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Purina seeks to make pet food more appealing to owners

Now your dog can enjoy his

Now your dog can enjoy his "Filet Mignon" right alongside you. Credit: FLICKR / frosch50

ST. LOUIS - Many pet owners want their dogs and cats eating the kind of food they like. Researchers at Nestle Purina in St. Louis are doing their best to cater to that desire.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that chef Amanda Hassner is part of the team working on flavors for pets that tend toward the types of things humans like to eat. The Purina stable includes flavors such as "Rotisserie Chicken," ''Filet Mignon" and "Tuscan Style Medley."

"We want to have products that appeal to the owner," Hassner said. "It can't look or smell horrible to the person."

It's part of the effort to stay atop the increasingly competitive $23 billion U.S. pet food market. A recent report by Euromonitor International, which tracks pet food data, said millennials tend "to humanize their pets more than other generations and are willing to spend on higher-quality pet food."

Hassner helps formulate flavors, identify ingredients and develop marketing plans -- quite a departure for someone who spent the early years of her career moving from restaurant to restaurant before going to school at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.

She then spent seven years with Kraft's ingredients division in Memphis, Tennessee, before joining Nestle Purina.

Now, she takes her knowledge of human appetites and trends and translates all that to the world of dogs and cats.

There are substantial differences. For example, pets don't exactly chew and savor their food.

Many pet foods seek to provide specific health benefits. There are foods for overweight dogs, or cats with digestive issues, or pets that need to keep their teeth clean. All of that is accomplished through a variety of ingredients and additives that, by themselves, might not appeal to pets.

"Then we think about how to deliver it," said Janet Jackson, vice president of PetCare Nutrition Research at Nestle Purina. "If they don't want to eat it, then they won't get the benefits of the nutrition."

Still, there are those who don't put a lot of stock in this trend toward the humanization of food. Or, at least, they don't see much benefit for the animals.

Mike Sagman understands the need to catch the attention of pet owners. He is editor of Dog Food Advisor, a website that reviews thousands of food offerings by more than 100 brands.

"They spend an awful lot of time trying to make food seem appealing to the person pushing the basket down the aisle," Sagman said.

He takes the food names with a grain of salt.

"You don't really think there's a filet mignon in that dog food, do you?" he asked.

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