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Behind the Scenes: K9 Natural

Posted: April 17, 2012, 7:50 p.m. EDT


New Zealand Prime
The source of some of the finest red meat in the world is home to this fast-growing raw pet food company.

Police dogs and wolves share some common ground. Among the traits that link them are an innate need to remain trim and athletic, and an appreciation for high-grade raw meat.

Geoff Bowers discovered this while working in England as a dog handler. The former special forces officer joined the police force in Manchester, then transferred into the K9 training unit because he wanted something different. Soon he began studying dog behavior as well as their eating habits, and eventually that curiosity led him to a three-month sabbatical in Alaska, where he studied the grey wolf.

The information gleaned from that experience set him on the path to his own business.

K9 Natural dog food
The New Zealand-based K9 Natural—which features raw and freeze-dried food for dogs as well as cats under the sister Feline Natural brand—is an outgrowth of Bowers’ fascination with dogs and wolves. In Alaska, he noticed how athletic the wolves were, how clean their teeth and how glossy their coats were, and then concluded how wrong the average consumer was for keeping his or her pet on a diet of commercial foods.

When he returned to the United Kingdom from Alaska, he put all the dogs under his control on a natural raw foods diet.

“He quickly saw a marked change in his dogs,” said Calvin Smith, CEO of K9 Natural. “They became a lot more athletic. Their teeth looked better, their coats looked glossier. And the ability of his dogs to catch criminals improved. He managed to convert all the other police dogs in the UK to this kind of diet.”

Bowers lost two dogs in the line of duty. When the second one was killed, he made a decision to turn his attention to giving back to dogs by creating a line of food he believed would transform their lives. Married to a New Zealander, he took a job as a policeman in New Zealand. He made the move largely with dog food in mind. New Zealand, he felt, was the source of some of the finest red meat in the world.

Bowers incorporated K9 Natural in April 2006. The company, headquartered in Christchurch, now has 25 employees, and Smith said he expects that number to double in the next year. Superior growth might be the reason: Smith, who joined K9 Natural in 2009 after a career in the financial services industry and became CEO in 2010, said the company has grown 300 percent per annum in the short time it has been in existence.

K9 Natural has joined the ever-expanding category of natural-organic-holistic products in an aggressive way. It boasts 100 percent raw, frozen or freeze-dried foods made from quality ingredients that are free of grain and hormone growth additives, with no artificial preservatives or fillers, according to the company.

However, K9 Natural has some distinctive qualities that sets it apart from the competition, Smith said.

K9 Natural raw frozen dog food
K9 Natural offers frozen and freeze-dried dog food in pellet form.
“Within New Zealand, we don’t use intensive farming techniques,” he said. “All of our cows are wandering around on grass; they’re all grass fed. The chickens are freely roaming.

“It has become evident that intensively farmed animals have a lot of health-related problems, and it’s hard to control salmonella,” Smith continued. “Here, salmonella is almost unheard of. We test every batch for salmonella. We haven’t found any yet. But we test. We can produce natural raw dog food that is safe. New Zealand is very protective about its image. We can’t release something that’s potentially damaging to its image.”

Because New Zealand is on a large land mass with a relatively small population, and has lush pastures that get a lot of rain, there is plenty of grass from which animals can feed—hence the sterling reputation of its meat, Smith reported.

He cited another feature of K9 Natural designed to keep pets salivating and consumers buying.

“We put blood back into our food,” he said. “When an animal is killed for human consumption, they drain the blood from the animal. We put it back in. We recognize that there is a huge amount of nutrients in blood. We capture it in a hygienic way because bacteria can grow quickly in blood.”

Currently, K9 Natural boasts dog food in pellet form in both the frozen and freeze-dried categories and in such flavors as lamb and king salmon feast, green tripe, venison feast, and beef gourmet, as well as K9 Natural Treats (“Reward Your Dog’s Inner Wolf”). The company also offers a line of raw and freeze-dried cat food under its Feline Natural banner, with varieties such as frozen chicken & lamb and frozen chicken & venison.

Liora Robinson is not only a satisfied consumer, she’s also a retailer. The co-owner and manager of Whole Pet Central in Rockville, Md.—there are two other stores in nearby Virginia—said she has been stocking K9 Natural only for about three or four months. But so far, so good, as far as her customers are concerned.

K9 Naturals raw food
K9 Natural's tagline is "Feed your dog's inner wolf."
“The palatability is fantastic,” Robinson said. “I don’t know a single customer who has tried the feline and canine formulas who has had any issues. We stock their whole line.”

She recently rescued a German Shepherd-Black Lab mix with some problems. He was the runt of a litter of 12.

“He was basically a scabby sack of bones,” Robinson said. “He was very lethargic, with bloody spots all over his skin. He was missing at least half his coat. That’s why I knew I wanted to put him on a raw diet.”

After trying a couple of other brands, she said, she fed him K9 Natural.

“It was like night and day,” Robinson said. “Within a month his skin had healed, and his coat was growing. Now you’d never know the dog was ever ill. He’s full of energy.”

K9 Natural hopes to expand its line with more treats, and with frozen and chew bones, Smith said. The company also hopes to add more distributors, especially in the U.S., where it presently has five and expects another soon. It has two distributors in Canada. K9 Natural is available in 19 countries, Feline Natural in seven.

In the meantime, all of the K9 Natural and Feline Natural offerings are available online from the company’s website—which, in keeping with the company’s roots, has an online training component to teach customers about the benefits of a raw food diet for their pets.

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