Pet food excites pulse growers

New opportunity for crop | Pulses are major ingredient for Saskatchewan company

Of the millions of Saskatchewan acres seeded to pulses this year, a small portion of the harvested crop will stay at home and be turned into pet food.

It’s not a huge market for growers, but with North American consumers spending billions of dollars a year to feed their furry housemates, it’s one that has caught the attention of Sask­atchewan Pulse Growers.

In addition to the varietal development and agronomic research that the association normally funds, it has also funnelled more than $70,000 into a project at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine to examine the possible health benefits of pulses for pets.

“We always want to explore new markets,” said Crystal Chan, research project manager with the SPG. “So we have to demonstrate that there are different uses in pulses other than food for ethnic populations.”

SPG is also working closely with Horizon Pet Nutrition of Rosthern, Sask., which manufactures pet food that is formulated from, among other things, Saskatchewan-grown red lentils and peas.

The young company has increased its production 20-fold in just six years, and it will be looking to Sask­atchewan producers for increased supply as it continues to grow, said president Jeff English.

When first launched, Horizon marketed a line of dog and cat food with whole grain barley, oats and rye. It has since expanded to include grain-free formulations, which is where pulse crops come into play.

The company looks to source ingredients first within Saskatchewan and then within Canada before looking outside the country, English said.

Some ingredients, such as vitamin supplements, aren’t easily found locally, but 90 percent of Horizon’s formulas by weight and volume are made with Saskatchewan-grown products, including meats, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Horizon’s rural location has been advantageous not only because of lower land costs but also because of its proximity to where many of its ingredients are grown, which saves on shipping costs. English said this is a major part of how the company markets itself in specialty pet stores across North America.

“Certainly into the U.S. market and other export markets that we’re looking at, I think the idea that you’re sourcing and producing out of Canadian agriculture is viewed very, very positively,” English said.

The pulse growers association continues to be interested in research that shows pulses are a positive source of pet nutrition.

Chan said a report on U of S research that looks at weight loss in dogs fed the pulse-based formula is due soon.

“I don’t think there’s anyone else other than Horizon pet food that’s considering incorporating pulses in dog food and we don’t think that the size of the market would be huge right away, but it certainly has a lot of potential.”

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