Raw Food Alternatives for Pets

Dried and dehydrated pet foods allow retailers to offer the nutritional power of raw diets—minus the moisture and perceived safety risks.



It’s a decades old choice that almost every pet parent has to face, “do I feed my pet dry or wet food?” Today, thanks to innovations in the pet food category, owners now have a third option: dried food.


“Dehydrated and air-dried pet food is relatively new to the market,” says Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for WellPet. “For decades, pet food has consisted of just wet and dry food, but this new category provides something totally new for pets, making mealtime more nutritious and exciting in the process.”


These new dry additions to the pet food aisle offer a great opportunity for retailers to capitalize on pet parents’ appetite for healthy alternatives to traditional kibble.


Fresh and Frozen

Due to its high protein content, raw food has been taking the pet food category by storm in recent years.


“When cooking pet food—like all food—some essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients are lost in the process. By preparing food without the heat of cooking, nutritional value that would otherwise be cooked out is retained,” explains Leary-Coutu.


However, many pet parents are concerned about the safety of raw foods. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises against raw foods, since they come with an increased risk of salmonella or listeria.


“Dehydrated and air-dried foods offer a way to safely and easily introduce raw ingredients to pets without worrying about those issues,” says Leary-Coutu, adding that owners should consult their vet before starting their pets on a new diet.


WellPet’s Wellness CORE brand currently features three freeze-dried pet food products. The Wellness CORE Raw Rev, for instance, brings together grain-free kibble with freeze-dried, 100 percent raw meat bites to create a savory, nutrient-filled meal. The combination food comes in five different formulations to please different tastes and support pets of various sizes, ages and weights.


The Tewksbury, Mass.-based company also lets owners pack pets’ meals with potent protein with CORE Bowl Boosters. Simply sprinkle the freeze-dried meat morsels on top of pets’ food to take it to the next level. The only ingredient in all four flavors is 100 percent real meat—no preservatives, corn or soy.


“At WellPet, we strive to create the healthiest foods for our cats and dogs, which means being at the forefront of new and innovative preparation processes like dehydration and freeze drying,” says Leary-Coutu. “We’ve been building our portfolio of freeze-dried offerings to give pet parents convenient, safe and easy ways to start integrating the power of raw nutrition into their pets’ diets.”


Convenient Nutrition

All pet parents want to give their fur babies the very best, but preparing raw meals can be extremely time consuming. Dehydrated foods offer busy owners the ideal compromise.


“[Air-dried food] is a popular option for those wanting to give pets the benefit of whole-prey diet, without the inconvenience of preparing raw food,” says Sharon Durham, marketing communications manager for Ziwi USA. “Because it contains higher moisture content than freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, Ziwi Peak Air-Dried requires no rehydration—giving it the scoop-and-feed convenience of kibble, but comparable nutrition to raw.”


Ziwi utilizes a modern version of a centuries-old air-drying technique to create Ziwi Peak Air-Dried Beef for Dogs and Cats. The two-step process gently removes 85 to 90 percent of moisture and potential pathogens from raw ingredients. All meats in Ziwi products are sourced from free-range, grass-fed New Zealand farms and seafood is caught in the clean oceans surrounding the island nation.


Plus, the food is highly palatable thanks to its high meat and organ content. All recipes contain 7 percent cold-washed green tripe as well as 3 percent New Zealand green-lipped mussels. The tripe is an easily digestible protein and natural flavor booster while the mussels are an environmentally friendly source of omega fatty acids and anti-inflammatories.


“As the innovators and global leaders of air-dried, we’ve chosen to stay true to our original concept by keeping our meat/organ bone high without using rendered meats or meals, or by adding unnecessary ingredients, like glycerin,” says Durham. “As far as I am aware, Ziwi Peak offers the highest meat inclusion of any air-dried brand.”


Another benefit of the air-drying process is it produces more cost effective food. Since Ziwi Peak Air-Dried foods are calorie-dense and highly digestible, serving sizes are smaller and therefore less expensive than traditional pet foods. Pet parents can rest assured they’re getting the best value and quality for their money.


“Some consumers perceive air-dried to be expensive; however, when retailers demonstrate the smaller serving sizes needed, they realize that feeding Ziwi Peak air-dried often costs less on a daily basis than do other air-dried brands and raw alternatives,” explains Durham.


The family-owned company also takes great pride in keeping all process, from air-drying to final packing, in-house for both quality and safety assurance.


“We don’t outsource our air-dried production, and we don’t co-pack for any other brands. This protects the integrity and purity of our products. Co-packers can have cross-contamination between different brands’ ingredients,” says Durham.


Driving Dry Sales

Since dried and dehydrated pet foods are still relatively new, marketing these products can be a challenge for retailers. One effective way to introduce shoppers to the novel food style is through in-store sampling. Unlike signage, sampling allows consumers to interact with products, ask questions and air concerns.


“Not only does it encourage pet parents to try a new recipe without having to commit to buying a full bag, it creates a unique in-store experience, especially for customers who may bring their dogs to shop with them,” says Leary-Coutu.


“In-store demonstrations are a great way to introduce people to the simplicity of feeding air-dried, and to help them understand the difference in the amount they will be feeding. It’s also a great opportunity to teach customers the importance of ingredients and sourcing,” adds Durham.


Both Leary-Coutu and Durham recommend dedicating a specific space within the store, like an end cap or section of the food aisle, just to dehydrated and dried foods. A flashier section with attention-grabbing signage is more likely to capture customers’ interest than letting dehydrated items get lost among other pet foods.


Industry experts also don’t think that dried raw foods are a passing trend. As pet parents continue to focus on pets’ health and well being, the category is surely here to stay.


“This is just the beginning for dehydrated recipes—we’ve seen strong interest in all of our freeze-dried offerings and expect continuous growth for the category as a whole, with more meal, treat and topper recipes getting introduced in the coming years,” says Leary-Coutu. PB


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