In the modern pet household, the "Made in the USA" designation is a powerful influence when it comes to dog food selection. The 2007 melamine crisis brought ingredient sourcing to the front line of consumer awareness, and the movement continues to escalate.
Additionally, health conscious consumers themselves are consuming more fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and they expect the same for their furry family members, said Susan Hua, co-owner of Los Angeles-based Bioethics Pet Food.
Dog food manufacturers are taking heed.
"More and more pet owners are paying close attention to what their pets are ingesting, so we continue to create responsibly resourced foods that are processed in a way that maintains nutritional integrity," said Tina Dailey, marketing manager for MiracleCorp, the parent company of Moraine, Ohio-based Stewart Pet.
The Starting Point
Consumers and retailers alike are seeking reassurance that a food is sourced as claimed, including the use of pet-grade versus human-grade ingredients.
"Probably about 85 percent of food is declared to be U.S. sourced," said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif. "There are some that source certain ingredients from other countries yet claim ‘Made in the USA,’ which, technically, is true. It’s very convoluted and easily manipulated."
The words "based" and "developed" are red flags to check out, said Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt. She’ll call the manufacturer if she sees them.
"If I have any questions, I call the manufacturer and confirm that the product is made and sourced in the U.S.," she said.
By communicating with their manufacturer suppliers and requesting Certificates of Origin, retailers can ensure that ingredients are being sourced from countries with strict safety and quality standards, and determine whether ingredients are edible (human) grade or pet grade, said Matt Koss, founder and president of Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco.
"Primal sources all ingredients from the USA, New Zealand and Europe only," Koss said. "All Primal ingredients used to produce our food and treat products are edible grade; we do not use any pet-grade ingredients."
TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which has several locations in the Savannah, Ga., area, offers U.S.-made foods that might also use select ingredients sourced from New Zealand and other European countries, said Kristen Watson, co-manager.
"Because we only carry quality brands that are hypoallergenic, we feel that, with today’s source-sensitive customers, these manufacturers would be leery about using ingredients from questionable sources," she said.
Consumers and retailers also realize that the best nutrition comes from whole foods, and the search for more natural products includes the vitamins added to their pet’s food, said Heather Hickey, sales director for Nature’s Logic in Lincoln, Neb.
However, many companies might claim USA sourcing for primary ingredients while supplementing these meals with synthetic vitamins from China, said Sara Kuris-Morgan, founder and CEO of Frenchie’s Kitchen in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"It’s difficult to verify the origin of many synthetic vitamins," she said. "We are transparent and proud to say that all of our ingredients are USA sourced, including vitamins."
Moreover, there is no requirement for disclosure of ingredient sourcing or changes in that source, Grow said. For example, a shortage of acquisition of particular ingredients from a manufacturer’s regular provider might cause the manufacturer to look for those ingredients elsewhere, she said.
"It takes a lot of research," said Katie Pottenger, owner of Parker’s, A Natural Dog & Cat Market in Chicago. "I go as high up in the chain as necessary to find an answer. However, the higher I have to go before I receive a satisfactory answer, the less likely I am to bring that product into my store."
Free Range, Antibiotic Free
Primal recently launched a line of pork products for consumers seeking an additional alternative source of protein to use in their current feeding regimen, and/or as a hypoallergenic source of protein for pets with amino acid sensitivities, Koss said.
"Pork offers several health benefits from a lean source of meat rich in B vitamins, iron and zinc," Koss said.
The full line of raw, frozen and freeze-dried foods and treats are produced from edible-grade pork sourced in the USA, raised in 100 percent antibiotic-free and free-range environments using no gestation crates, he said.
From the Sea
"With the exception of some protein ingredients—duck from France, lamb from New Zealand and bully sticks from South America—all Flint River Ranch products have been U.S.-sourced for over 23 years," said Jay P. Margedant, president of Roswell, Ga.-based Flint River Ranch.
Flint River Ranch’s newest formula, Grain Free Salmon & Potato Puppy & Adult, offers a single-meat-protein-source food. The formula is high in natural antioxidants for a healthier immune system for dogs, Margedant said.
Further, many dogs experience relief from dry, itchy skin caused by food sensitivities to grains, chicken, lamb, beef or other allergies, he added.
"This grain-free formula is our first foray into salmon and is meant to offer some unique protein that we have not used in the past," Margedant said.
Fresh to Home
"Stewart Raw Naturals are made using all-natural, human-grade ingredients," Dailey said. "Aside from our lamb, which we source from New Zealand, all of our products are sourced and produced in the USA."
