More and more pet owners are seeking pet food brands that are made in the United States, citing quality and safety as driving factors. While the rise of this particular category is growing, it’s not exactly a surprise.
“Made in the USA pet food is not a new trend,” said Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has three pet supply stores in Pittsburgh. “In fact, independent pet stores all over the country, including Petagogy, were founded with the mission of selling only the highest-quality foods which included those made—and principally sourced—in the USA/North America.”
Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co., a manufacturer in Markham, Ill., has seen the category grow over the past 18 years.
“It continues to be sought out for an assurance in sourcing, high-quality ingredients and best-in-class manufacturing,” Sher said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, this has escalated customers’ concerns for seeking made in the USA for dependable and reliable supply chains, and the confidence that their pet’s food will always be available.”
Having fresh, raw and freeze-dried food products made in the United States is especially important, according to Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products, a manufacturer in Westlake Village, Calif.
“Dry pet food makes up the majority of pet food sales, but fresh, raw and freeze-dried have definitely found a niche,” Herrick said. “The problem with raw and fresh foods is the safety and handling of the food. There can be refrigeration issues before it gets into the hands of the consumer, which can compromise the diet.”
MiracleCorp’s Stewart brand is built on single-ingredient, freeze-dried treats that are sourced from within the United States and made in the company’s own kitchen facility in Dayton, Ohio.
“More than ever, pet parents are looking for [the] flag, icons and symbols on product packages so they can be confident about what they’re buying and where it came from,” said Alison Cremeans, director of marketing at MiracleCorp.
As the number of customers reaching for made in the USA brands increases, so do sales.
“Since our founding in 2011, we have only sold pet foods and treats that are made in the USA or Canada, and our sales have always been steadily climbing,” Blum said.
The pandemic has helped further boost sales, according to Cremeans.
“Our sales have boomed during the pandemic along with the surge in pet adoptions,” Cremeans said. “Our freeze-dried food and treats have a very long shelf life, so that interests both retailers and consumers who are pantry loading during this crazy time.”
Merrie Morris, co-owner of Tail Waggin’ PetStop, a pet store in Kansas City, Mo., only carries U.S.- and Canadian-manufactured food.
“Our customers don’t need to seek out made in the USA food; it’s assumed,” Morris said.
While U.S.-made pet food is not a selling point at Tail Waggin’ PetStop, where the food is made in the United States can be, Morris said.
“Diamond has offices here in Missouri, so we market their Taste of the Wild as a Missouri product and tell folks we know the founders’ grandson, which is true,” Morris said. “That has an enormous impact. We genuinely feel we have a personal connection. The customer feels that, and it translates that they feel they also have that connection.”
Supporting made in the USA products has an even more far-reaching effect than people may realize, according to Sher.
“I don’t understand why we are not supporting our country first and foremost,” Sher said. “We should always be focused on made in the USA to help everyone and our own economy. You’re supporting our own country by seeking out made in the USA. From farm to food to what nourishes our beloved pets, choose USA.”
What’s in the bag?
As pets continue to gain “family member” status, their food can oftentimes resemble what’s on their owners’ plates.
“Humanization and personalization are the keys to the future of the pet industry,” said Alison Cremeans, director of marketing at MiracleCorp, a manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio. “Using recognizable ingredients, from sources they trust, and then customized however possible to their pet, create a product they simply can’t refuse.”
Pet owners need to feed what’s best for their pets, though, not just what they find appealing themselves, said Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products, a manufacturer in Westlake Village, Calif.
“There’s a big trend to feed your dog like you would eat, but I’m not a big believer in that,” Herrick said. “Some of the new fresh diets will look very pretty and have little pieces of raw carrot in them. This is strictly for the pet parent to get them to buy it. The consumer looks at it and says, ‘Oh, carrots—must be healthy!’ Carrots are 90 percent water. Do you know how many pounds of carrots your dog would have to eat to get a healthy effect on the body? Your pet can’t eat that much. That’s why kibble made correctly, and mixed with fresh ingredients and dry ingredients at time of manufacture, can deliver the 42 essential nutrients that a pet needs at every meal.”
With the increase of made in the USA pet food brand options, it can sometimes be overwhelming for pet owners, which is why Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has stores in Pittsburgh, educates customers about pet food sourcing.
“Just because something is made in the USA doesn’t mean the ingredients they are using were sourced in the USA,” Blum said.
It’s more important now than ever that companies source locally, said Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co., a manufacturer in Markham, Ill.
“We predominantly source our ingredients within 50 miles of our manufacturing facility, which is a huge reason we were able to maintain 99 percent fulfillment throughout the pandemic,” Sher said. “We have seen major shelf outages for companies who A) do not manufacture their own product, B) import products and C) source raw materials globally. We remain committed to independent pet specialty retailers across the USA.”
Company officials bring in fresh ingredients each morning, and then make everything on site in the company’s manufacturing facility, according to Sher. This gives them complete control over quality, ingredients and safety, Sher said. In addition, the company handles canning, storage and distribution. Evanger’s never outsources any part of its process to a third party for co-packing, Sher noted.
