Raw Diets for Pets
Raw diets for cats and dogs are becoming more of a household staple, so retailers should educate themselves on the benefits and safety of feeding pets raw foods.
Pet parents are becoming more knowledgeable about the food their four-legged friends are consuming and paying closer attention to the health benefits of the various options out there. As the trend towards replicating ancestral diets of dogs and cats becomes mainstream, more companies are producing raw food options for household pets. The combination of necessary fresh fruit, veggies and protein, along with the absence of unnecessary fillers and grains, results in raw diets that benefit the health and well being of cats and dogs.
“A quality raw diet has the power to literally transform lives,” says Duane Johnson, CMO at Sojos Pet Food & Treats. “From healthy skin and coat, to cleaner teeth, to optimal weight—the abundant benefits of naturally occurring raw nutrients and enzymes speak for themselves.”
The St. Paul, Minn.-based company has been producing raw food diets since 1985, and has only seen the category grow in the past three decades. The company’s products include food and treats for both cats and dogs.
Melissa Olson, marketing director at Vital Essentials, also notes that customers see the benefits of raw diets as their pet transitions from kibble.
“The most immediate and beneficial [benefit] will be smaller, firmer poo. That means less clean up accompanied by less smell,” says Olson. “This seems to be the biggest benefit we hear from our Vital Essentials fans.”
She adds that this, along with healthier skin and gums, and a preferred weight for the animal, results in fewer visits to the vet, which means fewer vet bills and treatments. The Green Bay, Wis.-based company manufactures food and treats for both cats and dogs, including the best selling freeze-dried VE RAW BAR Snacks.
Is a raw diet okay for all dogs? This is a question that Lindsay Meyers, marketing manager for Primal Pet Foods hears often. Her response?
“I feel the way you would feel if someone said, ‘are fresh fruits, veggies and whole foods good for everyone?’” says Meyers. “Of course a raw diet is beneficial to all dogs if done correctly. It’s what they were designed to eat.”
Meyers notes that some of the biggest differences between raw food and a kibble diet may not even be the most obvious ones. The average kibble diet contains about 40 percent carbohydrates, while wild dogs would actually consume a minimal amount of carbohydrates, mostly in the form of fruits, veggies and greens.
“Because raw is either frozen or freeze-dried, it doesn’t require the added starch ingredients and can be higher in meat, moisture and veggie content,” adds Meyers.
Spring Netto, superstar administrator at All Provide, based in Norcross, Ga., agrees that raw diets are what canines were designed to eat. The company’s raw foods are made with 100 percent human-grade ingredients with recipes for both cats and dogs.
“Everything from their teeth, mouth, pH level, stomach acids and shortened digestive tract are designed to help them ingest and receive maximum nutrition from raw, fresh plant and animal ingredients,” says Netto. “This is your dog’s ancestral diet and way of eating.”
But Is It Safe?
As consumers think about raw food, the concern of safety comes to mind. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) constantly warning of salmonella and e.coli outbreaks, and consumers being told from an early age not to eat raw cookie dough, its not surprising pet parents would be apprehensive about giving their pets a raw diet.
“Many important factors contribute to the successful and safe manufacture of premium quality raw food diets at Vital Essentials,” says Lance Viegut, CEO of the company. The raw materials are sourced from USDA approved facilities and the company boasts state of the art manufacturing facilities.
“We invested nearly $10 million in expansion and enhancement of our manufacturing plants this year,” says Viegut. “Our cold processing area was constructed and is maintained to USDA meat processing specifications and our freeze-drying facilities are amongst the most impressive in the pet industry.”
Primal is also dedicated to quality control, safety and testing throughout the manufacturing process.
“The standards are strict for our meat and produce suppliers to provide us the cleanest, healthiest product to start with,” says Meyers. “Although we are rigorous during sourcing and production, all Primal products are batch tested at a third party laboratory for salmonella, e.coli and listeria.”
Shes adds that once the product is complete, more testing is done and products don’t leave the warehouse until those results come back negative. The Fairfield, Calif.-based company’s manufacturing facilities are also inspected by the USDA and California State Department of Agriculture.
The company’s commitment to producing complete and balanced diets for all life stages also means it avoids using a vitamin pack to help balance any deficiencies from the ingredients or process and instead supplements with other whole foods.
“We use organic celery for its vitamin K and manganese content, and organic quinoa sprout for its multi complex B vitamins,” says Meyers about some of the company’s whole food choices.
When it comes to selling raw diets for cats and dogs, retailers need to be aware of the variety of products on the market, as well as the benefits of a raw diet and the differences from traditional kibble.
“It’s important for retailers to stock a good variety of quality, shelf-stable raw brands,” says Johnson. “For first-time buyers, a strong shelf presence clearly positions the raw segment as a viable alternative to traditional canned and kibble products.”
However, it’s not enough for a store to just stock raw foods and treats. Store owners and employees need to be knowledgeable enough about the diet to be able to answer any questions customers may have.
“Store team members should be segment-savvy and ready to respond to any questions or misperceptions about cost, convenience or safety,” notes Johnson. “A little knowledgeable advice can go a long way toward alleviating doubt—and putting a valued customer on the path to a healthier, happier pet.”
Primal has a team of retail training specialists whose sole focus is educating retailers, and the company’s sales team holds regular education seminars. Meyers also notes that Primal’s next step is to educate veterinarians about eating raw.
“We’ve been hearing from our retailers for years that the trusted family veterinarian, sometimes unknowingly, undermines the education that the independent retailer has worked so hard to achieve,” she says.
Primal hopes that by educating vets it can overcome this barrier for retailers so pet specialty stores can continue to succeed in this category.
Vital Essentials also helps educate retail partners and consumers about the benefits of raw diets.
“We include an easy-to-read benefits sheet for our VE RAW BAR products for pet parents seeking treats or snacks that are not only nutritious, but functional,” says Olson.
Another way to educate consumers is to host demos and events in the store, and invite consumers to see and try the product before buying it.
“Here in Georgia, we do regular demos and food tastings at our local, independent pet food stores and dog-friendly events,” says Netto.
Olson adds that with proper knowledge, the raw category should continue to blossom well into the future. “With the expanded awareness of raw feeding benefits, we should see an increase across the board for brands that cater to these consumers,” she says.
Meyers agrees, noting that raw diets are the fastest growing segment at independent pet retailers, and help protect small businesses from the threats of online competition.
“The added benefit for the retailer is that by featuring frozen products they are insulating themselves from the threat of online sales,” says Meyers. “Consumers must return to brick-and-mortar for their fresh-frozen items and will likely show up more frequently.” PB