2020 Pet Food Trends: 6 Ways Manufacturers are Using Protein

In the second part of our three-part series, we take a look at the pet food industry’s growing emphasis on protein in pet food. From unique proteins to single animal-sourced proteins, here are six protein trends expected to stand out next year.

A protein-rich diet has always played an important role in pet food. However, in the upcoming year, buyers should anticipate increased emphasis on protein-rich diets, with an additional highlight on wholesome meats, protein sources and ingredient percentages. These six pet food trends are expected to impact the way brands and manufacturers deliver healthy and protein-rich diets for pets.

Six Protein-Focused Pet Food Trends

Meat as the First Ingredient

Throughout 2020, expect to see meat at the top of most ingredient lists. As consumers look for natural, protein-rich foods for their pets, many brands and manufacturers will prioritize the role of real meat in their foods.

This trend will impact pet food in two ways. First, meat will be listed first on ingredient lists – reflecting their importance as the primary ingredient in the formula. Second, meat will play a primary role in the creation of new formulas, serving as the foundation that foods are built on.

Single Animal Protein Source

In the upcoming year, buyers can anticipate the continued rise of limited-ingredient diets (LIDs), which usually restrict formulas to a single animal protein. Limited-ingredient diets aid in protein allergy management and easy testing for allergies because the food usually only contains one type of animal protein.

However, it’s important to note that just because a product has limited ingredients, it doesn’t always just have one single source of protein. Most formulas will also include plant-based protein sources, such as whole grains, legumes or flaxseed, in addition to animal protein. It’s likely that in limited-ingredient diets that the single animal protein will contribute a large percentage of the overall protein and calories.

This trend will also impact labels and packaging by featuring more callouts regarding the source of protein in the formula – something we’ve seen a lot of in the past year and expect to continue (more on this later).

Protein-Rich Formulas

The high protein trend that rapidly caught on in 2019 will linger in 2020. High protein is a priority for many manufacturers and pet owners because of proteins’ ability to repair muscles and other tissues while also assisting in the creation of hormones, enzymes and chemicals that are necessary for the body to function. In particular, dogs need 22 amino acids for their bodies to create the protein that they need. These are found in everything from meats, eggs, dairy, legumes and even some grains. “A good-quality dog food will list one or two sources of quality protein in the first few ingredients and will have a percentage that is about 20-25 percent crude protein,” says Pet MD.

The amount of protein that pets need can vary drastically based on species, age and activity level. For example, cats need significantly more protein than dogs because they metabolize protein differently. However, kittens and puppies need more protein than adults because their activity level is much higher than older pets. “In the past, it was believed that older pets should be fed diets with lower protein, but veterinary nutritionists now believe that healthy older pets need protein every bit as much as their middle-aged counterparts,” says vetSTREET. Finding a balanced, protein-rich formula for both cats and dogs will ensure a healthy lifestyle and a longer lifespan.

Protein Source Percentages

While protein is the primary ingredient in many pet foods, many pet owners are visual and rely on pet food packaging for key information. As mentioned earlier, both brands and retailers have begun to call out protein percentages on pet food bags. Buyers and consumers will see this trend continue and expand in 2020 with bag designs stating the percent of protein coming from animal sources – including meat and meat meal – along with plant-based protein percentages.

Unique Proteins

Most pet parents think of traditional proteins such as beef and chicken when it comes to the ingredients in their pets’ food. But in 2020, unique and exotic proteins are expected to gain traction. Unique proteins have long been a common asset as premium ingredients. And exotic protein sources such as duck, rabbit and wild boar will become more popular because of their novelty and nutritional benefits.  Pet parents could also see insect protein-based pet foods in the near future.

But it’s not just about nutrients. Rotating unique protein sources outside of the traditional beef and chicken can positively impact the long-term health of pets. One major reason is that feeding pets the same common proteins can have long-term adverse effects such as protein sensitivities and allergies.

Ethical Protein Sources

Consumer demand for ethically and sustainably sourced products is transforming nearly every industry – and pet food is no exception.

As consumers are turning to friendly farming and environmentally conscious choices in their own diets, many pet owners are doing the same for their pets. There is expected to be a growing demand for pet food options that are healthy, sustainable and affordable.

The positive effects of raising livestock in cage-free, free-range or grass-fed environments is well documented. When using these methods, higher quality protein is produced, and it provides a more humane setting for livestock to be raised. A key 2020 pet food trend will be pet food manufacturers sourcing ingredients through these methods.

So, how will this affect pet food brands? The expectation for ethical ingredient sourcing will be higher than ever. In addition, packaging and advertising will respond by calling out the source, quality and sustainability of ingredients.


Throughout 2020, we expect the most influential pet food trends to focus on the role that protein plays in our pet’s diets. Many manufacturers, brands and retailers are expected to incorporate formulas that emphasize the quantity, quality and sources of protein in pet food.

Learn more about the vast protein sources that Alphia uses in products: here or contact us today to learn more about how we work with pet food brands and retailers.