The Stewart brand has added Freeze Dried Patties and Raw Naturals Fresh to Home Freeze Dried Puppy Formula to its lineup. Each serving has the optimum level of nutrients needed to help maintain a complete and balanced diet using locally sourced proteins with raw benefits, Dailey said.
"We’re always trying to concept new ways for owners to conveniently provide pets with the best nutrition and highest-quality diet possible," Dailey said. "Stewart Fresh to Home Recipes are a convenient alternative to canned food and available in chicken and beef."
Frenchie’s Kitchen’s new Grain-Free White Fish and Veggie Recipe as well as two new stew recipes, Chicken and Veggies and Turkey and Veggies, will be launched at SuperZoo this year.
Fresh-cooked and quick-frozen, Frenchie’s Kitchen’s gently cooked dog food is produced in a USDA human-food facility using 100 percent human-grade ingredients, Kuris-Morgan said.
"Gently cooked meals is a relatively new category, so we constantly are making people aware of our USA-sourced, human-grade ingredients and the value that brings," she said.
Farm to Bowl
For spring 2015, Bioethics added fresh seasonal vegetables, including sweet peas, green beans and asparagus, to its USA-sourced and California-produced foods, Hua said. The company introduces ingredients that are seasonally peaked, such as pumpkin in the fall and cranberries in the winter.
"Because Bioethics Pet Food is based in California, the Salad Bowl of America, we are fortunate to have access to year-round fresh produce and meats," Hua said.
With newly designed canine kibble bags, Nature’s Logic added dried mushrooms to all kibble diets, providing an excellent source of natural vitamin D, Hickey said.
"We’ve also removed the cottage cheese, so our kibble is now dairy free," she added.
Nature’s Logic selects vendors that supply ingredients from the USA and other countries with good food-safety practices, such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Europe. Further, Hickey said, vendors must guarantee that no ingredients originate in China.
Manufactures agree that when it comes to verifying sourcing, transparency is crucial.
"We encourage retailers to reach out to our main office or speak with their regional sales representative for more information about any of our foods or treats," Dailey said. "They also can visit our Stewart Pet Learning Center or our website for quick information."
Koss said that Primal is committed to educating the consumer market by offering a robust program of product literature that enables retailers to provide consumers with information about the benefits of these foods.
"Our regional sales team, in conjunction with local retailers, offers educational events that allow consumers the opportunity to learn about the category in an open forum environment," Koss said.
In addition to an inside support team, Nature’s Logic offers newsletters providing nutritional information.
"We also offer seminars to retail customers so we can talk to them directly," Hickey said. "It’s a great opportunity to learn more about our products, sourcing and production."
At TailsSpin, manufacturers often present employee training, with ingredient sourcing as an important educational topic, Watson said.
|The Meat of the Matter|
What exactly does the "Made in the USA" designation signify in the realm of dog food?
While USA sourcing is important, country of origin is not necessarily the critical factor when it comes to determining the quality and safety of the ingredients used to produce pet food, said Matt Koss, founder and president of San Francisco-based Primal Pet Foods.
"The USA has extremely high standards for food safety when it comes to edible-grade food ingredients," he said. "However, the mere fact that ingredients are sourced in the USA does not give the consumer or their pets complete protection or certainty that ingredients or products are completely safe and wholesome."
Most U.S. pet food manufacturers procure and incorporate pet-grade ingredients, which might also be sourced in the USA, Koss said. However, the same safety and quality standards that apply to edible-grade food ingredients do not apply to pet-grade food ingredients, he said.
"Pet-grade ingredients do not receive the same level of scrutiny as those of edible grade; therefore, consumers should be diligent when it comes to researching pet food brands with regard to the quality grade of the raw ingredients," Koss said.
Pet owners who recall the 2007 melamine pet food recall are asking tougher questions when it comes to sourcing, said Sara Kuris-Morgan, founder and CEO of Frenchie’s Kitchen in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"Unfortunately, many animals died during that recall," she said. "The melamine incident really was a wakeup call to the industry for better standards for our pets."
Because the U.S. has more stringent food industry benchmarks, the USDA and FDA are important agencies, she added.
"In the United States, we have regulations that are enforced, unlike many countries with no ingredient regulations, such as oversight," Kuris-Morgan said.
For this reason, obtaining USA regulations and certifications regarding ingredient purity standards is key to product development, said Jay P. Margedant, president of Flint River Ranch in Roswell, Ga.
"Knowing that I don’t have to worry about where and in what conditions my ingredients have been grown, processed, stored and shipped takes a lot of concern away," he added. "The end result is always a safer product for the consumer."—LB
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News