Fresh ingredients for pet food including bell peppers, cucumbers, eggs, beef, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and sweet potatoe.

Pet Food Nutrition: Why Retailers Should Care About Palatability

Private label pet food is a fruitful opportunity for retailers. But not just any mix of ingredients will cut it. In this article, we provide some background on pet food nutrition for the health-conscious retailer.

As a retailer, you are not expected to be specialized in pet food nutrition. But, as you develop your latest blue-sky concept, it is important to consider how your differentiating ingredient or novel approach will impact the quality, palatability and overall nutritious value of your pet food product.

Because if pets won’t eat it, consumers won’t buy it.

What is Pet Food Nutrition?

Pet food nutrition is the process of providing the pet food necessary for health and growth in an animal. Here are three things you need to know about it.

Complete & Balanced

Every pet food label requires a nutritional adequacy statement. This statement indicates that the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage (gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance or all life stages).

This is important because it helps pet parents select food that meets the needs of their pet. Most pet food labels will use the phrase “complete and balanced,” meaning each serving is a complete meal, designed to provide total nutrition. But writing a label is one thing. How do you actually ensure your pet food product can deliver?

Pet foods need to be made with carefully crafted formulas by veterinary scientists and experts in pet food nutrition.

Essential Nutrients

You might have an idea of what ingredients you want to include in your new pet food product to differentiate it, but there are other details you might miss – like essential nutrients pet foods require in order to meet the needs of a complete and balanced diet.

These essentials include:

  1. Water
  2. Proteins
  3. Fats
  4. Carbohydrates
  5. Minerals
  6. Vitamins

In any of these categories, you can source a wide variety of ingredients, from basic to exotic. These ingredient choices (and how you source them) impact both the quality and palatability of your final pet food product.

Quality & Palatability

Ultimately, pet food nutrition comes down to these two characteristics: quality and palatability. 

Quality goes hand-in-hand with food safety. High-quality ingredients are ones that come from trusted, vetted suppliers who have SQF Certified facilities, assurance from third-party audits and a robust food safety program.

Palatability is a measurement of how desirable pets find their food. The combination of smell, taste and texture impacts a pets interest in eating the food.

Both are critical to a pet food product’s success. Poor quality ingredients can lead to health issues and vet visits, while poor palatability leads to pets refusing to eat the food entirely. So, as you work to create a healthy pet food, you need to prioritize quality ingredients and palatability.

But when production costs enter the conversation, this becomes more difficult than it sounds.

Balancing Palatability with Everything Else

In the broad scope of pet food nutrition, balancing palatability with other important factors like ingredient choice, quality and price can be tricky.

This is because palatable, high quality foods tend to be more expensive—as all great products are. In the past, this could be a problem for retailers with price-sensitive consumers and razor thin margins. To offer a great value price and still make a profit, quality would need to be sacrificed. This low quality could then lead to poor pet food palatability.

Today, retailers can enjoy all three: higher quality, excellent palatability and better profit margins. Pet food marketplace consumers have more sophisticated tastes—and bigger budgets – than ever before. Retailers now have the flexibility to create premium or super premium pet foods, where price isn’t as much of a concern.

But there’s a catch. It’s possible that even the highest quality ingredients can lead to poor palatability, too. If you’re a health-conscious retailer, you likely will want to create a pet food product with the right mix of vitamins, minerals, ingredients and other nutrients. But healthy doesn’t always mean tasty. If pets don’t enjoy it, they won’t eat it—nor will they receive the nutritional benefits. That’s why palatability is such an important part of pet food nutrition.

Bottom line: As a retailer, you have many more lanes to worry about than the nitty gritty of pet food nutrition. If your intentions are to create a unique and nutritious pet food for your consumers, you need to work with a pet food manufacturing partner that can help you find high quality ingredients and combine them in a formula that meets palatability and sales goals.

Creating a Palatable Pet Food

So, how do you actually ensure your pet food is palatable? For most retail brands, it starts with finding the right manufacturing partner. A good manufacturer will provide expertise in a number of different areas – specifically R&D, production and packaging. Let’s take a closer look at each stage.

#1. Testing & Measuring Palatability

To figure out what is actually palatable for pets, pet food manufacturers work with industry palatant producers – companies that conduct palatability tests with real formulas and real animals.

In a palatability test, the food is categorized based on key differences (including shape and formula) and then offered to a panel of animals in a controlled environment. Often, your product will be tested against pet food that is already sold in stores, to see if you can match it.

Results are then delivered in three areas:

  1. First Choice (smell). What product the animals go to first based on scent or level of excitement as they approach the food.
  2. Intake Ratio (taste). How much of the pet food the animal consumes, divided by the total consumption amount. For example, if they ate 600 grams of food in the test, and 300 grams of that was your pet food, your brand’s IR would be 50%.
  3. Consumption Ratio (smell, texture, taste). How much of a preference the animals showed for one formula over another. For example, if a panel of animals ate 500 grams of your brand and 200 grams of the control brand, the consumption ratio for your brand would be 2.5.

This testing informs whether or not your brand can compete with your competitors when it comes to taste and desirability. It will also help you decide if you need to tweak your formula.

An experienced manufacturer that runs hundreds of palatability tests per year will know what works and what doesn’t – making your decision a fairly straightforward one.

#2. Manufacturing Palatability

The manufacturer will then help you execute on this promise of palatability in the production process.

With research at hand, manufacturers know how to adjust the formulas to improve palatability, whether that’s changing ingredient ratios, selecting a different kibble shape or adding/modifying sensory profiles with palatants.

The best manufacturers can help you balance quality, palatability and budget, keeping your production costs in check while still ensuring a quality and desirable pet food.

#3. Packaging for Palatability

Lastly, your manufacturer can help you make important packaging decisions that impact palatability.

The wrong packaging can make pet food go stale too soon, impacting the appeal of the food to pets.

To save freshness, you might consider incorporating easy to use sliders, Velcro or press-to-close zippers on your bag. Your pet food manufacturer can then conduct production trials to ensure quality and freshness.


If you’re creating your own line of nutritious pet food, palatability should be at the top of your list of concerns. But making your products palatable requires in-depth expertise and help from an experienced partner. Working with a pet food manufacturer that already knows the ins and outs of the business will put your private label brand on a faster path to success.

Alphia delivers the safest, highest quality products to our retailer partners’ shelves. Learn more by contacting us.