition.

Advancing climate-smart agriculture is a key message of the NUTRO brand, whose philosophy is to “grow healthy pets” through natural, wholesome nutrition. Through its Pledge 4 Planet Supplier Partnerships, the brand has identified and teamed up with seven key ingredient suppliers who have committed to reducing their climate impact along their supply chains.

“Our long-term ambition is to mobilize all of our suppliers on climate action,” Malandain said.

NUTRO is also focused on supporting soil health through its GREATER GROUND program, which was launched on World Soil Day in December 2022. Since then, the program has empowered more than 60 growers within NUTRO’s supplier network to transition to more sustainable soil practices. It also aims to raise awareness of the importance of soil health and regenerative agriculture practices.

“It is critical to work with the growers in our supply chain on regenerative practices — to arm them with new tools and techniques that will improve the quality of land, the output of their harvest, and the overall impact that farming has against our sustainability commitments,” Malandain said.

NUTRO has recently partnered with UnderstandingAG and Kiss the Ground, two organizations leading the movement toward soil health. Additionally, Mars Pet Nutrition has agreed to invest $5 million into the program to train and support soil health-minded growers over the next five years.

“NUTRO believes that by taking action to support healthy soil today, we can help to secure the health of our planet and the food systems that provide quality nutrition for generations of pets to come,” Malandain added.

Sheba Hope Reef off the coast of Indonesia

According to Mars, the Sheba Hope Reef off the coast of Indonesia is one of the largest repaired coral reefs in the world. The SHEBA cat food brand has played a leading role in its restoration.

Photo courtesy of Kuleana Coral Reefs and the SHEBA brand

In the cat food realm, Mars Pet Nutrition’s SHEBA brand is supporting coral reef restoration efforts in Indonesia through its Hope Reef project, which was first introduced in 2021. Thanks to the brand’s involvement, the Hope Reef — which spells “HOPE” from an aerial perspective — off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia, is one of the largest repaired coral reefs in the world, according to Malandain.

“Since restoration started at Hope Reef in 2019, coral growth has increased from 2% to 70%, fish populations have increased by 260%, and there’s been a 64% rise in the number of fish species,” she said.

Hope Reef is part of the larger Sheba Hope Grows program, which engages in 30 coral reef restoration endeavors across five continents. These projects include the Great Barrier Reef, the Maldives, and coral reefs in Mexico, Hawaii and Kenya. The Sheba Hope Grows program is fueled by a $16 million investment by Mars and, through it, the company hopes to inspire other corporate players to get involved in marine ecosystem restoration efforts.

“We often get asked why a cat food brand is restoring coral, and that’s because as one of the leading cat food brands, SHEBA has the responsibility to be a part of the solution for a sustainable fish industry,” Malandain explained. “We have a responsibility to serve cats and pet parents with high-quality and nutritious food, while taking care of our planet.”

Back at the corporate level, Mars has also implemented sustainable transportation capabilities as part of its investment toward net zero. In January 2024, the company partnered with freight technology firm Einride to deploy 300 electric vehicles within its European distribution network. According to Malandain, this partnership allows the company to optimize efficiency for its transportation operations, all while preventing 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually by 2030.

Mars is advancing sustainable transportation along its European distribution network

Through a recent partnership with Einride, Mars is advancing sustainable transportation along its European distribution network as part of its mission to reduce carbon emissions along the value chain. 

Source: Mars Pet Nutrition

“Our ambition is to be a digital-first organization that can transform the pet parent experience,” Malandain said. “In order to do that we’re looking at how we can drive innovation within our own supply chain.”


The work continues

Looking to the future, ingredient development will be at the forefront of innovation opportunities for Mars Pet Nutrition’s collection of brands. As the nutritional needs of pets are better understood through research, and as pet owners adopt new preferences for how they feed their four-legged companions, the company is zeroed in on exploring new ingredients through a scientific lens.

“Our partnerships across the industry, from academics to startups and suppliers, are crucial as we look to the future of pet food innovation, taking into consideration safety, palatability and digestibility,” Malandain said.

First and foremost, she added, Mars Pet Nutrition will leverage its resources to validate the safety and nutritional efficacy of emerging pet food ingredients to ensure they meet the company’s rigorous standards. From there, palatability and digestibility testing must be performed to corroborate the ingredients’ effectiveness in each formulation.

“The philosophy of pet parent-centricity underpins everything we do,” said Elise Malandain, Ph.D., Mars Pet Nutrition.

Another crucial aspect of ingredient development will be pet parent education. By empowering dog and cat owners with clear and accurate information, Mars Pet Nutrition hopes to support informed and confident decisions in the pet food aisle, including what product to feed, in what format, and how much.

“The philosophy of pet parent-centricity underpins everything we do, which is why we lean on the latest science, technology, and data to drive a better world for pets and their parents,” Malandain concluded.

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