Raw Dog Food Continues to Gain Ground
Interest in raw pet food is rising among health-conscious consumers, and manufacturers are responding with a stream of product launches.
The popularity of raw pet food is climbing, which, in turn, has pumped up sales and product options, industry insiders report.
It’s the fastest-growing part of the pet food category, according to Jacqueline Hill, co-founder and vice president of operations at Answers Pet Food in Fleetwood, Pa.
Google keyword searches on “raw” as it relates to pet food rose 32 percent year-over-year in July 2018, according to New York-based Gartner L2, a data and insights company. Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company in New York, found a 68 percent increase in dollar sales of dog food products with raw food claims in 2017.
Statistics may be proof enough, but if you need physical evidence, take note of the number of freezers popping up in stores.
“It’s clear with the proliferation of freezers in pet supply stores that the raw food movement has been gaining ground for a while,” said Claudia Monaco, partner and marketing manager at State of Nature, a Ruby, N.Y.-based raw food manufacturer.
Pattie Boden, pack leader at Animal Connection Natural Pet Store in Charlottesville, Va., has six freezers packed with raw pet food. She said she always recommends raw food first, followed by freeze-dried/dehydrated, and then frozen gently cooked, with high-protein, low-carb kibbles trailing.
Pet food manufacturers are not only quick to fill these freezers—they are constantly finding new ways to draw pet owners to this category. For example, Primal Pet Foods has added freeze-dried raw and raw blended products in an effort to make the category more approachable to a larger audience, said Kyle Frautnick, marketing director of the Fairfield, Calif.-based company.
“The freeze-dried category continues to grow primarily because of convenience,” Frautnick said. “Toppers continue to trend up because they provide an easy entry into fresh/raw foods.”
While pet owners have become more conscious about the benefits of feeding a natural and balanced diet, they still need direction, especially in the raw food space, according to industry insiders.
“Customers really don’t know what they are looking for if they are new to this type of feeding,” said Pattie Boden, pack leader at Animal Connection Natural Pet Store in Charlottesville, Va. “They just want to feed their dogs better.”
To help educate customers, Boden goes through all the store’s raw food offerings, providing samples of frozen and freeze-dried products along the way.
Pet owners are beginning to understand the “power of raw,” said Molly Mulcahy, vice president of brand marketing for Stella & Chewy’s in Oak Creek, Wis.
“The raw pet food category is a newer pet food segment and requires more category education to convert pet parents to raw food,” Mulcahy said. “But … there is still a misunderstanding on the safety of raw.”
That’s why Stella & Chewy’s partners with neighborhood pet stores. It gives company officials an opportunity to not only discuss the benefits of raw food, but also to explain how Stella & Chewy’s “goes above and beyond to keep our products safe,” Mulcahy said.
Answers Pet Food has been tackling this misconception head on. The Fleetwood, Pa.-based company recently hit the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) with a declaratory judgment complaint stating that government regulators are “attempting to make raw and minimally processed food appear dangerous, when science has proven that animal health actually benefits from minimally processed pet foods.”
Answers Pet Food officials launched a corresponding multimedia campaign called Freedom to Feed in an effort to educate consumers about its fight with the FDA. The company has also posted a video on its website discussing fermentation, food safety and the FDA’s role in the industry.
Jacqueline Hill, co-founder and vice president of operations at Answers Pet Food, also hopes to educate consumers about what “raw” food really means.
“Most of the raw diets [on the market] are no longer truly raw, in my scientific opinion,” said Hill, who has a background in microbiology and nutrition.
Instead of using high-heat, high-pressure pasteurization or irradiation, which denatures proteins, Answers Pet Food uses fermentation, the most natural and effective way to make products as safe and healthful as possible, according to Hill.
Easing into the Category
For pet owners who are just getting into the raw food category, freeze-dried, fresh food topper products and meal mixers are all great starters, according to insiders.
“Freeze-dried is a great way to introduce the idea of adding fresh meat, especially nuggets, mix-ins or toppers,” Boden said. “They’re small and mix easily into a kibble diet, or they can be used as training treats. We are especially grateful to the companies who provide us samples, which are essential to helping us make that first sale.”
Claudia Monaco, partner and marketing manager at State of Nature, a Ruby, N.Y.-based raw food manufacturer, said burgers work well for first timers because they are easy to thaw and convenient.
Not every pet owner will be feeding 100 percent raw all the time, said Kyle Frautnick, marketing director of Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif.
“Instead, retailers should focus on 100 percent of their consumers feeding some fresh foods,” he said.
Boden encourages her customers to add raw to every brand of kibble she sells, even the high meat-based protein, low-carb kibble offerings, she said.
According to Patti Salladay, sales and marketing manager for Northwest Naturals in Portland, Ore., “Any raw is better than no raw.”
Monaco cautions, however, that mixing dry or canned food with raw might not provide complete nutrition.
“A true raw food diet excludes all other types of pet food for a reason,” she said. “The canine and feline digestive system is designed to get the most out of raw food … However, if for some reason a consumer won’t or can’t feed only raw, we have found that a little kibble—limited ingredients only—added to raw works out well for most dogs.”
Beyond the Basics
As the raw pet food category continues to grow and attract customers, pet food manufacturers are developing new product flavors and varieties to meet demand.
Primal Pet Foods recently launched frozen whole-food toppers called Primal Edible Elixirs. The three varieties—Healthy Green Smoothie (immunity boost), Winter Squash Puree (digestive support) and Omega Mussel Mélange (joint health)—are designed to support pet health, according to Kyle Frautnick, marketing director of the Fairfield, Calif.-based company.
“Approachable and easy to serve in closable recyclable containers, this line of whole-food toppers is just another gateway item for retailers to get every customer shopping from the freezer,” Frautnick said.
Heart-shaped burgers are the most recent introduction from State of Nature, which is based in Ruby, N.Y. The burgers come in two sizes: 2 ounces for smaller dogs and 8 ounces for bigger dogs.
Northwest Naturals in Portland, Ore., recently added new proteins to its recipes, including: duck, rabbit and whitefish, as well as Freeze Dried Green Lipped Mussels, among other products.
Answers Pet Food launched fermented chicken feet, designed for oral health. Additional proteins—rabbit and duck—and fermented pig feet are in the pipeline, according to Jacqueline Hill, co-founder and vice president of operations for the Fleetwood, Pa.-based company.
Stella & Chewy’s has been busy with various launches this year, including Simply Stella’s Limited Ingredient Raw Coated Kibble, designed for dogs with food sensitivities, and a freeze-dried morsels product line called Stella Solutions, which consists of Digestive Boost, Hip & Joint Boost, Immune Boost and Skin & Coat Boost, said Molly Mulcahy, vice president of brand marketing for the Oak Creek, Wis.-based company.