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Natural Pet Product Merchandiser Roundtable: The Trends in Sourcing Natural Pet Food

Everything from kangaroo to tripe is fair game as a new protein source in pet food, but how the animals are raised is important to industry people.

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserDogs and cats need no incentive to scarf up a dry, canned or raw food that has beef or chicken as a main ingredient. But of course that’s not all that pets are eating today. Three manufacturers of natural foods and one retailer spent time with Natural Pet Product Merchandiser to discuss what they’re seeing in the marketplace and what their companies are doing.

NPPM: The protein sources in today’s pet food range from the traditional—beef and chicken—to the exotic, such as kangaroo and opossum. Are these newer ingredients just a fad?


Ken Niedziela, news director


Justin Magnuson, regional sales director for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn.
Michael Thompson, CEO of Earth Pride Organics LLC in Lancaster, Pa.
Will post, CEO and owner of Hound & Gatos Pet Foods Corp. in Los Angeles
Nita Hunt, owner of Pure Pets, a store in Brevard, N.C.

Justin Magnuson: I don’t know that exotic ingredients are necessary, but certainly some pets have allergies to beef or chicken or something like that. From our standpoint, we believe the most important thing is how those protein sources are raised. Are they humanely raised, is it a pasture-raised animal or is it confined to a feed lot somewhere? We believe pets are going to see the most health benefits from pasture-raised animals.

Michael Thompson: As manufacturers and product developers, we need to look at what’s out there to develop the best product. I’ve learned a lot over the last 10 years about pesticides and hormones and the different items that are placed into our food chain—human and animal—and the number of allergies that can come from those items. If you have a good, balanced diet of beef, chicken and other fresh ingredients, most pets can survive pretty well, and I think people are quick to prescribe a unique protein source for allergies. I think there are other reasons driving the allergies that many pets suffer from today.

NPPM: What trends have you seen when it comes to protein sources?

Will Post: We’ve seen a lot of beef hearts, turkey hearts coming into play. Some of the large retail stores are really pushing some products that contain kangaroo, beaver, brushtail, which has taken off with a brand out of New Zealand, bison, pork, lamb, beef tripe and some freeze-dried meats as well. I believe that all pets should eat meat and nothing else. Some companies put in peas and blueberries and all that, but we all know there’s not enough peas or blueberries in there to benefit anything. Because they add peas to a product doesn’t make it beneficial.

Nita Hunt
Nita Hunt is owner of Pure Pets, a Brevard, N.C., holistic supply store for dog and cat owners. She serves as vice chairperson on the board of the Friends of the Animal Shelter, an organization raising money for a new animal shelter in Transylvania County, N.C.
Nita Hunt: I have a lot of novel proteins coming into the store and almost more than I can keep up with as far as making room for them. I am glad to see that happening, mostly because I agree that variety is important in diets, and in years past it was only beef and chicken. I tend to agree with Mike about allergies. From my experience, it’s more of an immune reaction that occurs in dogs due to pesticides, hormones and other environmental toxins that enter their body through vaccinations or cleaning products or other things that they’re exposed to. I am big on having my customers do lots of varieties, so adding novel proteins helps me in doing that. Some customers don’t want their dog to eat a kangaroo or rabbit, so it’s more personal preference as far as the consumer goes.

Post: I agree 100 percent with Nita about the allergies. What nobody is talking about is how dry dog food is made. They cook it and then they spray it with these greases and these oils and fats. I’ve learned [in some cases] that it really wasn’t chicken or beef that pets were allergic to; it was the way it was cooked or how it was processed with oils and greases and fats.

NPPM: Does more attention need to be paid to the processing of pet food?

Many of the upper-end or higher-quality items are using inclusion, are using much better fats than before—species-based fats versus a meat fat or tallow. I believe that the inclusion process, putting fresh meat and vegetables in the product, has increased the quality and the nutrients available to pets.

NPPM: Will mentioned pork as a protein source. Why isn’t pig, a common farm animal, used more in pet food?

Post: We launched pork in July and we’re selling pork worldwide. We think it’s a tremendous source of protein. Consumers want something different besides beef and chicken.

Thompson: Pork has been used for years in meat meal but it hasn’t been blasted on the side of the bag. Some brands are now using wild boar, which is not a far spin from it. I don’t see anything wrong with it, but we found it’s not as palatable to a dog.

NPPM: Grain-free recipes are popular today. Is grain-free food necessary to maintain good health in pets?

Will Post
Will Post is CEO and owner of Hound & Gatos Pet Foods Corp., a Los Angeles manufacturer of premium pet foods, supplements and treats. Hound & Gatos products are sold in the United States, Canada, the European Union and Asia. Post is a former career U.S. Marine and founded LIFE4K9 Pet Foods Corp.
Post: Consumers are doing this huge full circle, going from Store A to Store Z to find good health results for their pets, and they’re still searching. For 30 years all my pets had wheat, soy, corn, blueberries—whatever you want in there.The last five, six years they have done tremendously well on an all-meat diet. When an animal goes out in the wild, they’re basically eating the meat; they’re not eating wheat and corn and blueberries and apples. I saw a movie last night in which these wild animals went out in the field, killed a lamb and ate the intestines out of it. They didn’t eat the wheat that was next to the lamb. We’ve done a lot of trials and fed groups of pets a grain diet or all meat. The ones on the right, the all-meat diet, showed tremendous results.

Hunt: One of the things I discuss with my customers a lot is feeding tripe to animals—the intestinal tracts and lining. I haven’t studied this specifically, but to my knowledge the tripe would contain some of the grains the animal had eaten. So while the lamb has been eaten by the dogs, its stomach and intestinal tract contain some of those grains, but those grains have been chewed and sent through the digestive system, which has incorporated enzymes from that animal’s other organs and then those enzymes help the food to be somewhat fermented and allow for the dog to digest them in a manner that does not create inflammation in their own intestinal system but does provide some nutrients from the food the lamb ate.

