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Down to Basics: Raw Pet Nutrition Versus Processed

Consumer awareness is expanding when it comes to the advantages of raw nutrition versus processed diets.


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In the quest for vitality and longevity, consumers are embracing healthful, fresh foods, shopping locally and exercising regularly. With pets firmly ensconced as family members, it stands to reason that they are afforded the same nutritional consideration as the rest of their kin.

“Demand for healthful foods for companion animals has grown exponentially in the last several years, following pet food recalls and new information about the quality and suitability of many of the ingredients in traditional kibbles,” said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn.

Pet owners are discovering the benefits of naturally occurring, raw nutrients and enzymes for their dogs, and the evidence of enhanced quality of life is unmistakable, from healthy skin and coat to cleaner teeth to optimized weight, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Sojos.

“The interest in raw has grown from there, while fueled by consumer pursuit of better food and nutrition for themselves,” Magnuson said. “In addition, with the undeniable benefits of a raw diet, the media is taking notice.” 

Moreover, dogs are evolved to eat a raw diet, including meats and greens that are fresh, uncooked and wild, with the naturally occurring vitamins and enzymes that cooking destroys, Magnuson added.

“Feeding dogs a natural, raw diet similar to what their ancestors once ate will allow them to truly thrive and shine,” said Gregory Jemal, founder of Five Star Raw and CEO of G Mason Group in New York.

Pet owners seek foods that are biologically appropriate, said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich.

“They are embracing the old saying ‘Let they food be they medicine’ and looking to provide their pets with their best health and longest life,” Margelis said.

 

The Latest in Raw Nutrition

Manufacturers are paying heed to the demands of the raw dietary evolution.

Released earlier this year by G Mason Group, Five Star Raw natural diets for dogs is a superpremium frozen line, said Gregory Jemal, founder of Five Star Raw and CEO of G Mason Group in New York. The diets are available in five varieties: Chicken & Vegetable, Beef & Vegetable, Chicken, Beef & Vegetable, Duck & Vegetable and Turkey & Vegetable. Packed in 1-pound chubs, the recipes are easy to thaw, portion and serve, Jemal said, adding that rotational and weight-management combo packs are offered.

“Five Star’s recipes are formulated by a Ph.D. animal nutritionist and include a complete and balanced blend of meats, organs, finely ground fresh bones and fresh vegetables, plus a patented vitamin/mineral mix, so no additional daily supplements are required,” Jemal said.

Raw Bistro Pet Fare recently launched entrées in
2- and 5-pound chub packaging. The entrées include the same 100 percent grass-fed beef, free-range
chicken, turkey and bison currently sold in bags of
individual patties.

“Many consumers prefer the patties, since they are easy to portion,” said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn. “However, the chubs will offer consumers a slightly lower price per pound.”

Raw Bistro is looking to a summer 2016 launch of dehydrated versions of these entrées.

“Dehydrated and freeze dried are excellent options for convenience or for the consumer who might not be quite ready to feed frozen raw,” Magnuson said. “However, we recommend feeding raw in its least-processed state to gain the full benefits.”

Yet some consumers still consider frozen raw foods to be messy, expensive and potentially dangerous, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis. With shelf-stable diets, feeding raw can be easy, affordable and, above all, safe, he added.

Sojos’ newest formula, Complete Goat, is the company’s first potato-free recipe, created for pet owners seeking a low-glycemic index in their dogs’ daily diet, Johnson said. Similar to other Sojos Complete foods, the new recipe is a combination of air-dried fruits and vegetables with freeze-dried raw meat. Like Sojos’ freeze-dried Turkey, Beef and Lamb recipes, the grain-free product is formulated using human-grade ingredients.

“Raw food has the power to literally transform the lives of pets,” Johnson said. “With that in mind, it’s well worth taking the time to dispel lingering misconceptions and introduce customers to safe alternative diets that combine the health benefits of raw with the ease of use and affordability of kibble.”

 

The Raw Learning Curve

When it comes to promoting newer products and categories such as raw, education is key, said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn.

“There’s always a bit of a barrier when changing from the familiar to the unfamiliar,” Magnuson said. “Retailers with the ability to inform customers about the amazing benefits of raw will definitely see their sales grow.”

