Is that a cricket in the dog bowl? There's no shortage of exotic and luxury pet food

Roy Rivenburg
·3 min read
Pet Expo
Tyson offers dog treats at its "delicatessen" at this year's Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla. (Zack Wittman / For The Times )

If you’re wondering how to inject a little variety into your pet’s diet, rest assured, you’ve got options.

Some of the strangest booths at the Global Pet Expo earlier this year were in the food section.

Tyson set up a deli case stocked with meatballs, bacon-style strips and other dog treats, which employees wrapped in butcher paper for trade show visitors.

A few feet away, a company called Country Kitchen operated a Serrano ham-carving station (the meat was for humans; they sell the bones for dogs).

Down another aisle, Boss Dog displayed cartons of frozen yogurt for canines — in such flavors as pumpkin-cinnamon and peanut butter-banana.

And then there was Jiminy’s, a new dog chow made from crickets. Chief Executive Anne Carlson, a former honcho for Smucker’s pet food division, said bug-based diets are more eco-friendly and humane than their cow and chicken counterparts.

“Our insects live a long and happy life” inside special “cricket condos,” Jiminy’s says in its press kit. At harvest time, the thermostat is lowered until the critters drift into a “hibernation-like state” and die before being roasted and ground into powder.

Jiminy’s also debuted canine grub made from grubs. Cuisine made with other exotic ingredients is on the drawing board, said Carlson, who has tasted 15 types of insects and jokingly calls crickets “a gateway bug.” Next, she hopes to develop a line of cat food.

A different dining innovation came from Nestle Purina, which says its forthcoming Pro Plan LiveClear formula curtails allergens in cat hair by 47%. The secret ingredient, which took more than a decade of research, is a protein derived from eggs.

The majority of new products echoed human food trends. Two companies — Merrick and Cloud Star — premiered Texas barbecue-flavored morsels for mutts (as well as Kansas City and Memphis barbecue recipes). “Merrick was probably looking at the same research we saw,” said Ann Hudson of Cloud Star, which also rolled out canine ice cream and sweet potato fries.

Other people-inspired edibles included pet granola, trail mix and “artisanal French macarons” packaged in gift boxes like See’s Candies.

The humanization of pet rations dates back at least to 1961, when General Foods introduced individually wrapped Gaines-burgers for dogs. Similar anthropomorphized food fads followed — from Morris the Cat, the finicky spokes-feline for 9Lives, to Snausages in a Blanket. But they pale in comparison to today’s fare.

The ascension of ultra-gourmet diets began several years ago. Now the push is so strong that Petco has begun opening in-store kitchens where “trained chefs cook fresh, human-grade food” for cats and dogs, according to a press release.

David Lummis, pet market analyst for Packaged Facts, a consumer research firm, said that kibble and canned food “will soon be seen as increasingly old-fashioned.”

Reacting to this trend, several expo vendors tried to project an upscale aura. Chicken Soup for the Soul’s pet food booth featured a stylish hearth with fake flames, cozy chairs, a book-strewn coffee table and photos on the mantle. The Fromm Gallery of Fine Foods displayed oil paintings of a cat “Napoleon,” a dog musician sporting lederhosen, a feline Julie Andrews in a “Sound of Music” motif, animal cowboys and other portraits.

Meanwhile, England-based Canagan touted dog food menus modeled on “the food of their ancestors.” Judging from Canagan ingredient lists, prehistoric canines apparently feasted on such delicacies as Scottish salmon, seaweed, tapioca, peppermint and glucosamine.

For the record:
11:41 AM, Apr. 09, 2020: A photo caption with a previous version of this article said that pet treats in a display case came from Blue Buffalo. They are sold by Tyson.