Consumer consciousness regarding pet food ingredients has gone mainstream and, with it, so has an awareness of sourcing, with local and USA materials receiving the favored nod. However, in both the human and canine sectors, global origins are stepping into the spotlight.
Whether ingredients are sourced locally or internationally, it’s important for pet specialty retailers and pet owners to understand why a manufacturer has chosen ingredients from a certain region, said Michelle Granger, international brand manager at Ziwi in Overland Park, Kan.
"Local doesn’t necessarily equate to higher quality, or vice versa, so taking the time to uncover the details of a product’s ingredient sourcing will give retailers and pet guardians confidence when recommending or selecting a food," Granger said.
Further, it is important for pet owners and retailers to understand that more high-quality options are available to them when there is access to internationally sourced ingredients, said Joshua Wasserman, marketing manager for Farmina Pet Foods USA in New York.
"Different countries have specialized in producing particular high-quality ingredients and have developed higher quality standards for those ingredients," he added.
Still, misconceptions about products containing internationally sourced ingredients exist, "with people tending to view this in a negative light," said Patrick McGarry, general manager for Gott Pet Products, parent company of St. Francis, Wis.-based Hound & Gatos.
"However, it’s important for retailers and pet parents to understand that it’s not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing for a product to contain ingredients that have been sourced outside the United States, and that such products can still be high quality and safe to feed pets," McGarry said.
For manufacturers, country of origin is a critical element when considering quality and safety in raw materials, said Matt Koss, founder and president of Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif.
"Paramount to the origin of the raw materials used to produce products and/or the location of the manufacturing facility is the quality grade of the raw materials themselves—edible grade versus pet grade—and the production and food safety standards of the manufacturing facility," Koss said. "Retailers and consumers should be seeking brand partners that are committed to and can guarantee the use of only raw materials fit for human consumption and not for pet consumption only."
The made in the USA designation does not guarantee ingredient quality, he added.
"Products simply bearing the ‘Made in the USA’ label do not guarantee to retailers or consumers that these products were produced with the highest-grade level of ingredients, nor under production standards that require strict quality and food safety standards," Koss said.
Primal Pet Food sources a significant percentage of its lamb, venison and beef from both Australia and New Zealand, Koss noted.
"Our rabbit and quail are sourced from countries throughout Western Europe," he added.
There are a number of countries that are known for quality ingredients, including Canada, New Zealand and France, McGarry explained.
"Some proteins in our canned cat and dog food line are sourced outside the U.S.," he said. "Our lamb and red deer are from New Zealand, some of our salmon is caught in Canadian waters, and our duck and rabbit are imported from France."
The Woof Gang Bakery mix includes products that are sourced outside of the U.S., according to Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for the retail chain, which has headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
"When it comes to ingredients, USA-sourced products are always available; however, some of the best lamb comes from New Zealand," she said. "We would be foolish to exclude those diets because they are internationally sourced."
Likewise, The Loyal Biscuit Co., which has stores in Maine, offers foods containing internationally sourced ingredients, said owner Heidi V. Neal.
"While USA sourcing is always our first choice, some ingredients just aren’t available and need to be sourced from other countries," she said. "Our guideline, though, is no ingredients from China."
Sourcing Beyond the Border
From the pet food manufacturer’s perspective, sourcing certain ingredients outside of the U.S. can be advantageous because domestic counterparts might be in short supply or only available seasonally, which means the expense might be too great or product might not arrive on time, according to McGarry.
"Manufacturers strive to find suppliers that can offer not only high-quality ingredients, but also a consistent supply to ensure consumers won’t have any difficulty finding products on shelves," McGarry said. "It’s important to note that certain ingredients from other countries are raised, harvested and processed following protocols that are as rigorous as those practiced in the U.S."
Another reason for international sourcing falls on the regulatory side, Granger noted.
"Many of the ingredients sold in the USA do not meet international standards," Granger said. "For example, if a pet food company wants to export their products to other countries, some local ingredients cannot be used as they are restricted from entering that country and/or they don’t meet other regulatory standards."
Finally, companies source outside of the USA for either cost or quality reasons, Granger added.
"Pet food ingredients are often considered commodity ingredients," she said. "Unfortunately, many pet food companies prioritize price over quality and source outside of the USA simply to reduce costs."