While many U.S. ingredients are “terrific,” there are many ingredients that the United States does not manufacture, Herrick pointed out.
“Vitamin C, for example, in quantity, isn’t made here,” Herrick said. “China is the No. 1 manufacturer of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. I do not buy any ingredients from China but do purchase vitamins and minerals from France, Germany and the Netherlands.”
Along those same lines, just because an ingredient comes from the United States, doesn’t mean it’s of the highest quality, Cremeans said.
“Many products from overseas are perfectly healthy and usable,” Cremeans added. “In general, it’s about sourcing responsibly and knowing the ingredients and your products inside and out. If you don’t know all the information about your products, you can’t share that information about your products. Transparency in advertising and packaging is important for first-time buyers and to creating a loyal fan base. I see many products that claim ‘Made in the USA with the World’s Finest Ingredients,’ and I think that’s a great way to highlight both your sourcing and production.”
Cremeans gave turmeric, which is growing in popularity, as an example.
“India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crop and consumes 80 percent of it,” Cremeans said. “It makes sense to purchase ingredients like these where they have been natively grown for centuries/decades/years.”
Pet Food Specificity
There’s no shortage of innovation within the pet food marketplace, particularly when it comes to addressing specific needs, whether they be breed or health based. For instance, Lucy Pet Products launched a new dry dog food formula in September 2020 called Tactical Fuel, which was developed for military and police department K9s, government working dogs and other hardworking canines.
“These dogs are high-stress working dogs and have to be on their game at all times,” said Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products, a manufacturer in Westlake Village, Calif. “They cannot have digestive upsets when they are going on patrol or riding in the police car. With Tactical Fuel, the animal nutrition guru Dr. George C. Fahey put his knowledge of digestive health into the development of this product. It’s a revolutionary food for all working dogs.”
Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co., a manufacturer in Markham, Ill., recently launched its USA line of cat food called EVx Restricted Diets to help with cats’ most common health challenges.
Dietary focuses include Bland Diet: Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe, an option for cats with digestive issues; Urinary Tract: Boneless Beef Chunks in Gravy with Cranberries & Taurine to support cats with struvite urinary crystals; Weight Management: Chicken, Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe for weight control; Low Phosphorus: Boneless Chicken in Broth Recipe, an option for kidney concerns, renal failure and low phosphorus needs by being low in calcium, magnesium, ash, starch, fiber and carbs; and Senior & Joint Health: with Salmon, Taurine, L-Carnitine, Glucosamine and Chondroitin.
Also new from Evanger’s is Hi-Bio.
“Hi-Bio from Evanger’s, the raw diet alternative for dogs and cats, is a carefully selected blend of the most sustainable ingredients harvested at the pinnacle of freshness,” said Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. “Minimal processing helps preserve the nutritional elements and enzymes of raw food, while dehydration gently dries the food at higher moisture levels, making Hi-Bio easily digestible and the nutrients absorbed.”
Hi-Bio can be used as a treat, meal enhancer or complete meal, Sher added.
MiracleCorp recently released Stewart Bacon Pop-Its, a line of freeze-dried treats that have real bacon as the main ingredient, said Alison Cremeans, director of marketing for the Dayton, Ohio, manufacturer. The treats are sourced and made in the USA and are available in Bacon & Cheese, Bacon Cheeseburger, and Bacon, Cheese & Egg flavors.
5 Ways to Get Eyes on Made in the USA
When customers enter a store looking for pet food, they sometimes see just a sea of bags upon the shelves. Pet retailers who want to draw these eyes to made in the USA pet food products have options on how to do so, including various types of signage, marketing materials and even conversation. A few industry insiders gave their take on how to boost interest in made in the USA pet food products:
1. “We certainly suggest a ‘Made in the USA’ pet food, topper and treat section in any store,” said Alison Cremeans, director of marketing at MiracleCorp, a manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio. “This can be a huge section … Signage or American flags are very helpful to help identify this section in any stores.”
2. “We only sell pet food and treats that are made in the USA—with the exception of a few brands that are made in Canada or Italy, both of which follow EU food standards—and this fact is integrated in all of our store marketing materials, website, etc.,” said Heather Blum co-owner of Petagogy, which has three pet retail stores in Pittsburgh.
3. “If retailers are recommending a product, they should know where it’s made. They should also know the philosophy of the company as to the quality that goes into that bag,” said Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products, a manufacturer in Westlake Village, Calif. “We include the American flag on the back of our packaging to let the consumer know our foods are manufactured in the USA in our own plant.”
4. “Our opinion is that most of the store should be made in the USA, if the store is located in the USA, not just a small section,” said Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co., a manufacturer in Markham, Ill.
5. “Know the ‘story’ behind your food: why you recommend that food, who it’s good for, why you are selecting it for that customer over another food. If that story includes the fact that it’s American made, so be it,” said Merrie Morris, co-owner of Tail Waggin’ PetStop, a pet store in Kansas City, Mo.