How some Canadian pet food manufacturers are creating products that are nutritious while being easier on the eart
By Treena Hein
Sustainability is of top concern to consumers these days in their decisions to buy — or not to buy — all types of products, including those they buy for their pets. As it does in other sectors, sustainability in the pet food sector encompasses many factors, from sourcing of ingredients to packaging.
Petcurean in Chilliwack, B.C. is among the Canadian pet food manufacturers that have taken great steps to be as sustainable as possible, hoping that consumers will not only buy their products because of their top quality but because they are made, distributed and packaged in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment. Petcurean has installed a new oven that uses less energy and produces less waste, for example, and uses a vertical drying system that requires less energy than a horizontal dryer, says Petcurean’s nutrition manager Jennifer Adolphe.
Ingredient sourcing is another way that pet food companies are striving to be more sustainable. But as with human food ingredients, sourcing environmentally-friendly pet food components can be far from straightforward. Take Rayne Clinical Nutrition Canada, based in Vancouver, B.C., which makes veterinary diets primarily for sick pets. Some pets have food allergies to typical pet food proteins like fish and chicken, explains co-founder and CEO John Phelps, so Rayne makes some diets that contain kangaroo, crocodile and rabbit meat.
While Phelps notes that Rayne’s kangaroo meat is indeed brought a long distance from Australia, it’s very sustainable to make pet food from the unused meat of wild kangaroos subject to government-endorsed culls when populations get too large.
“The Australian government has developed markets for kangaroo ‘steaks’ for human consumption, the hides are also used, and making pet food from the remaining meat allows the whole animal to be utilized,” Phelps explains. “Our alligator and rabbit meat is from farmed animals, but as with use of the carcasses of other livestock like cows and lambs, after the human meat is removed, using much of the remainder of the meat for pet food prevents waste.”
Overall, however, Phelps believes using components of any farmed animal in pet food is the worst in terms of environmental sustainability due to the resources needed to raise farm animals. He considers wild-culled meat more sustainable if part of sanctioned control efforts, followed by insect protein, protein produced by unicellular organisms and finally, protein from plants.
“Some crops take more resources than others, however, so the sustainability of plant proteins also varies,” he adds. “We are about to launch a vegetarian food and are also looking into using insect protein and unicellular foods (e.g. Koji fungus), but long-term feeding studies are needed. We are also putting a lot of effort into protein produced by unicellular organisms such as fungus and bacteria, partnering with a U.S. company called MicroNature.”
For its part, Petcurean offers a wide variety of different diets, from “GATHER Endless Valley” vegan dog food to “GO! Solutions Carnivore” food for dogs/cats, and this variety “allows pet parents to choose the recipe that works best for their individual pet as well as their personal goals to live a sustainable lifestyle,” says Adolphe.
When asked about the sustainability of raw pet food versus processed wet and dry foods, Phelps first notes that raw food must be frozen during transport and in the store, and is still processed to some extent like canned and dry pet food. However, he notes that raw food is not heat-processed, which poses food safety risks but is good for pet health in that heat-processing (required in canned and dry pet food) causes byproducts that cause inflammation. To provide food that is best for the planet and nutritionally (Phelps also believes raw food poses food safety risks), Rayne uses the least amount of heat processing it can, and also uses whole food and raw ingredients.
“We try to avoid using industrial ingredients like chicken or turkey or fish meals,” Phelps explains. “If you use a lot of rendered meal, for example, you are using an ingredient that’s already been processed using a significant amount of energy and this is not good for the environment or the pet.” The less you process, the more nutritious and palatable the food is, he says, so more sustainable means better quality.
As for any food product, packaging for pet food must ensure freshness and moisture level is preserved, which can pose some sustainability challenges. While cans are recyclable, other types of packaging such as bags with grease-proof films are not.
PureForm Pet Health Supplements based in Chilliwack spent over two years looking into options to replace its HDPE plastic jars (its Equine and Vet lines are still packaged in plastic but the firm is looking to change that as well). While HDPE is recyclable, PureForm wanted a more sustainable alternative and has found it through partnerships with Canadian companies such as Canfab Packaging and Deschamps Impression.
Options such as glass, paper and bio-plastic bags were examined, but accounts manager Lindsay Saggu explains that in the end composite canisters similar in size to the previous plastic jars were chosen. The canisters sport a recyclable aluminum lid and base and paperboard sides with a glassine/wax interior. The product is placed inside a clear, plant-based plastic bag. Altogether, this recently-launched solution costs PureForm twice as much as plastic jars.
PureForm’s shipping materials are kraft cardboard, which is compostable when wettened, and some time ago, PureForm also removed the plastic scoop that used to come in each jar.
“We may find an eco-friendly solution in the future to replace it, possibly stainless steel or wood, which could be purchased as an add-on item,” Saggu reports.
Rayne is planning to launch products in compostable packaging starting in June 2020. For its part, Petcurean recently started packaging all its wet cat and dog food (GO! SOLUTIONS and NOW FRESH lines) into Tetra Pak cartons made from paperboard certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and 65 per cent renewable materials. They are recyclable and take up 40 per cent less space than cans.
“For our GATHER dry recipes for dogs and cats, we utilize a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified bio-based packaging [made from sugarcane],” explains Petcurean trade marketing manager Anabel Immega. “While the packaging is not yet recyclable, by using bags that are one-third plant-based… Petcurean has reduced our use of petroleum-based resources by 30 per cent for this line.”
Supply chain, office and beyond
Beyond its processing plant, Phelps believes pet food companies need to tell their supply chain vendors that they want and expect more sustainability, and in turn, that companies like Rayne are willing to pay more for it. He says the Rayne technical team meets with all its manufacturing, ingredient and packaging partners regularly to discuss sustainability progress.
Similarly, Petcurean reviews potential partners to make sure their sustainability programs align with its own. And, like many other firms in pet food and beyond, Petcurean also “goes green” in its office, for example, using only FSC-certified paper and motion sensor lighting, promoting employee carpooling and so on. It encourages its customers to find ways to reuse their product bags and provides ideas for that through social media. For all its efforts, Petcurean is an active member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition and was recently named as one of the Top 20 Companies in the PSC’s Positive Impact Community.
PureForm is also looking into a way its customers can make a difference themselves, beyond purchasing pet food from companies increasing their sustainability. There are plans to add the Carbon Checkout app to the PureForm web-order form which allows customers to round up to the next dollar and donate money to renewable energy and carbon capture projects if they wish.