Raw Foods, Done Well
Consumers are interested in raw pet food diets, so manufacturers and retailers are expanding their offerings.
Raw pet food diets may still account for a small percentage of overall pet food sales, but industry experts say there is much opportunity for growth. As more dog and cat owners seek healthful options and ask about raw pet foods, manufacturers are expanding their offerings and making the foods easier to serve. Retailers are responding by expanding their raw food sections.
According to the 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, two percent of dog owners feed their dog “specialty dog food,” which includes raw diets as well as vegetarian, frozen and fresh foods. While the survey does not measure what portion of this food segment is specifically raw, industry experts confidently say the category is gaining.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the raw food category will turn in another year of double-digit growth,” says Ward Johnson, owner/president of Minneapolis-based Sojos. “More and more pet parents are discovering the healthy benefits of alternative diets.”
Johnson adds that Sojos is trying to make it easier for pet parents to make the switch from kibble to raw by communicating that raw is convenient, safe, affordable and shelf-stable. “As a feeding philosophy, we’re in favor of raw in any safe form,” he says. “But we think shelf-stable raw foods are the key to growing major market share.” Removing the moisture from the food eliminates the need for freezer space, and the consumer saves money by not paying for water.
Sojos recently introduced a line of shelf-stable raw dog food, Sojos Wild. It is a high-protein, ultra-premium diet made with freeze-dried, exotic meat or fish as the No. 1 ingredient. Sojos Wild is available in free-range venison, wild boar or wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
Johnson says retailers should stock a variety of shelf-stable raw foods, so that the category has a strong shelf presence. Also, there are still misconceptions about the cost, convenience and safety of raw food, so retailers should make sure sales associates are ready to answer shoppers’ questions.
Pet owners are eager to learn more about these foods, says Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food in Portland, Ore. “As there are so many brands of raw food available, it’s important for consumers to know what sets those brands apart,” she says. “The more knowledgeable the staff is about the products they carry, the easier it will be to impart information to customers to help them decide on what raw foods are best for their pets.”
The raw foods that are best, says Hatch-Rizzi, are the ones with high-quality ingredients and no antibiotics, hormones, chemicals or anything artificial. Natural, non-GMO and organic foods are important too.
Hatch-Rizzi says the raw food category is still expanding and will continue to be one of the fastest growing trends in the industry. Radagast produces Rad Cat Raw Diet foods in three varieties—turkey, chicken and lamb—that are sold frozen. “More stores are either making space for freezers or adding more freezers because the demand keeps increasing, and manufacturers are responding to that demand,” she says. “We’ll see growth in the brands that are currently on the market, but I expect to see more new manufacturers entering the industry.”
The retailers that succeed will be those that can talk knowledgeably about all aspects of raw diets, says Melinda Miller, vice president of brand development for MiracleCorp, which makes Stewart Raw Naturals. “Consumers who are drawn to raw tend to be looking for answers to health issues,” says Miller. “Education of sales associates so they can educate the consumer is the key to strong sales in the raw category.”
MiracleCorp uses cold pasteurization, or high-pressure processing (HPP), which uses cold water under very high pressure to destroy micro-organisms that cause spoilage, while maintaining the nutritional value of the food. Stewart Raw Naturals has introduced Heart Shaped Freeze Dried Patties in two Fresh To Home Recipes, Beef and Chicken. Each serving is packed with nutrients, and the moisture is removed to create a convenient, easy-to-feed, raw diet without the freezer. The patties are made in the USA of human-grade ingredients, and they are available in three patty sizes for small, medium and large dogs. The patties make feeding easy, and the convenience can help boost sales.
Ease of feeding is one of two key product features that consumers demand in the raw frozen and freeze-dried raw categories, says Matt Koss, founder and president of Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco. Consumers also want alternative protein sources. Primal’s offerings include beef, chicken and duck, as well as pheasant, venison, rabbit and other proteins. The company recently launched a line of antibiotic-free pork products for dogs and cats, including Primal Raw Frozen Formulas, Freeze Dried Formulas, and a line of Mixes and Grinds. Primal plans to launch three pork treats, including freeze-dried, dry-roasted and jerky style treats,next month.
According to Koss, retailers are playing a vital role in growing the category. “Through consumer education about nutrition and the alternative foods available for their pets, retailers are able to convert consumers from feeding traditional kibble and canned food to more species appropriate, wholesome and nutritious foods such as raw,” he says. “Due to the fact that raw foods deliver tangible positive health results that are evident quickly, consumer awareness and confidence continue to grow.”
Lanny Viegut, CEO of Vital Essentials in Green Bay, Wis., agrees. “I see a sustained trajectory of rapid growth, as more and more pet parents continue to be aware of the health benefits of raw food and frozen and freeze-dried food and treats,” he says. “I think this is the year mainstream America latches onto the category.”
Viegut predicts more brands will launch raw foods, and that grocery and mass stores will soon offer raw pet foods too. He also thinks there could be consolidation as traditional manufacturers enter the raw food category.
In the meantime, Vital Essentials has introduced Mini Nibs and Mini Patties, each in four proteins—beef, chicken, turkey and duck. The company will soon launch other treats and is currently in the process of narrowing the choices. Vital Essentials asked attendees at Global Pet Expo and visitors to the company’s website to vote on which flavors they would buy. The choices were Diced Beef Liver, Diced Alaskan Cod, Freeze Dried Beef Tendon, Alaskan Salmon Rings, Freeze Dried Chicken Hearts, Freeze Dried Bully Sticks and Freeze Dried Duck Nibs. Four winners will be announced soon.
“Three or four years ago, if you asked 100 people on the street if they feed raw food to their pets, I think not more than a couple would say ‘yes,’” says Viegut. “If you look at 2015 and 2016, you will find that number increased.”