Conversely, others source outside of the USA to find the very best quality, she added.
Countries such as Australia and New Zealand as well as several European and South American countries raise their feed animals under conditions that are more healthful and more sustainable than many producers in the U.S., Koss said.
"These husbandry practices in the countries and continents mentioned above yield meat products that are healthier for both companion animal and human consumption," Koss explained. "Practices such as raising animals on grass as opposed to grain, open-range grazing, the elimination of antibiotic use and more humane methods of harvesting animals are a few of the key elements that contribute to healthier meat products from countries outside of the U.S."
When it comes to sourcing lamb, beef and venison, Granger noted that New Zealand is at the top of the list. New Zealand has a global reputation for strict biosecurity and is free from disease, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), aka mad cow disease. This sets the country apart from many parts of the world, including North America, and enables New Zealand’s meats to be exported worldwide, Granger added.
Pet food manufacturers focused on developing high-quality dog foods are looking across the pond to source a variety of proteins, which are being incorporated in the new products hitting the market today.
Farmina Pet Foods recently launched N&D Rawcan for dogs and cats. The wet food line combines a careful selection of the highest-quality, GMO-free ingredients from select, local European producers, as well as wild-caught fish from the North Sea and grass-fed lamb from New Zealand, said Joshua Wasserman, marketing manager for Farmina Pet Foods USA in New York.
The product’s one-step gentle steam technology maintains the natural wholesomeness of each ingredient, resulting in a minimally processed, genuine food in the convenience of a can, he added.
Hound & Gatos’ very first kibble line will debut at SuperZoo in Las Vegas this month, said Patrick McGarry, general manager for Gott Pet Products, parent company of St. Francis, Wis.-based Hound & Gatos.
The grain-free recipes consist of cage-free chicken, cage-free turkey and grass-fed lamb for dogs.
"These ingredients are sourced in the United States, with the exception of lamb, which is imported from New Zealand," McGarry said. "We will also be launching a cage-free chicken and grass-fed lamb kibble for dogs, both prepared with ancient grains. The lamb in this recipe will be sourced from New Zealand."
Primal Pet Food’s raw frozen and freeze-dried quail formulas are produced using whole-body quail from Spain and France. These products are available for both dogs and cats in a complete and balanced formula line, said Matt Koss, founder and president of the Fairfield, Calif.-based company.
Consumers Value Transparency
In an effort to assist customers in understanding pet food ingredient sources that are restricting the use of GMOs, antibiotics and added hormones, as well as general pet food quality outside of the U.S., more independent retailers are researching the standards of those regions, said Joshua Wasserman, marketing manager for Farmina Pet Foods USA in New York.
Because pet owners value ingredient transparency, it is best for retailers to focus not just on the recipe itself, but also on trusted and sustainable sourcing, said Michelle Granger, international brand manager for Ziwi in Overland Park, Kan.
Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., agreed.
"We go to a lot of trouble to find out how a product is made and formulated, who a company is working with, where they are sourcing their goods, are they GMO or non-GMO, if a product is from overseas, is it prepared in an EU-certified facility?" she said. "Our customers trust us and know that if we are going to bring a food in, we have asked a lot of questions."
Further, staff training at The Big Bad Woof incorporates information regarding manufacturing methods.
"Retailers that take the time to have their manufacturer partners assist with staff education regarding the importance of high-quality, sustainable, edible-grade ingredients report higher sales volumes of these products," said Matt Koss, founder and president of Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif. "As a result, associates have a greater understanding of, and ultimately confidence and trust in, the brand offering these types of products."
Heidi V. Neal, owner of The Loyal Biscuit Co., which has stores in Maine, agreed that knowledge is key.
"We always explain that some ingredients aren’t available in the USA—kangaroo, for instance," she said. "The only objections we hear from our customers is that they don’t like cans from Thailand because they automatically assume it is the same as China. No one has ever balked at ingredients coming from Europe, New Zealand or Australia, or even our Brazilian bully sticks."
Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for Woof Gang Bakery, a retail chain with headquarters in Orlando, Fla., noted that visual aids are helpful in explaining ingredient sourcing.
"I love the informational graphic on the Stella & Chewy’s website, which shows where their proteins are sourced," she said. "It’s not a difficult conversation to have with our customers. Once we explain that we want the highest-quality ingredients from the best sources, they understand."