Home » Unleash the potential of plant-based dog food with these three top tips

Unleash the potential of plant-based dog food with these three top tips

Plant-based dog food: a golden opportunity

We already target flexitarians, vegetarians, pescatarians, and vegans with plant-based products – but what about those who have pets? Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental, ethical, and health impacts of eating meat and dairy. Yet, many would not think twice about the origins of what they feed their companion animals. 

However, like most human eating trends, the plant-based movement is spilling over into the diets of companion animals – dogs, in particular. As we see more people sharing their lives with canine friends and more people adopting plant-based eating habits (40% of European consumers identify as flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan)1, the market is set to boom.

The pet-food industry has reached great heights, with an estimated worth of over US$91.1 billion.2 Add to this the innovation offered by plant-based proteins (R&D labs have never seen more activity as manufacturers race to formulate innovative products) and you have an industry that’s bursting with potential. According to Innova, ‘vegan’ claims on new pet-food products saw a 30% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2016 to November 2020, and ‘plant-based’ claims saw 40% growth in the same time frame.3 

With this in mind, how can your company best produce and sell plant-based dog food? What considerations are vital to success? Read on to find out.

1. Meet demand with supply

Source: Unplash/James barker

Before developing any new product, it is vital to assess demand. When that’s understood, producers must be able to meet it with supply. So, what is the demand for plant-based dog food, and what is driving it? 
Interest in plant-based dog food is expected to explode in the near future, with a 2021 study finding that 72% of US pet parents were open to having plant-based protein sources in their animals’ diets.4 The study participants also indicated a high interest in hybrid diets – balancing animal and plant-based protein sources, lending further credence to the notion that flexitarianism is leading pet carers to try similar ways of feeding their pets.5

The plant-based, pet-feeding trend is much like the human practice – we see a larger proportion of pets fed plant-based as a component of their diet and a small proportion fed a plant-based diet exclusively. I predict that, as long as the trend is growing in the human world, we’ll likely see similar growth in the pet-food industry.”

Dr. Sarah Dodd

animal nutrition expert

Innova’s Nutrition & Health Survey 2020 shows that the top reasons driving consumers to switch to more plant-based foods include health, sustainability, and taste – all things dog parents are increasingly demanding for their pets, too. Mix this with the increasing trend of pet humanisation and the various effects that COVID-19 has had on consumer psyches and business trends,6 and it’s understandable why the industry is skyrocketing. Satisfying these drivers must remain a top priority in the production of dog-food products in order to attract the value-driven pet parent.

Many of our customers are making small changes [to their pets’ diets], such as one veggie day, or changing to vegan snacks – the flexitarian approach.”

Valerie Henssen

CEO and Co-Founder of VEGDOG

Source: Unsplash/Real Natures Foods

Don’t just target vegan dog owners and 100% plant-based dogs: 

Designing products for flexitarian consumers who want their pets’ diets to emulate their own eating habits is vital to maximize sales of plant-based dog food. 

Opt for healthy, functional, organic ingredients: 

Pet health and wellness have long been important to dog parents – more so now than ever. Focus on functional ingredients that can boost dogs’ health to attract health-motivated pet carers. 

As more consumers make the connection between a good diet and improved health for themselves, they are now taking extra care to choose the right foods for their beloved pets to increase their overall well-being and health.”7

Karel Thurman

Commercial Director for Beneo Animal Nutrition

chopping board with veg
Source: Unplash/Louis Hansel

Utilize human-grade proteins: 

The increasing humanisation of pets is leading owners to consider the health of their dogs in line with their own well-being. This is causing more dog owners to search for pet foods with high-quality proteins akin to those in human food.

Studies have shown that younger generations consider dogs to be more like family members than pets. We believe this will continue to drive demand for higher-quality products with clean ingredient labels.”

Caroline Buck

Co-Founder of Petaluma

Use sustainable recipes and practices:

In every segment of consumer goods, the sustainability trend is altering consumer purchasing preferences and habits – dog food is no exception. Focus on recipes that contain sustainable ingredients, sourced in an environmentally responsible way. Manufacturing methods must also have minimal environmental effects – make sure all processes and equipment adhere to sustainability practices.

Increased awareness of America’s problematic food system will drive demand for products that can demonstrate they are better. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the link between climate change and food production.”

