Officer homes in on US pet food market for continued growth

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AKRANES, ICELAND — Back in December 2022, Officer shared plans to launch its human-grade, wet pet food products in the US market, leveraging expertise from Akraborg, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of canned cod liver, and Lýsi, a leading producer of refined fish oils. Since then, Officer has not only launched its products in the United States, but has also made the move to completely focus its business on the country’s growing pet food market.

In an exclusive with Pet Food Processing, Rasmus Thomsen, business development and sales manager at Officer, shared an inside look into the company’s success in the United States and its next steps for continued growth. 

“The utilization of everything is in our DNA and mantra. We’re trying to utilize everything we can and bring it to the market with the highest value possible,” Thomsen said.

To mark its successful entrance into the United States, the company attended Global Pet Expo 2023 in Orlando, Fla., representing Officer’s first show in the country. The show represented just the beginning for the company, as it was approached by pet food brands seeking wet food production.

Following this interest, Officer quickly partnered with two “significant brands,” according to Thomsen, and developed its first complete-and-balanced pet foods, eventually shipping out its first containers to the United States toward the end of 2023. According to Thomsen, the company is already planning additional shipments — as well as entirely new offerings — all on due course to US pets.

 

Realizing an opportunity

When scoping out the pet food market, Officer initially offered human-grade wet formulas mostly in pouches. However, pet food brands began to re-examine their packaging options in the name of sustainability and sought more eco-friendly alternatives. The pet food brands interested in Officer’s wet production capabilities were also very environmentally aware. 

According to Thomsen, Officer’s standard pouch packaging did not fit the brand identity of one particular petfood brand, as it was not curbside recyclable being two material composition. At this time, Officer was just beginning to explore potential in canned pet food, but packaging demands from this customer pushed the company to fully commit to this new packaging format.

Officer's canned packaging for wet pet food

Realizing a gap in the US market, Officer began offering canned packaging for its wet food formulas. The cans will be available in 3.17-oz for cat food and 4.59-oz for dog food.

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Source: Officer

“We thought we lost this chance with this customer because their brand value did not fit with our pouch packaging,” he shared. “By coincidence, or interest, the company visited our facility in Iceland, and then we realized that we had the opportunity to offer them the fully recyclable can based on our human production side of our business. And that can fit very well with their brand value.”

By producing its human-grade pet food products in the same facility of its products for humans, Officer was able to begin offering fully curbside recyclable aluminum cans to its new pet food customers, leveraging capabilities it already had on the human production side. Akraborg, Officer’s sister company, had already fleshed out its capabilities to produce seafood products for humans, fully automating the canning process.

In addition to utilizing its existing processes, Officer also leveraged the same packaging used in its seafood business, complete with lithographic decoration options that eliminate paper- or plastic-based separate labels, and further drive home their customers’ commitment to the environment. 

“[The pet food cans are] actually the same cans that we are using for our cod liver business for canned seafood,” Thomsen shared. “It’s 100% aluminum… and we can also offer 100% lithographic covered cans. With most brands, you’ll see a lot of the pet food with a printed label wrapped around the aluminum or steel can. So, we are definitely offering the business something new.”

Additionally, since the canned seafood products for humans are produced at the same facility as Officer’s human-grade pet foods, the company didn’t have to invest much in new equipment, instead just switch running product day-to-day from those for humans to those for pets. 

Little did Officer know that cans would give way to new business. 

“We actually learned that the market in the United States is undersupplied of wet food cans,” Thomsen said. “After that, we put some more pressure on getting our cans into the market… We had to realize that there was actually a gap in the market that we did not see in the beginning. So, for 2024, I’m pretty sure that we will sell more cans than pouches in pet food.”

Officer's pouch packaging in partnership with Huhtamaki

Officer is still committed to offering pouch packaging to its pet food customers, partnering with Huhtamaki to launch a fully recyclable mono-material pouch.

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Source: Officer

Still with high ambitions on pouch-packed products, Officer and Akraborg initiated a cooperation with European packaging producer Huhtamaki. The task was to bring a fully recyclable material pouch to the market. Together the partners are now ready with a retort-able, mono-material polypropylene (PP) pouch to contain shelf stable wet-toppers and complete and balanced wet food. 

“The opportunity to stand out from the rest and to push the industry towards more sustainable solutions is now available,” Thomsen said. “Now we have the opportunity to offer both the standard pouch solution and the mono-material solution to find a fit for all brands.” 

