Garlic, cinnamon, thyme, and oregano, a list of ingredients commonly found on a kitchen spice rack, are increasingly prevalent in the diet of chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle. These powerful plant-based ingredients—called phytogenic feed additives—have a growing presence in animal nutrition programs in the U.S.
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Explore this issueApril/May 2017
It’s part of a paradigm shift in feeding animals that is being driven, in large part, by consumer demand. Today’s consumers want clean labels and food produced with transparency.
Observations in the grocery aisle and mainstream media channels show the food industry is responding. Choices for natural, no antibiotics ever, sustainable, and humanely raised protein products pervade the meat case. Restaurant chains, grocery retailers, and consumer brands continue to announce intentions to eliminate antibiotic use in their supply chains.
To bolster their experience and reputation in natural or organic brands, it’s a recognized trend for major food companies to acquire specialty, small food companies, like the recent Gold’n Plump chicken acquisition by Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. Companies are motivated to grow their portfolios and offer choices—often with increased margins—to consumers.
Meanwhile, meat and poultry producers are pressed to find solutions that support animal health and productivity without the use of antibiotics.
Trending Globally: Herbs, Spices, and Plant Extracts
Herbs, spices, other plants, and their extracts, like essential oils, have been used for human health and veterinary applications throughout history. It’s not a new concept in modern animal nutrition either. The term phytogenics was coined three decades ago by Delacon, an Austrian company that saw a need for natural plant-based solutions to keep animals healthy and performing.
No longer a niche, the phytogenics market has grown in global importance. Domestic and international regulations restrict the use of medically important antibiotics, or those important for treating human disease, in livestock production. Phytogenic feed additives are predominant in the European Union, which effectively banned the use of antibiotic growth promoters in livestock production in 2006.
Forecasts show the phytogenics market segment will grow 2.5 percent globally by 2022, an estimated worth of $774 million, as reported by Global Market Insights, Inc. Various phytogenic providers have their sights set on the U.S. as one of the most attractive markets.
In the U.S., phytogenics have been a beneficial component of conventional animal production systems for the last 17 years. Consumer-driven market demands, coupled with new antibiotic rules in the U.S. that eliminate subtherapeutic use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion, have producers revamping their feeding strategies and testing antibiotic-free production systems. As meat and poultry producers consider their options, more are turning to phytogenics as natural performance enhancers.
The Power of Nature
Developing phytogenic feed additives consists of selecting active substances found in nature and harnessing their modes of action for a specific impact in animal nutrition. The makeup of phytogenics ranges from familiar ingredients to exotic sources like quillaia (soapbark tree). It’s a process that requires significant scientific knowledge and research. Drawing upon 100 different natural substances, ingredients are precisely combined and formulated to create phytogenic solutions to animal feeding challenges. For example, sensory substances from thyme and rosemary offer antioxidant properties, help improve nutrient absorption, and stimulate appetite. Bitter substances from dandelion, garlic, and hops help increase secretion of digestive juices. Tannins from berries and peppers help reduce ammonia emissions.
Using natural ingredients is more than a preference; studies show plant-based additives make a difference. Natural plant extracts are scientifically shown to have an advantage in animal nutrition compared to synthetic, or chemically produced, nature-identical substances. Relying on all agents within a plant, natural extracts exhibit greater synergy among different active substances, which have not been reduced to the effects of a single lead substance.
The plant-derived active substance is very potent, illustrating the wonderful power of nature. In an animal feed formula, phytogenics only take up a small part—about 200 parts per million—of the total ration.
Like any ingredient, sourcing and quality must be carefully controlled to achieve product consistency. For instance, Delacon’s quality management processes include full traceability of raw materials and ingredient standardization. The plant-based ingredients are processed with microencapsulation technologies to protect active substances from processing and storage conditions, ensuring efficacy.
Benefits from Farm to Fork
Phytogenic feed additives offer a host of promising benefits to animals, producers, the environment, and consumers.