Caroline Buck

Co-Founder of Petaluma

2. Get the nutrition right

Source: Unsplash/Mathew Coulton

This is the big one. Your final product must be nutritionally ‘complete’ and ‘balanced’ to meet the nutritional requirements of the dogs eating it. In the US, pet food manufacturers must attain a certificate of analysis from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to be able to mark their products as such. And in Europe, all pet foods need to follow the guidelines set out by The European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF). Plus, dog food (plant-based, especially) needs to be able to satisfy any and all concerns of pet owners – or else they won’t buy it.

Case Study: Petaluma’s journey to creating a plant-based dog food

Source: Petaluma

Co-Founders of Petaluma, Garrett Wymore and Caroline Buck

What are the initial challenges when formulating a plant-based dog food?

“Similar to humans, the challenge with plant-based diets is generally that they require a bit more thoughtfulness to be successful,” says Caroline Buck, Co-Founder of Petaluma. “A vegan dog diet requires careful planning, but it can be done and may be more straightforward than a human vegan diet since it is pre-planned. We have a longer ingredient list than many traditional animal-inclusive dog foods as we use a broader array of plant-based ingredients to deliver a complete and balanced nutritional profile.”

How did Petaluma successfully create a plant-based dog food?

“At a minimum, we needed to formulate a diet that achieves the nutritional profile of adult dogs. We spent over two years testing and revising our formula with the help of our lead veterinary formulator, Dr. Blake Hawley, and with careful review from board-certified veterinary nutritionists. Because our customers often rely exclusively on our diet to provide 100% of their [dogs’] nutritional needs, the food needs to consistently provide the recommended levels of over 35 essential nutrients.” 

Source: Petaluma

Where do supplements come into play?

“Most premium dog foods – including those with meat – are supplemented with certain amino acids or vitamins to ensure availability to the dog. For example, most veterinary nutritionists recommend taurine supplementation in dog food. We carefully follow the guidance of experts in veterinary nutrition and have added supplements where there is evidence to support it.” 

What about ingredients and processing techniques?

“Our ingredients and processing are better than most meat-free diets available today. In addition to oven-baking, we use about 50% organic ingredients in our baked food, which is extremely uncommon.” 

Don’t worry about length of the ingredients list: 

Creating a nutritionally complete and balanced dog food often requires a variety of plant-based ingredients. As long as most of these are recognizable, healthy whole foods, customers won’t mind.

It’s important to match the right ingredients to create a good nutrient profile and to make it tasty for the dog without using any artificial scents or attractants. The most important thing for consumers is their dog’s health; even more than meat-based brands, vegan companies need to prove the quality of their product.”

Valerie Henssen

CEO and Co-Founder of VEGDOG

Work with animal-nutrition experts: 

Consult and collaborate with veterinary nutritionists and formulators to ensure that your final product is nutritionally complete and balanced.

Making the nutrients digestible and available for dogs requires certain knowledge in regards to the processing of ingredients, ie. heating and mincing. It’s essential for us to work with specialized vets, laboratories, and universities (for research).”

Valerie Henssen

CEO and Co-Founder of VEGDOG

Include approved supplements: 

Supplements are vital additions to all pet foods, so ensure that your plant-based dog food includes those that have been scientifically recommended. Your team of veterinary experts should be able to advise on this.

Source: Unsplash/Trust Tru Katsande

All balanced vegan dog foods need the addition of Vit B, Vit D3, Taurine and its precursor Methionine, Valine, Tryptophan, Calcium, Zinc.”

Dr. Arielle Griffiths

Vet, and Director of Just be Kind Dog Food and Dogs Go Plant-Based

Consider using ‘healthier’ processing techniques: 

There are a variety of ways to process plant-based dog food, each affecting how healthy your final product will be. Consult with your R&D and veterinary teams to decide on the best methods for healthy, plant-based dog foods.

3. Optimize your marketing strategy

Source: Unsplash/Alvan Nee

It’s important that consumers understand how your plant-based dog food is better for their pooch and the environment. You need to be able to nudge consumers toward making a purchase with product claims that are both validated and strategic. The final product’s label, and how it is merchandised and marketed are vital to success.

Highlight key nutritional ingredients on packaging and in promotions:

Consumers will be looking for guarantees that your plant-based dog food can fulfill their pet’s nutritional requirements, so spotlight key ingredients on packaging and in marketing/promotional materials.

