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Dishing Up Healthful, Novel Ingredients for Pets

Posted: September 4, 2013, 3:30 p.m. EDT

Manufacturers strive to improve the quality and variety of their ingredients and enhance transparency to vigilant retailers and conscious consumers.

By Arden Moore

Leading manufacturers of quality pet food and treats share one commonality: They constantly strive to improve their products.

For Marie Moody, founder of Stella & Chewy’s in Milwaukee, that mindset has motivated her to be such a stickler on safety that she recently earned a patent for her food safety process for her expanding line of frozen and freeze-dried foods.

According to David Yaskulka, vice president of marketing communications for Halo, Purely for Pets in Tampa, Fla., that means using only whole-food proteins and ingredients, never any rendered meats.

Pet Food Ingredients
More pet owners today scrutinize the ingredients that go into their pets’ food. AMYRENE/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

But manufacturers aren’t the only ones driven to scrutinize what America’s pets are being fed. Retailers are devoting more time to touring pet food manufacturing plants and analyzing ingredients listed on pet food labels before deciding which brands to carry.

Kathy Hart, owner of Bones ’N’ Scones with locations in Palm Desert and Palm Springs, Calif., for example, interviews prospective food manufacturers much like an investigative reporter before placing any orders. And she heeds the feedback from her loyal customers who are more concerned than ever before about the quality of food they serve their pets.

"What I am looking for is undisputed integrity demonstrated by the manufacturer,” said Hart.

"It is vital to me that the manufacturer is willing to disclose the source of its proteins, vegetables and other ingredients. I look for plants that meet International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association standards—ones certified to produce human-quality foods, and whenever possible, I take the time to tour their facilities. It’s vital to my customers that the pet food and treats I carry represent the best pet food on the market.”

Consumers Are Smart
Many in the industry regarded the major pet food recalls of 2007 as a wake-up call to explore new ways to provide more healthful, safer food for cats, dogs and other pets in North America.

Recognizing that the pet-owning public is keeping closer tabs on pet food and trends through ever-expanding social media outlets, top-quality pet food companies are introducing novel proteins, creating low-calorie treats and being more accessible to pet consumer queries.

Pet food and treats containing chicken and beef are still available, but labels on top-selling pet foods now feature such novel proteins as bison, kangaroo and rabbit—along with probiotics, pumpkin and other healthful ingredients.

"Pet parents are simply becoming better and better educated,” said Yaskulka. "They ignore the pretty pictures on the front of the bag and actually read the ingredients on the back. The most successful retailers are helping shoppers do just that.”

"For the past 10 years, we’ve been seeing a continuation of the humanization of pets,” Moody said.

"People have become a lot smarter as to what to feed their pets. They understand how what they feed their pets has a direct impact on the quality and longevity of their pets’ lives.

"They are looking for companies with transparency and openness. We make everything in-house here at Stella & Chewy’s and people like that. They want to know exactly what you are putting in your pet food and how you are doing so.”

What’s In the Mix
Never one to be easily satisfied with her products, Moody continues to make improvements. She has enhanced her line of natural, raw dinners with chelated trace minerals to boost mineral availability. And she purposely adds taurine, an essential amino acid often found in food for cats, into her lineup for dogs because of studies linking taurine deficiencies in dogs to heart disease and retinal degeneration, she said. Her products contain vitamins and minerals that meet or exceed AAFCO requirements, she added.

Moody recognizes that customers want nutritious foods, but also convenience. Her lineup of freeze-dried dinners offers the benefits of a raw diet, but with the convenience of serving nutritionally rich dry food, she said. One of her most popular feline foods, she noted, is the Heavenly Herring and Tuna Dinner that meets nutrient needs for cats in all life stages.

"We wanted to offer an all-fish diet for cats and found that most cats really love tuna and herring and so we combined them,” she said. "Both are great sources of amino acids and they are loaded with fish oils.”

Halo adheres to strict standards while at the same time developing new recipes with new protein sources.

"Since its inception in 1986, Halo has crafted and produced its diets in the U.S.,” said Yaskulka. "And we are proud to have gone 26 years without a recall.

"Halo is introducing single-protein diets, such as our Spot’s Choice Shredded recipes for dogs and cats,” he continued. "Our new Spot’s Stew Healthy Weight recipes come in Whitefish & Salmon for cats and Turkey & Duck for dogs; our Spot’s Stew Small Breed Turkey, Duck & Pheasant recipe is a big hit.”