On the farm, phytogenics provide broad-spectrum efficacy, optimizing animal performance through nutrition in many ways. For example, feeding phytogenics helps the gut flora to flourish and supports a healthy gut microbiome. This contributes to reduced intestinal inflammation and strengthens the animal’s immune system so it can overcome stress and challenging periods, like weaning or hot weather.
Phytogenic feed additives help livestock producers do more with less. Feeding phytogenics promotes improved digestion and utilization of nutrients, so animals get more energy from their feed and perform better. Using nutrition strategies to maintain animal health, animals are more productive and can better reach their genetic potentials.
The effects of phytogenics compound to help livestock producers act sustainably and minimize the carbon footprint of animal production. Through improved feed efficiency and microbial interventions, feeding phytogenics to poultry and pigs has been shown to reduce ammonia emissions by up to 50 percent. While in ruminants, such as cattle, feeding phytogenics can mitigate methane emissions by up to 20 percent.
At the same time, phytogenics provides food safety, leaving no harmful residues in the end protein product to help build a feed-to-food chain consumers can trust.
Survey Reveals High Acceptance Among Millennial Foodies
An increasingly transparent food system means meat and poultry producers need solutions that not only work but also resonate positively with consumers. To test consumer perceptions of phytogenics (defined as essential oils, herbs, and spices) used in meat and poultry production, Delacon commissioned a research survey conducted by Millennium Research in December 2016.
The survey targeted millennials, aged 24-34, of which 44 percent identify as foodies. Millennial consumers’ preferences tend to influence older generations and their growing economic significance urges food companies and marketers to develop products that appeal to this generation.
While consumers have no prior awareness of phytogenic feed additives, the survey revealed a tremendous opportunity to connect with influential millennial foodies with a story about animal wellness, including how natural, plant-based ingredients, such as garlic, cinnamon, and thyme, are fed to chickens, pigs, and other animals.
Nine out of 10 (87 percent) millennial foodies say meat and poultry produced with phytogenics would make a positive impact on their brand choice. And, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of millennial foodies look at labels closely, suggesting an opportunity for food brands to differentiate themselves with the story of phytogenics.
Millennials—now more than a quarter of the U.S. population—embrace food experiences and make buying decisions that align with their values. Asked to select the attributes most important to them when choosing a specific brand of poultry or meat, millennial foodies elected “raised with good animal welfare practices,” “raised without antibiotics ever,” and “raised in ways that reduce environmental impact,” even before “certified organic” or “locally raised.”
The survey response underscores millennials’ interest in knowing how their food is grown and raised, and the importance of providing them with information. The benefits of feeding phytogenics to animals—including promoting animal gut health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and being a proven performer in antibiotic-free production—make a compelling narrative.
Food is a form of social currency and millennials make buying decisions that provide them with satisfaction or a feeling of superiority. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of millennial foodies say knowing that animals were fed completely natural phytogenics would make them feel great about their food choices. More than half (55 percent) say they would choose meat and poultry raised with phytogenics to reflect their concern about the environment, animal welfare, and natural ingredients.
The survey aimed to measure whether millennial foodies’ preference for meat and poultry raised with phytogenics would influence their purchase decision. If given the opportunity, six out of 10 (59 percent) millennial foodies “would choose meat and poultry raised with phytogenics.”
Several label claims for a brand of chicken or pork were shown to be influential for this segment. Ranking most influential was “fed a special diet that improves overall wellness and strengthens immune system.” Though, “fed a diet of natural ingredients that actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions by animals” and “leaves no harmful residues” also were influential.
A Natural Choice
Consumers want to know how their food is grown and raised. They want options in their grocery store or local restaurants that align with their values.
While natural, no antibiotics ever, sustainable, and humanely raised protein products prevail, animal nutrition will continue to adapt and offer those choices to the market. Phytogenic feed additives are a natural option to successfully raise animals that meet consumer-driven market demands and their benefits are proven to connect with audiences from farm to fork.
Millennials’ interest in animal well-being and the environment beckons producers and food companies to tell an authentic story with a deep level of transparency. It’s simple enough to talk about ingredients found on a common kitchen spice rack.
Pusey and Adams are Delacon animal nutrition specialists who customize phytogenic solutions for poultry and livestock producer customers in North America. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.