A wood cutting board with carrots, beef, and rice next to a bowl of pet food.

Creating a Pet Food Formula: 4 Essential Nutrients Every Retailer Should Understand

You have a unique concept for a new private label pet food product. But do you understand what nutrients are essential to your formula?

For mass market retailers looking to enter the pet food game, it’s important to brush up on pet food science and nutrition facts so you can create the right pet food formula—and make sure your product stands out on the shelf.

What is a Pet Food Formula?

A pet food formula is the precise mix of ingredients that go into your final pet food product.

Formulas need to be carefully crafted to deliver essential nutrients, quality and palatability that meet the needs of your customers and, of course, their pets. Whether you go value, mainstream, premium or super premium, the marketplace tier you decide to target is an important decision that will impact what ingredients you include in your formula.

You may already have an idea of what type of ingredient you want to include, but there are other, lesser known ingredients and nutrition considerations that have to go into your formula. That’s why it’s important to work with veterinary scientists, experts in pet food nutrition and a pet food manufacturer that provides house or custom formulas based on your vision.

But it’s still crucial to be aware of the basic building blocks of a formula so you can deliver a unique, well-rounded and hearty pet food brand to the marketplace.

Plus, you’re required to list ingredients on the pet food bag, so understanding the essentials will help you when it’s time to write the label.

Here’s what you should know.

Types of Pet Food Ingredients

Ingredient types fall into two categories: major and minor.

The major ingredients are typically the first few listed on a label, which are recognizable animal or plant names that provide proteins, carbohydrates and other important nutrients.

Minor ingredients are the ones that follow, which provide the minerals, vitamins and other nutrients that may not be as recognizable.

Major ingredients are not more important than minor ingredients, but you are more likely to know what type of major ingredient you want in your pet food.

For example, you might choose an exotic protein like lamb as your leading ingredient differentiator. But what other ingredients need to go with that lamb to create a complete and balanced pet food?

The minors are just as important, if not more, to get right in your pet food formula. This is because the wrong proportion of vitamins and minerals can become toxic to pets. Another reason why working with an expert in pet food nutrition is a must.

The 4 Essential Nutrients Every Retailer Should Understand

Every pet food formula needs to meet the nutritional requirements of a dog or cat at the intended life stage. To do this, you need these essentials.

#1. Proteins

Protein is an essential molecule for life, serving as fuel to sustain normal body function and aid growth. Pet foods contain protein from a variety of sources:

  1. Meat proteins: Animal muscle meat
  2. Animal by-products: Clean parts, other than meat, derived from animals
  3. Vegetable or grain proteins: Soy- or corn-based ingredients

Animal-based ingredients are the most common source of protein in pet food. Standard meats include chicken, turkey and beef. Novel proteins include kangaroo, lamb, duck and venison.

#2. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide energy and dietary fiber to animals.

Standard carbohydrates include rice and potatoes. But you can include novel carbs like sweet potatoes, millet and quinoa.

#3. Fats

Fats are another good source of energy for animals. They supply essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid and add palatability to pet food. They also help to promote a healthy coat, digestion and temperature stabilization.

Examples include:

  • Animal fats from chicken, beef, pork, etc.
  • Coconut oil
  • Fish oils
  • Glycerin
  • Vegetable oils, like canola or sunflower

#4. Inclusions

Inclusions are micro ingredients that provide minerals and vitamins. There are thousands of different functional inclusion ingredients, ranging from simple carrots to green-lipped muscle powder.

Other examples include:

  • Blueberries and cranberries
  • Kale
  • Dried coconut oil

The combination of these proteins, carbohydrates, fats and inclusions fortifies your pet food with the appropriate ratio of essential nutrients – like amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The ingredients that provide these nutrients can be sourced in a wide variety of options, from basic to exotic. These ingredient choices (and how you source them) impact the final formula.


Understanding the basics of essential pet food ingredients and the nutrients they provide will help you realistically approach your new pet food product.

Ultimately, though, a well-rounded pet food formula needs to be carefully crafted with the help of experts in pet food. The right pet food manufacturing partner can help you determine ingredients and work with vetted supply partners to make your vision a reality. Plus, they can help you select other product and brand attributes, stay compliant with pet food regulations and ensure quality and safety every step of the way.

Alphia helps private label brands develop market-leading pet food from concept to distribution. Talk to us today about your pet food needs.