Freeze-dried Raw and Dehydrated Foods for Dogs
Pet owners are choosing freeze-dried raw and dehydrated foods as an easy-to-prepare, nutrition-packed alternative to other diets.
When it comes to the advantages of raw nutrition versus processed diets, consumer awareness is growing and shelf-stable freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are paving the way for an easy and hassle-free transition to a raw canine diet, said Ward Johnson, co-owner and CEO of Sojos in Minneapolis.
Additionally, nutrition-conscious pet owners feel more comfortable purchasing foods that are produced in U.S. facilities, backed by the United States Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and formulated using ingredients that can be pronounced, said Melinda Miller, vice president of brand development at Dayton, Ohio-based MiracleCorp, maker of the Stewart Pet brand.
Freeze-dried foods allow pet owners to take advantage of the nutritional superiority of a raw diet, in a convenient form that doesn’t need to be frozen or defrosted, said Eric Emmenegger, senior brand manager for Instinct, a brand of Nature’s Variety in St. Louis.
As a bonus, pet owners aren’t paying for fillers or water weight, making the cost per serving affordable compared to other categories, Johnson said.
While some might perceive feeding raw as overwhelming and messy, freeze-dried and dehydrated food provides optimal, no-frills nutrition in the convenient manner consumers are used to—scooping it into their dog’s bowl, Miller said.
These foods are the easiest way to introduce and include raw in a pet’s diet, said Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which has stores in the Georgia area.
“Products such as Wellness’ TruFood and Natural Balance’s Wild Pursuit are trying to accomplish infusing dehydrated and freeze-dried elements into their kibbles; certainly the sales of these two lines have increased dramatically at TailsSpin,” Bernhard said.
Because of the benefits of a raw diet, including leaner muscle, cleaner teeth, better skin and coat, smaller stool and better overall health, the demand for feeding raw food has contributed to the continual increase in sales, he added.
In Redlands, Calif., Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face, reported that approximately 10 percent of the store inventory is devoted to freeze dried and dehydrated.
“We carry these foods because raw feeders need an alternative to raw frozen when traveling, and for convenience,” Grow said. “Additionally, when we’re recommending improvements to diet, some consumers aren’t quite ready to go all the way to raw, and freeze dried and dehydrated is the next best thing.”
Freeze drying fresh ingredients provides a family-friendly option between raw and cooked pet foods, said Breann Shook, owner and founder of Grandma Lucy’s in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
“At Grandma Lucy’s, we focus on single-source proteins with simple grain-free, limited ingredients to provide a wholesome food that is similar to homemade cooking for a pet,” she said.
Mirroring the trend in human food toward gluten-free, high-protein foods, quinoa has become an extremely popular ingredient, and it is high in amino acids. The new Valor line from Grandma Lucy’s, available in USDA Chicken, Turkey and Fish recipes, is created using this nutrient-rich ingredient, which was a main staple of the Inca diet, Shook said.
Sojos’ new Wild line is a blend of freeze-dried meat and human-grade, air-dried fruits and vegetables, Johnson said. Sojos Wild offers all the nutrient-rich health benefits of free-range venison, wild boar and wild-caught salmon; however, compared to 100 percent freeze-dried, high-protein foods, the cost per serving is substantially less, he said.
Stewart Pet’s new Fresh to Home Beef and Chicken recipes offer pure freeze-dried dog food in heart-shaped patties, packaged in a box. The foods are made in the USA with human-grade ingredients and prepared with whole meat, fruits and vegetables, Miller said.
In an effort to supplement nutrition, increase variety or pique mealtime interest, many pet owners are adding items to their pets’ meals on a regular basis, from vegetables to oils to table scraps, Nature’s Variety’s Emmenegger said.
“Pet parents who are already mixing are finding Instinct Raw Boost Mixers to be a convenient way to achieve those same goals with the additional benefits of pure, raw nutrition,” he said.
Introduced in June 2015, Raw Boost Mixers provide a simple way to add protein-packed, freeze-dried-raw nutrition to a pet’s current kibble by mixing or topping, Emmenegger said.