Thompson: You’re exactly right. In the wild, you don’t see dogs chasing corn fields or wheat fields—they are looking for meat. They also are eating grains and other items along the way, either directly or indirectly.

Post: We have to remember that we’re not talking about a manufacturer adding processed grains, where there’s preservatives and everything else. The processing is a whole different ball game than a lamb eating wild grass, wild grains, whatever.

NPPM: Do your products’ protein sources come from the United States or overseas?

Magnuson: All of Raw Bistro’s come from the U.S. and are locally sourced. Two of our meat sources are within a few miles essentially and the other one is about 30 miles away. All our meat sources are pasture-raised, and the beef is 100 percent grass-fed. The chicken is certified organic and pasture-raised, and the turkey is pasture-raised, too.

Justin Magnuson
Justin Magnuson is regional sales director for Raw Bistro Pet Fare, a Cannon Falls, Minn., manufacturer of a sustainable line of raw food, treats and bones. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Thompson: Wenaewe sources 100 percent overseas. Our product is made in Uruguay and is organic. It’s very difficult to get a full range of organic ingredients in the United States at a reasonable price. Our ingredients are produced on farms that we own and are processed in our factories. So we have complete control and traceability from seed to soil to even the shovels and tractors used. Then you say, “Well, what about global warming and travel from Uruguay to markets in the United States?” The freight cost is less from Uruguay to Los Angeles or Uruguay to East Coast ports than getting a truck from St. Louis to either coast. The carbon emissions with an ocean vessel are much, much lower than having truck transportation. We feel we’re hitting all the right buttons with people concerned about traceability and health—not only of their pet but of the Earth.

Post: Just about everything from Hound & Gatos is sourced in the United States, including taurine. The only thing out of the United States is lamb from New Zealand. We did buy lamb from the United States, but there were a lot of issues with the company.

NPPM: Nita, do your customers care or ask whether a food is made in the United States?

Hunt: Customers don’t necessarily come in and ask for U.S.-sourced foods, but I do find they are often relieved when we say the source is U.S.-based. The question I have been asked is, “Is this made in China?” Not to bust the Chinese, but news over the last several years stated that Chinese sources are less than desirable for human and pet consumption. And I do know about Uruguay and New Zealand being very ecologically minded countries. If consumers were educated about those countries, they would have the same comfort level that they do about U.S.-sourced products.

NPPM: When you have something new coming to market, how do you help the retailer sell that food to the pet owner?

Magnuson: Raw Bistro is brand new, but from our standpoint experiences are huge. Anytime you can talk about your personal experience with something, it adds credibility to the product. Education for the consumers and transparency are huge. One of the challenges is marketing, which has created some confusion over terms such as grass-fed, free-range, cage-free. It can mean different things. You have to research the company that claims its food sources are grass-fed or free-range. Does that mean the animal was pasture-raised or does that mean it was grass fed for a few months and then fed grains the rest of the way in a feed lot?

Mike Thompson
Thompson is CEO of Earth Pride Organics LLC of Lancaster, Pa., a U.S. partner in Wenaewe Organic Pet Food. He has marketed and sold pet foods for 30 years for several domestic and international brands.
Post: What we’re doing across the country is in-store demos. We put the product in a bowl. The consumer wants to see it, they want to put the spoon in and move it around, they want to smell it.

Thompson: Two points. First, there is so much misinformation and marketers using words that have cheapened a lot of pet foods. One that strikes home for us is the word “organic.” What does organic mean? The USDA is trying to clean that up, and we have a product that is 100 percent organic except for some critical vitamins and minerals that pets need but that cannot be found right now organically. Secondly, the secret to pet food and educating consumers and getting pets the nutrition they need is through the independent retailers. We go directly to the independents, we talk to them, we work with distributors to set up seminars so that everyone in the store is informed about the quality of the product and the benefits. It’s also about sampling programs where you sell maybe a 3-pound bag for a buck. One hundred-gram samples have questionable quality sometimes because they sit around and are too small for a pet owner to know whether their pet will enjoy the product.

NPPM: What display or sales strategies work best when Pure Pets stocks a new natural food?

Hunt: Powerful packaging is a big deal because I carry a large variety of foods and they are mostly along one wall. Pretty packaging certainly stands out, and color is huge. I find bags that are devoid of color or devoid of any marketing strategy are ignored,unfortunately—some of those foods have great products inside of them. Placement of product is key as well. I do a lot of juggling of products as far as shaking things up. I don’t like to leave my products stagnant on the shelves. I want it to feel like a treasure hunt. We are also pretty cognizant of not letting someone wander the food section alone, looking confused. We are right there with them most of the time, helping direct them to something, based on what their needs are. Samples are a big deal, too. I agree that larger samples are better for my customers. They really can’t tell if their dog is going to do well on it unless they have at least a week’s worth of food. So we give out two or three small bags sometimes instead of making somebody buy a 5-pounder.

NPPM: Final comments?

Post: Hound & Gatos already has 16 SKUs on all-meat products, but I wanted to come out with tripe. However, I’ve been told by several large stores that I could be labeled as selling, marketing, whatever, byproducts. I was curious about what Nita thinks about that.

Hunt: Tripe is one of my favorite ingredients to feed my animals nutrition-wise because of the enzymes involved and the probiotics, prebiotics that occur naturally. But what defines a byproduct? Is a byproduct something that would be discarded otherwise? I don’t consider it a byproduct as long as it’s nutritious.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser.


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