 

Inside the formulations

In addition to its new sustainable packaging offerings, Officer is also expanding its product offerings for pet food brands into the complete-and-balanced segment, as well as offering additional nutritional complements. 

In developing its new complete-and-balanced offerings, which are entirely human grade, Officer collaborated with a US consultant to ensure the fish-based formulas were nutritionally balanced for pets and safe to bring to market. Because Officer and its sister companies are fish-focused, the company encountered a unique set of challenges in creating its new formulas. 

Fish are known to be a great source of vitamin D for humans, but these high levels aren’t ideal for cats and dogs. According to Thomsen, Officer worked with its consultant to ensure its human-grade formulas offered optimal levels of vitamin D, while maintaining true nutritional balance. 

“Our ambition is to have a very high content within the fish because that’s what we are good at and what we can utilize from our other productions,” he said. “So, we will go into to the market with the complete-and-balanced formulas [made with] around 80% fish content, which is a lot higher than what you normally see.

“It’s kind of special when you want to have a grain-free and high percentage of fish content in the products; it becomes a challenge because you have high vitamin D in the fish,” Thomsen added. “We have to fit the guidelines of complete-and-balanced, so you have to be smart how you do it — because our aim is to offer brand owners products without the classic fillers.”

As well as battling high vitamin D levels caused by the fish proteins, Officer also ran into palatability issues. Though human-grade pet food is rising in popularity among consumers, human-grade formulas pose quite a challenge for manufacturers, as every single ingredient must be human grade to actually be marketed and sold as human grade, meaning that a single non-human-grade ingredient can wreck the formula — even something as miniscule as a palatant. 

“Since we are doing everything human grade, we had some issues sourcing palatability enhancers from the pet food sector because there’s not a lot of others requiring everything to be human grade,” Thomsen shared. “We were searching for some time to get the right palatability enhancers to keep everything human grade.”

Officer's pet food products are produced at a human-grade facility in Iceland

The company’s human-grade pet food products are produced at a human-grade, sustainably operated facility in Iceland. 

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Source: Officer

The company eventually turned back to the existing supply chain offered by its sister companies to develop its own palatability enhancer, made from leftover materials sourced from cod liver oil production. 

“Here we are actually rounding out the perfect full circle of utilization of the cod liver,” Thomsen said. “When we produce canned cod liver, we receive day-fresh cod liver… Sometimes we’re not able to use it for the canned [business] due to its visual standards, but it’s still perfect for rendering fish oils for human consumption or even pharmaceutical use. So, then we ship it off to our sister company, who cooks the oil and they get this by-product material that we are now able to bring back to pet food production. It’s still human-grade quality, traceable and sustainable.”

The new complete-and-balanced wet pet food formulas further advance Officer’s core values of full ingredient utilization, using various parts of cod and seafood unfit for human consumption that would otherwise go to waste. The new formulas also offer full traceability and are produced using eco-friendly operations at a facility in Iceland. For a premium, the formulas can also include fresh, never frozen, fish — something that makes Officer particularly unique in the pet food industry, according to Thomsen.

 

Eyes on the US

With Officer having already begun shipping its complete-and-balanced wet formulas, and set to ship even more products, the company is already making moves for further expansion, specifically targeting the US market. According to Thomsen, Officer’s strengths of full fish utilization, traceability of ingredients, and sustainable operations all lend well to pet food brands in the United States. 

“We see a bigger interest in our sustainable setup in Iceland from the United States than we do from the European markets. So, our focus has shifted much to the US market,” Thomsen said.

“Right now, we see a bigger interest in our sustainable setup in Iceland from the United States than we do from the European markets,” Thomsen said. “So, our focus has shifted much to the US market… I think the Icelandic story is a good story in itself. Everything, from electricity to heating, is done using green energy, and that just adds to the story.”

As well as keeping its eyes peeled for additional partners in the United States, the company is currently working on a slew of new product innovations set to propel it into the pet snack segment. In alignment with its ingredient utilization practices, Officer’s new products will include a new dried fish-based snack, and an individually packaged wet snack for dogs and cats. 

“We see a lot of opportunities in the business,” Thomsen concluded. “We have all the material. The foundation of our company has always been about utilizing the fish; we don’t buy fish to only use half of it, in our group of companies we utilize all the fish. So, the utilization of everything is in our DNA and mantra. We’re trying to utilize everything we can and bring it to the market with the highest value possible.”

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