‘Made in the U.S.A.’ Gains Greater Importance
Rachel Payne has owned the Wesco Pet Supplies store in Carlsbad, Calif., for 27 years. But ever since the major pet food recall in 2007, in which far too many pets got sick or died from contaminated foods manufactured in China, she has noticed her customers are paying closer attention to where a pet food or treat is manufactured.
"The feedback I get is that people want their pet foods made in the United States or Canada and not China,” said Payne. "They also regard their pets as members of their family and will spare no expense for their pets when it comes to food because they want the best and they want to know it is safe to feed their pets.”
Kathy Hart, owner of Bones ’N’ Scones in Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Calif., spends more time reviewing email alerts from the Food and Drug Administration about pet food recalls.
"Customers want to know that they are feeding something safe to their pets—that’s a big reason they come to independent retailers like me to get pet food and treats,” she said. "We signed up for these food recall watch lists and we regularly interview our manufacturers.
"The bottom line these days is that I won’t stock a food or treat that I would not feed my own animals.”—AM

The company’s various grain-free recipes also feature ingredients such as pheasant, quail, chickpeas, eggs, peas, apples, blueberries, cranberries, green beans, olive oil, omegas and more.

"Halo only uses fresh meat,” Yaskulka said. "That’s a fundamental difference for pet parents who believe, as [Halo spokesperson] Ellen Degeneres believes, that ‘You should treat pets like you’d treat yourself.’”

Jay Smith, who launched Palm Springs, Calif.-based FreshFetch Pet Foods in 2009 with chef Michael Smith, consistently consults with leading veterinary nutritionists before making new enhancements to his product line. As a result, Smith decided to alter his formula and replace potato and sweet potato with the Mexican yam known as jicama.

"Jicama contains a lot more vitamins than potatoes and seems to be far more appealing to dogs,” he said.

"We believe that we are the only ones to use this novel ingredient and we are happy that it is also a prebiotic.”

FreshFetch’s raw hybrid meals are available in more than 300 independent pet stores and select supermarkets.

"It’s the best fresh pet food on the market,” Bones ‘N’ Scones Hart said. "And, anyone can tour the FreshFetch facility. I’ve personally seen Jay and his team roasting turkeys, weighing the portions of meat and vegetables and sealing the packages, and placing them into freezers before shipping them out.”

Now Here’s a Treat
In Canada, it’s all about creating healthful treats at Northern Biscuit Bakery in Concord, Ontario, Canada. All ingredients for these wheat-free treats come from Canadian growers, and the company purposely posts all ingredients on the front of their packages—not the back, said Lauren Michel, marketing coordinator for Northern Biscuit.

"We underwent a packaging redesign in 2012 and we now associate bright blues with our bison treats, bright greens with our venison treats and list all of our ingredients proudly on the front of our packages,” Michel said.

The company’s top-selling dog biscuits are Canadian Bacon with Blueberries, Smoked Fish and Blueberry, Grilled Wild Boar, Turkey Cranberry and Grilled Venison.

"For us, it is all about Canadian pride of healthy ingredients,” she said.

Because so many dogs are overfed and overweight, PetSafe created a novel low-calorie treat called Lickety Stik a few years ago.

"It’s been well-documented that one in two American pets are overweight or obese,” said John Brynda, program manager for treats for PetSafe, based in Knoxville, Tenn. "Our liquids and gels for dogs and our lineup of liquid treats for cats have proven to be a hit with pet parents. With Lickety Stik, you give your dog just one calorie in every 10 licks and they get a great treat, a very palatable liquid with virtually none of the calories.”

Lickety Stik is packaged in small bottles with roller-ball tops that release liquid whenever a cat or dog licks it. Flavors include Big Beef, Sharp Cheese and Smoky Bacon for dogs and Turkey, Salmon and Tuna for cats. PetSafe has recently introduced Lickety Stik LiquiMints—in all-natural peppermint, spearmint and eucalyptus flavors—to combat doggy breath.

"We’ve also introduced a complete lineup of Lickety Stik Gels loaded with benefits, from hip and joint care to better digestion,” said Brynda. ”Consumers are demanding more natural treats, and Lickety Stik is heeding this message.” <HOME>


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