Providing guidance for feeding a raw diet will help pet owners avoid several common mistakes, such as improperly transitioning from a processed meal to a raw meal, or simply offering a pet a piece of raw meat and assuming it makes a complete, balanced diet, said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich.

Additionally, consumers might consider a raw diet unfeasible due
to time restraints or could be nervous about raw providing a healthful and complete, balanced meal, Margelis said.

“Raw food does take customer interaction and connection, and an educated sales associate,” said Biff Picone, co-owner of Natural Pawz, which has multiple locations in Texas. 

Natural Pawz partners with vendors to educate and certify associates. In turn, these well-informed staff members are able to provide nutritional information and ensure proper dietary transitions. 

“We encourage customers to try a trial bag and slowly introduce raw as a portion of their pet’s diet,” Picone said.

“Once a consumer understands raw as a diet, they realize that there are many options such as raw frozen, freeze-dried and dehydrated meals,” Margelis said.

At Anaheim Feed & Pet Supply in Anaheim, Calif., training is ongoing, with employees often taking part in manufacturers’ seminars, where new products and the benefits of a raw diet are discussed, said assistant manager Chelsea Cassidy.

“A lot of our customers have dogs experiencing some issues with kibble, and, surprisingly, many of these customers come straight to us before they go to their veterinarian, so we have to maintain that knowledge,” Cassidy said.

 

Raw Food Marketing 101

When it comes to marketing raw foods, education and expertise play a strong role.

“We keep our consumers informed by being informed ourselves,” said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich. “We also display brochures outlining the different raw diets that are available.”

In collaborating with other professionals, the instructional component is expanded, Margelis said.

“We have been extremely fortunate to partner with a local holistic veterinarian to provide our consumers with in-store, educational seminars regarding nutrition, acupuncture and Chinese medicine,” Margelis said.

Manufacturers also call on experts to provide information, said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn.

“We work closely with top holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker and canine nutritionist Steve Brown to formulate our products, and present seminars to retailers and consumers,” Magnuson said.

Offering samples also serves to get the word out.

“Frankly, nothing beats sampling,” said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis. “Once a pet parent sees their pal dive into his food with an excitement like never before, they’re much more likely to take home a bag, and from there, they quickly discover the long-term health benefits that lead to ongoing customer loyalty.”

Retailers stocking raw foods note that word-of-mouth is a strong marketing tool.

“We often have new customers call first to see if we are carrying raw foods and then come in to make a purchase,” said Chelsea Cassidy, assistant manager at Anaheim Feed & Pet Supply in Anaheim, Calif. “Our raw food has increased about 25 percent in sales over the past two or three years.” 

 

The Raw Category Expands

The growing presence of raw frozen and shelf-stable diets is clear evidence that the category is emerging as a full-fledged alternative to traditional kibble and canned foods, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis.

“I’m happy to say that raw foods are well on their way from niche to mainstream,” Johnson said. “That growth is reflected on the shelves of pet specialty stores.”

Fifteen years ago, few pet retailers offered raw food, and many consumers were unaware of this option, said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn.

“Raw actually has become a category,” Magnuson said. “Today, it’s rare to walk into a store that does not have at least one freezer, and many stores are upgrading to glass-front freezers to better merchandise their raw products.”

At Anaheim Feed & Pet Supply in Anaheim, Calif., assistant manager Chelsea Cassidy noted growth in the category over the past five years, adding that the expansion coincides with increasing consumer awareness of the contribution of food to overall wellness.

“Five years ago, Anaheim Feed & Pet Supply had one big freezer for raw foods,” Cassidy said. “Since then, we’ve added small freezers at the registers and in the treats aisle and are adding another 8-foot-wide freezer due to high demand.”

Located in northern Michigan, Pets Naturally hasn’t seen the same variety of food offerings compared to other regions, said Andrea Margelis, manager of the Traverse City, Mich., store; however, more raw diet choices are entering the market area.

“Raw diet companies are also expanding their lines to provide more novel proteins and revamp their diets to contain less allergens,” Margelis said. “We are also seeing more companies offering freeze dried and dehydrated options.”

Biff Picone, co-owner of Natural Pawz, which has several stores in Texas, agreed, adding that many consumers are considering freeze dried and dehydrated as an alternative. 

“People want to feed less processed but are concerned about the recalls, and many veterinarians are concerned about raw,” Picone said. “For us, it is very important to carry products that have food safety in mind.”

 

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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