Pet Food, Flexible Packaging, and FDA Changes - What You Need to Know

Flexible Pack_Pet Food_Packaging_Pouches_Examples_AncestrySource credit: Ancestry

Flexible packaging has helped revolutionize how products are sold – and pet food is no exception. From being easier to seal and store to grabbing consumers' attention, flexible packaging can help give your pet food business an edge over the competition. The fact that with the new packaging you can feed your pets while being environmentally responsible has led to consumers clamoring for flexible packaging.

Plus, flexible packaging is great for pet food. Pouches not only make it easier to sell dog food (including treats), they're smaller than traditional boxes. This is fantastic for you and your customers. However, this means that the packaging is subject to a number of upcoming FDA changes.

To help you better understand the changes and what they mean for you and your business, here are the main points of the changes and how they affect flexible packaging, particularly pouches and shrink sleeves.

Flexible Pack_Pet food_Pouches example_Oxbow

Source credit: Oxbow

Current Requirements

The US Food and Drug Administration (or better known as the FDA) regulates all aspects of pet food, including the packaging. If you've ever taken a moment to look at the packaging, you'll notice that there is a big difference between what you see on a pet food package compared to a package made for human food.

While there are a number of regulations about the food itself, we're going to focus on the labeling. We're also going to focus on federal regulations (each state has their own rules and regulations for pet food, making it nearly impossible to properly cover all of them and what the upcoming changes mean).

Now that you know what to look for here, let’s dive into the current labeling requirements.

Currently, there are two primary aspects that are regulated: proper identification and particular labels about claims a product is making.

The following identifications are required on all pet food boxes, cans, pouches, or containers (including treats):

  • Identification of the product
  • Quantity of the product in the package
  • Business name and address of the company that makes the product or distributes it
  • List of the ingredients in order of weight used in the package

Just like there are certain claims that companies can make for people food (such as organic or sugar free) pet food has similar classifications. These kinds of classifications require that the pet food manufacturer or distributor meet certain requirements. If the company doesn’t, they can't add the designation to their packaging. And that is nearly all of the information that's required on pet food labeling.Flexible Pack_Pet food_pouches example_spotSource credit: Spot

Why the Change?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO for short, plays a large role in the labeling of pet food. While the FDA is responsible for determining and implementing the requirements, they usually follow recommendations by the AAFCO.

With the rise of pet owners who emphasis not only healthier food for themselves, but for their pets, AAFCO has started looking into changing labeling. The changes have been researched and reviewed for the last two years.

The primary focus has been on the two areas where people have become more ardently vocal about changes being necessary:

  • Packaging needs to be more sustainable
  • Packaging needs to provide enough information for pet owners to make informed decisions about what they are feeding their pets

The AAFCO has worked with the Pet Food Institute, or PFI, to come up with new regulations to meet the growing demands of pet owners. Make no mistake, the demands are more than reasonable. And really, the changes were a long time coming.

One of the major complaints (along with sustainability) was that the way the ingredients were presented did not always make it easy to understand what was in the pet food and treats. Worse, many consumers felt that the classifications were confusing. This is especially a problem for pets with special dietary needs.

There are more reasons to provide specific details and information that can ensure that we take care of our pets as much as we take care of ourselves or our children. While it may be inconvenient in the beginning, in the long run the changes are a move in the right direction.

Flexible Pack_pet food_packaging_pouches_example_farmers market_applaws_nourishSource credit: Nature's Gift/Farmer's Market/Applaws

What Is Changing?

Better, smaller packaging even makes a lot more sense from a business perspective. As for the labeling, it really doesn’t take that much to provide the details about the food (not any more than for people food). The question is how to implement it in a way that enhances the look of the packaging while providing all of the necessary details.

One of the biggest changes to come out of the research is that consumers find it easier to understand graphics of special classifications. Perhaps the biggest of these changes will be for food items like treats.

Treats obviously are not meant to be used as a pet’s main source of food. However, the wording on packages right now does not make that clear. As packaging for food and treats becomes more similar, pet owners need to know when something is a treat and when it is food. The new labeling will require that the graphic and wording are added to the back of every package.

Two terms that most pet food owners don't like are “crude protein” and “non-required ingredients.” These terms are neither clear nor positive sounding. Instead of adding such vague terms, companies will be required to add nutrition information that will be similar to what you see on the back of your food packages. With this change, pet owners will be able to quickly identify what is in the food or treats. This gives pet owners the ability to ensure they are giving their furry friends a healthy meal or snack.

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Flexible Pack_pet food packaging_exmaples_tomboy_market basket_scottSource Credit: Scott/Market Basket/Tomboy

When Do I Need to Make these Changes?

The changes are still up for debate and will require acceptance by the AAFCO before they make their recommendation to the FDA. Once the final recommendations are set, the AAFCO has to set a reasonable time frame for companies to implement the changes.

We don’t yet know when these changes will go into effect. At this time there are several variables. There are two votes that must be taken before the final recommendations are made. We also don’t know what time frame the recommendation will require before they're put into practice. The burden placed on companies to change their existing packaging will be taken into account. Since the changes include more than just the labeling, the AAFCO may recommend up to 3 years to fully implement the changes.

While you can’t be certain of when the changes will take effect, you can start to plan for them.

Start thinking about the right look and what information you'll need to add based on your current process and ingredients. That way when the time comes, you'll be ahead of the game.

You can also take this time to consider making other changes to your packaging. With a few changes, you can stand out from the competition.

If you don’t already use pouches, you can start planning to make the change in time for the new regulations. Pouches are the best option for treats and fresh food. It's secure and easier to open and close a pouch, keeping the food fresher for longer. Consider these changes to give your product that little extra edge:

  • creative and practical sizes and shapes
  • consumer-friendly options, such as pouring spouts and handles
  • options that promote sales, such as a clear window and glossy finish

This is the perfect time to make your packaging better for your customers. By taking advantage of this required change, you can really make your packaging more attractive and effective.  

What type of product do you have? What are your packaging needs? Flexible Pack offers the perfect packaging solution to meet your needs, including pouches suitable for aseptic, hot-fill, and retort processing.

Start your project today!