Peanut butter, sweet potato, apple, pumpkin and beetroot with botanicals and herbs… You’d be forgiven for thinking this described a salad bowl, lifted from the menu of a trendy east London café.

In fact, it’s the front-of-pack description of a new vegan dogfood SKU, by The Pack. Billed as a nutritionally complete, oven-baked meal, the product also contains a strain of fermented rye mix to “improve the health of dogs’ microbiome” and has a price tag of £49.99 for a 5kg pack.

While this NPD is particularly bougie by petfood standards, it is the latest in a string of plant-based innovations in the category over recent years. But given the recent difficulties within plant-based (for humans), what’s the forecast for those products intended for our four-legged friends?

Big petfood manufacturers are putting their money behind plant-based innovation. In 2019, Kinship (a division of Mars Petcare) teamed up with non-profit Michelson Found Animals Foundation and R/GA Ventures to launch dedicated petcare accelerator scheme Leap Ventures.

To date, the programme has supported the growth of 45 early stage petcare startups. Among them are several plant-based brands, including The Pack, Wild Earth, Bright Planet and Petaluma.

Nestlé-owned Lily’s Kitchen launched its own vegan dogfood range – Plant Power – in January 2022, based on the insight that pet owners were “increasingly conscious of their own health and the environment”.

However, vegan diets for dogs are contentious. Speaking in 2020, Daniella Dos Santos, then-president of the British Veterinary Association said: “It is theoretically possible to feed a dog a vegetarian diet, but it’s much easier to get it wrong than to get it right. You would have to do it under the supervision of a veterinary-trained nutritionist.”

According to pet owner advice on The Blue Cross’s website, “some pets won’t tolerate a vegan or vegetarian diet”. It also points to section nine of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which states all domestic animals have a legal right to a “suitable diet”. Failure by owners to comply with the law could result in a fine of up to £20,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year – so there are risks beyond the welfare of the animal involved for getting it wrong.

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That said, emerging evidence suggests vegan diets for hounds could have health benefits when done properly. A recent peer-reviewed analysis of more than 2,500 dogs found that those on nutritionally complete vegan diets were generally healthier and subject to fewer trips to the vet than their meat-eating counterparts. But even if the research is favourable, is there enough appetite to sustain such a niche market?

After all, plant-based petfood presumably has the greatest appeal to owners who themselves identify as vegan, rather than the dogs – arguably. And according to The Vegan Society, those consuming a vegan-only diet account for just 1%-2% of the UK population – or around 700,000 people. That’s arguably not enough of a captive audience to sustain a market, evidenced by the likes of Meatless Farm’s collapse and Beyond Meat’s valuation slump. So why is plant-based dogfood any different?

Research by the RSPCA this year found almost a quarter (23%) of pet owners were worried about feeding their animals amid the cost of living crisis. In this inflationary climate, surely an owner’s priority is to keep their pets sufficiently well fed rather than fork out for premium plant-based lines? Considering the added pressure of price rises across petcare lines in recent months, mass-market shoppers are seeking affordability when it comes to innovation.

So, perhaps plant-based petfood manufacturers are barking up the wrong tree… But then again, data also shows many owners frequently splash out on their pets, feeding them luxurious diets among other costly niceties.