With an ever-expanding array of high-quality dog foods to choose from, retailers and manufacturers discuss what it really means to offer premium pet food.
Pets might be picky, but dog owners are also are taking greater care in evaluating what goes in their in pets' bowls.
Today’s ingredient-savvy consumers carefully consider what they should—and shouldn’t—feed their pets. Because of this, the selection of dog foods in the “premium” category is on an upward trajectory.
Feeding high-quality ingredients ensures that a pet is receiving the best nutrition from high-quality sources, said Michael McVay, co-founder of Allprovide in Norcross, Ga.
“Incidences of canine cancers, joint problems, tumors and other serious illnesses have increased dramatically since processed pet foods were first commercially produced in the mid-20th century, and many believe this is no mere coincidence,” McVay said. “Feeding ingredients that the animal was designed to eat, which have not been genetically modified or processed beyond all recognition, can only be of benefit.”
In addition, a diet containing these high-quality ingredients is helpful in maintaining optimal digestion, which aids in keeping the immune system functioning, said Jorgen Baymler, CEO of Hamburg, Germany-based Bacterfield.
“When a pet receives the proper amounts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, whether a growing puppy or an elderly dog, the risk of obesity decreases,” Baymler said. “Further, the ingestion of artificial additives can predispose development of allergies or food intolerances.”
Without doubt, ethically grown and harvested ingredients are packed with natural nutrients, said Ward Johnson, co-owner and CEO of Minneapolis-based Sojos. However, the value of even the highest-quality ingredients can be damaged or destroyed by heat and unnecessary processing, he said.
Ingredients aren’t the only thing that matters, agreed Chris Nakagawa, CEO and co-owner of Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies, which has several locations in Southern California.
“It’s about ingredients first, process second,” Nakagawa said. “In this day and age, the consumer is so savvy that reading an ingredient panel is pretty easy, but the next wave of education seems to be the manufacturing process.
“Just because you have so-called great ingredients, if you don’t know what you are doing in the kitchen, it doesn’t matter,” Nakagawa added.
However, as pet owner awareness and interest in the negative effects of highly processed food grow, the advice and assurance of knowledgeable retail sales associates will help shoppers to navigate choices and arrive at an informed decision, Johnson said.
From a manufacturing standpoint, clarity in labeling is key so the customer understands exactly what is being purchased, and therefore can trust that their pet is getting the best, McVay said.
“I don’t believe we carry any food that isn’t premium, so educating our customers about any food lines on our shelves is a way to create community awareness about species-appropriate foods,” said AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner of Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois.
“We are constantly educating customers, not only in-store during personal consultations and everyday casual conversations, but also in our weekly newsletters, blogs, Facebook posts and videos,” Tesene added.
At Loyal Biscuit, which has stores in Maine, education also is ongoing, said co-owner Heidi Vanorse-Neal. That tutelage begins by placing foods side by side and comparing ingredients, ratings and price per bag, based on a 50-pound bag of food.
“We start the differentiation process using the AAFCO ingredient descriptions, as well as the dogfoodadvisor.com rating,” Vanorse-Neal said. “People are always amazed that the better-quality foods really don’t cost more to feed because of the lower amount of food needed with a more healthful option.”
The discussion also includes mention of the benefits of feeding premium foods, such as improved skin and coat quality, better energy levels and reduced amounts of poop, Vanorse-Neal said.
Because many dogs are experiencing food allergies, owners are looking for a nutritional solution, said Lonnie Schwimmer, co-founder of Delray Beach, Fla.-based Nootie. When a retailer educates consumers regarding the proper diet for their pet, by avoiding certain ingredients or pointing out beneficial ingredients, the customer relationship is strengthened, Schwimmer said.
A New Wave
Johnson noted the recent emergence of freeze-dried and dehydrated food as a full-fledged, fully stocked alternative to kibble and canned diets.
“More and more, retailers are allocating prime shelf space to our category, and that’s exposing even more pet parents to our convenient, affordable and ultrahealthy raw pet foods,” Johnson said.
Sojos’ new Wild line of high-protein, freeze-dried raw foods features USDA-inspected free-range venison, wild boar and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. The foods contain no grains or glutens, no genetically engineered ingredients, and a blend of human-grade vegetables and fruits, Johnson said.
“It’s astonishing to see the difference a raw, nutrient-rich diet can make, from optimized weight to improved muscle tone to shinier coat and healed hot spots to overall health and vitality,” Johnson said.
Awareness of probiotics has grown rapidly, and pet owners understand the health advantages that probiotics offer their pets, Baymler said.
“At Bacterfield, ProBiotic Live pet food was created to meet increasing demands for quality, and the probiotics are contained in the food, making it easier for the owner to give their pet probiotics every day,” Baymler said.
The ProBiotic Live formulations are grain free, and all protein sources are hydrolyzed in order to be compatible for pets with food intolerances and allergies, Baymler said. The product contains a live and highly concentrated probiotic bacteria to restore and maintain normal gut functions and includes puppy, adult and senior formulas, Baymler added.
Mauri Superpremium Pet Food is Nootie’s new line of canned pet food from New Zealand.
“New Zealand has some of the strictest agricultural policies in the world to ensure quality, and we are proud to have this high level of integrity in our manufacturing process,” Schwimmer said.
Mauri offers clean, single-source protein formulas, and the proteins used are free of hormones and antibiotics and include exotics such as wild kangaroo, grass-fed goat and free-range New Zealand turkey entrees, Schwimmer said.
|What makes a food premium?|
Today, with myriad dog food brands on the market proclaiming to be “premium,” determining the best nutritional fit for a pet requires a closer examination of ingredients and other attributes.
“Unfortunately, there’s no legal definition for premium, and with many mass-market brands now using the term, the meaning has been watered down,” said Ward Johnson, co-owner and CEO of Minneapolis-based Sojos.
For Sojos, “premium” means foods formulated with human-grade ingredients, using no byproducts and nothing artificial, Johnson said.
The premium designation should not only encompass natural ingredients and the overall nutritional value of a specific food, but also consider the manufacturing process, said Chris Nakagawa, CEO and co-owner of Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies, which has several locations in Southern California.
For example, he continued, manufacturers promoting a product as natural or premium might not be using fresh ingredients, or could be using meals while charging consumers for a higher-quality product. These are pivotal issues for the pet specialty retailer to understand and, in turn, share with the consumer, he said.
“Premium food at Two Bostons means limited ingredients, with meat being featured as the first ingredient and starches limited as much as possible,” said AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner of Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois. “It also means the manufacturer is excited about each and every ingredient in the food and can explain that list to anyone, at any level, which shouldn’t take much time at all, since the ingredient list should be very simple and easy to understand.”
As a grain-free only store, Two Bostons has seen a number of manufacturers jumping on the grain-free bandwagon, Tesene said, meaning consumers now need to look carefully at each ingredient.
“What looks premium oftentimes includes split ingredients or is very starchy,” Tesene said.
For some retailers, the word “premium” isn’t so important.
“I think the designation is overused to describe products that I would not consider to be premium, so I actually don’t care to use the word,” said Heidi Vanorse-Neal, co-owner of Loyal Biscuit, which has stores in Maine.
Instead, Vanorse-Neal refers to foods in terms of ingredients and quality. Sourcing is an important consideration, as well as knowing that foods are manufactured in reputable plants. The quality of the protein used also is a key consideration, as well as whether the food has no byproducts, wheat, corn or soy, she said.—LB