Many people approach vegan products in the food space (and perhaps even more so in the pet-food space) with an assumption [that] ‘plant-based’ means the lack of something, which can spark concerns that the diet is incomplete or has nutritional gaps. We focused on highlighting ingredients like peanut butter and sweet potato that are known for being tasty and healthy.”

Caroline Buck

Co-Founder of Petaluma

Build trust through transparency and credibility: 

Share your product’s lab results and sustainability practices on your website, so that interested (or wary) customers can read up on them, and avoid unproven or hyperbolic claims. 

We share all our lab results [and] avoid unsubstantiated or flimsy marketing claims about our products’ health benefits or outcomes. Unfortunately, it is a common marketing practice in the pet food industry to make sweeping claims like ‘healthier skin, coat, and nails’ – and even ‘longer life’ – without data to back it up. The bar is higher for vegan products to demonstrate that they are healthy and safe, and we want to give our customers straightforward information to make a confident choice for their dog.”

Caroline Buck

Co-Founder of Petaluma

Source: Unsplash/Eric Ward

Take a personal approach: 

Dogs and owners often have close relationships, making dog food quite personal. Indeed, it’s a product that carers interact with twice a day, that occupies a place in their pantry, and that is integral to their dog’s overall well-being and health. Utilize this in marketing with authentic, personal stories about why the product and brand were created.

We learned that the most important thing for our brand is to tell our own story. All our customers should know that VEGDOG was developed for Tessa’s own dog; this shows that the economic factors were secondary – the dog’s health was put first to find a solution.”

Valerie Henssen

CEO and Co-Founder of VEGDOG

Adopt a tolerant strategy: 

Make sure that your product’s packaging, marketing, and communications don’t try to ‘put off’ customers from purchasing meat and dairy products. Take a non-abrasive approach that instead highlights your dog food’s benefits and encourages pet parents to buy it.

At the beginning [we] focused on animal suffering, i.e. sharing statistics, and trying to inform customers about this, but we realized we were losing and not gaining customers. We’ve chosen a more patient and tolerant path. We can only educate and talk about the possibility of choice. Especially with dogs, it’s very emotional – you want the best for them.”

Valerie Henssen

CEO and Co-Founder of VEGDOG


Source: Unsplash/James Lacy

The future of dog food is certainly exciting, with innovative plant-based products set to make waves in the burgeoning industry. Make sure that your plant-based dog food is primed for success by following our recommendations:

  1. Meet demand with supply
  2. Get the nutrition right
  3. Optimize your marketing strategy

If you want to learn more, ProVeg can help. Get in touch to talk over and develop your plant-based strategy by emailing us at [email protected].


  1. ProVeg International (2020): European consumer survey on plant-based foods. Available at: https://proveg.com/what-we-do/corporate-engagement/proveg-consumer-survey-report-download. Accessed 2021-10-08
  2. Pet Industry Trends, (2022). Common Thread Co. Available at: https://commonthreadco.com/blogs/coachs-corner/pet-industry-trends-growth-ecommerce-marketing. Accessed 2023-01-06.
  3. Plant based pet food trend is picking up speed, (2021). Pet Food Industry. Available at: https://www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/10097-plant-based-pet-food-is-a-trend-picking-up-speed?v=preview. Accessed 2023-01-05.
  4.  Plant based pet food trend is picing up speed, (2021). Pet Food Industry. Available at: https://www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/10097-plant-based-pet-food-is-a-trend-picking-up-speed?v=preview. Accessed 2023-01-05.
  5. Plant based pet food trend is picing up speed, (2021). Pet Food Industry. Available at: https://www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/10097-plant-based-pet-food-is-a-trend-picking-up-speed?v=preview. Accessed 2023-01-05.
  6. Plant based pet food trend is picing up speed, (2021). Pet Food Industry. Available at: https://www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/10097-plant-based-pet-food-is-a-trend-picking-up-speed?v=preview. Accessed 2023-01-05.
  7. Plant based pet food trend is picing up speed, (2021). Pet Food Industry. Available at: https://www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/10097-plant-based-pet-food-is-a-trend-picking-up-speed?v=preview. Accessed 2023-01-05.

Last updated: