The Advanced Bioeconomy and the Pet Wellness Revolution

August 18, 2016 |

BD TS 081916 pets smThese days, we don’t call it algae, we call it nutritional superfood, and we don’t call our furry friends “pets”, we call them companion animals.

I suppose to distinguish them from wild animals, work animals, and the ones we reserve for, er, eating.

But it’s a good name. Companion as a word comes from the Latin cum + panis — and it means someone you share a meal with. And under any name the companion animal nutrition market — what you might have heard referred to as “pet food” in a less enlightened epoch — well, it’s big business, and every day around the world millions of people are lavishing extravagant amounts of care and expense about the health and wellness of their animal companions.

So, it’s hot news in the world of the advanced bioeconomy when TerraVia and Nestlé Purina PetCare announced a joint development agreement targeting the companion animal market. The agreement, which spans multiple years, will leverage certain commercially available algae-based advanced nutrition ingredients that TerraVia has developed as well as additional innovative ingredients and product concepts in TerraVia’s development pipeline.

And it’s not entirely coincidental that the incoming CEO at TerraVia, Apu Mody, was most recently head of Mars North America — and though many know Mars for its snack and candy businesses, their a huge player in the pet food market. Er, I meant companion animal nutritional wellness space.

Why a market for the Advanced Bioeconomy?

It’s big, and booming, and booming especially at the high end. The American Pet Products Association estimated in 2015 that $58 billion was spent on pets each year. The market has grown 75 percent since 2000, according to this HuffPo report.

But let’s think of it in the simplest of terms.

More US families have a dog, than families have a child. You’ve heard of China’s One-Child Policy. Well, there’s no actual policy in place, but the US has shifted to a One-Dog Policy, as in no kids, no teen dramas, no unaffordable college, just someone to love you unconditionally.

Why a Rush for Alternative Ingredients?

You may remember the Great Pet Food Recall of 2007. 8,000 pets around the US died from tainted food, and pet owners started taking an even more closer look at labels, and brands, and ingredients, ever since. Companies like Blue Buffalo expanded sales with slogans like “Love them like Family. Feed them like Family.”

So, for readers who do not spend time amongst the animal nutrition aisles at the supermarket, there are products for puppies & kittens, adult animals, seniors, dieting animals. There are meals and snacks. Bargain and gourmet meals. And our animal friends seem to gobble up what can be fairly off-putting, odor-wise, when it comes to meats & gravies.

Nestle’s dog nutrition product line includes Alpo, Beggin’, Beneful. Dog Chow, Frosty Paw, Moist & Meaty and Waggin’ Train. On the cat side, think Fancy Feast, Friskies, Cay Chow, and Kit & Kaboodle.

Nestle has been on the march towards alternative ingredients for several years, prodded by consumers and encouraged by opportunities afforded by new technology. A few years back, the company replaced artificial colors, flavors and preservatives with alternatives in all 79 confectionery products  — embracing natural ingredients derived from everything from carrot, hibiscus to radishes in the process.

What are the goals?

Think nutrition, flavor, mouth feel. All the things that humans respond too, pets respond to also. But it’s harder to get constructive comments out of them in a focus group setting.

So, there’s a lot of experimentation and caution, and pet foods crazes are more rare and less likely to go viral. But crazes there are, and opportunities therein.

What can you do with algae and fermentation technology.

Start with this, dog treats. You can make bacon-tasting molecules with algae. Blue Marble Bio is doing it right now up in Missoula. That’s a pretty healthy way to make a Beggin’ treat for training purposes or for a snack.

But think dog cereals, too — like Milkbones. There’s flour in there, and you can make a healthier flour with algae.

And what about fermentation technology that produces meats without sacrificing the cow — cutting out the middle cow? Would be nice to feed one animal without ending the life of another. But cats and dogs like meat. So, think Impossible Foods and others. They don;t use algae but they do use fermentation.

And what about oils? Flavor, feel — lots of that comes from triglyceride oils. And that is TerraVia’s home port, their key technology. More flavor, and made without animal products, petroleum, or anything else excepting poor algae, the poor proto-plant engineered by nature to be gobbled up by everyone else.

Think of it this way

Everyone eats algae, just not directly. Big fish eat little fish and little fish eat tiny fish and tiny fish eat algae. And we eat the big fish.

Ever wonder why salmon are pink on the inside? Algae. Why flamingos are pink? Algae.

If you are what you eat, you’re algae too.

The companies think its Petacular

Don’t be bowled over with shock by this one: Nestle and TerraVia are pleased and delighted. Here’s what they had to say.

“TerraVia is a leader in algae nutrition innovation, and at Nestlé Purina we are always seeking out new ingredients to advance pet nutrition to help them live better, more active lives. We are excited about the potential impact these algae-based ingredients can make in the health and the lives of pets,” said Daniel Smith, Vice President of R&D, Nestlé Purina.

“We are excited to partner with Nestlé Purina, a global leader and innovator in pet care and nutrition, to help develop the next generation of nutritious, sustainable pet foods that are better for the planet and the pets that we all love,” said Jonathan Wolfson, Chairman and CEO of TerraVia. “TerraVia and our strategic partners are already demonstrating the impact our algae innovation platform has in the culinary, specialty feed ingredient and personal care categories. Our new partnership with Nestlé Purina builds on these successes by leveraging our innovative platform to open important doors into a very large market for companion animal nutrition.”

What’s next?

A bunch of candidate molecules. Then, product formulations. Then, someone will have to feed something to dogs and cats and see if Mikey likes it.

Will dogs eat algae? Will cats? Sure they will. They eat things that eat algae, and I’ve seen dogs eat shoes.

The key here is that the companies aren’t going to be content to target “acceptable”. They’re bound to be thinking “premium” or “gourmet”.

So, some Top Chef at the Purina kitchen will be hard at work making luxurious treats and meals for our companion animals. We’re spoiling them like crazy. Why not give them the kind of foods sold only in boutiques and Whole Foods?

You’re going to see gluten-free, fat-free, trans-fat free, antioxidant-loaded foods on the pet shelf, soon. Not sure that cats or dogs are demanding it, but their pampering human compadres are sure to want to lavish such wonders on all their beloved pets. Followed by the inevitable rise in pet spa and pet gymnasium memberships.

It’s a Pet Wellness Revolution, and the Advanced Bioeconomy is all over it.


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