“At Nature’s Variety, we believe the most instinctive food for dogs and cats is an all-natural, raw diet,” Emmenegger said. “Instinct Raw Boost Mixers complement, rather than interrupt, current feeding behaviors, and pet parents can add raw to their pets’ meals without changing their current kibble or primary food.”
Selling the Category
While consumers certainly are concerned with ingredients, they’re also paying much more attention to how those components are handled before going into dogs’ bowls, Miller said. By gaining an understanding of what freeze-dried or dehydrated foods offer nutritionally, and in turn familiarizing themselves with the processes of specific brands, retailers can assist consumers in nutritional decisions for their dogs, she added.
It also is important for freeze-dried and dehydrated foods to clearly stand apart from other food options, Johnson said.
“That means carrying a variety of quality brands and stocking them as a separate, easy-to-find category,” Johnson said. “Given the growing popularity and substantially higher margins of alternative foods, they’re well worth the shelf space.”
Many pet owners might be hesitant to embrace a raw diet for their pets because of the perceived barriers of planning and preparation, Emmenegger said. Retailers can best market these foods by creating an awareness of the combination of nutritional excellence and convenience available in freeze-dried raw food, he added.
“Many pet parents already are making their own meal enhancements at home, but by encouraging sampling, retailers can benefit from offering these foods as an add-on purchase and ultimately create long-term customers,” Emmenegger said.
Because of the increase in demand for freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, TailsSpin is devoting training and resources to educating staff and customers about the effects of feeding raw, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, Bernhard said.
“At Furry Face, we start by explaining the differences between kibble and canned, which are highly processed, and freeze dried or dehydrated, which is a vast improvement over kibble and canned,” Grow said. “We feel that raw is the best and most species-appropriate way to feed, but freeze dried and dehydrated is in the middle, a happy medium, which most people are comfortable with as a good place to start their diet improvements.”
|Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated: Convenient Alternatives Trend Upward|
Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods have expanded from a highly specialized niche to a full-fledged category, positioned to uniquely challenge kibble, canned food and frozen raw diets, said Ward Johnson, co-owner and CEO of Minneapolis-based Sojos. And because of the incredible results pet owners see when feeding a raw diet to their pet, demand for these foods is increasing rapidly.
“The freeze-dried/dehydrated category has exploded over the past 10 years,” said Breann Shook, owner and founder of Grandma Lucy’s in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “Once seen as a long-term storage alternative for human food, it has grown to become a daily option for pets to enjoy an equivalent to fresh food without the fuss of cooking.”
This growth is outpacing natural, grain-free, refrigerated and limited-ingredient diets, said Eric Emmenegger, senior brand manager for Instinct, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety. According to GfK data, he said, in just the past year, pet specialty retail sales of freeze-dried pet foods and treats have jumped 44 percent to $74 million. These figures do not include pet food products combining kibble with freeze-dried pieces, which also are experiencing strong growth, he added.
“Freeze dried is growing quickly both in dollar sales as well as distribution,” Emmenegger said. “In 2011, according to GfK data, 51.4 percent of stores selling pet food included freeze-dried food as part of their inventory. By March 2015, the percentage reached 70.8 percent.”
“When Pets Naturally opened, we had customers purchasing freeze-dried and dehydrated foods online, but not a huge following in our store,” said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich. “Now, the category is growing every month.”
As consumers become more knowledgeable about pet nutrition, they also are more aware of the options available beyond canned and kibble, said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif.
“Even if consumers don’t know anything about the category, they’re open to learning about it,” Grow said. “There are a great many options for the inclusion of freeze-dried/dehydrated, whether it’s just adding it to kibble as a topper, feeding it occasionally or using it daily. It’s extremely versatile.”
Customers feeding these foods to their dogs often notice coat improvements and relief from allergies, and the increased moisture helps to ease kidney issues, according to Margelis.
As dogs age, moisture becomes even more important, a good selling point, particularly for customers with senior dogs, Margelis added.
“We sell it more to smaller dogs, because it can be so pricey for large dogs; however, it is beneficial even if a little bit is added to a dog’s dry food,” Margelis said.—LB