Raring to Go
As pet parents take more interest in nutrition and ingredients, raw pet foods for dogs and cats are quickly taking off.
Gary Antonelli has seen the benefits of a raw food diet, firsthand.
The manager of the Pet Asylum on Route 9 in Howell, N.J., recounts how one customer came in and complained to owner Mike Edley about all of the medications that were prescribed to her dog to control its numerous allergies, leading Edley to work on switching the dog onto a raw diet free from additives, by-products and preservatives. “Within three months, he was able to get this lady’s dog off of every prescription it was on, and all of its allergy problems are now being controlled through diet,” Antonelli says.
This anecdote perfectly illustrates a key reason why raw foods are becoming a bigger part of the product mix at Pet Asylum and other pet stores across the country. “We sell a lot of raw foods because the owners are using it with their ‘allergy dogs,’ and we have been getting good feedback on it,” Antonelli says. “To many consumers, raw food is still something very new and cutting edge, so a lot of people are very apprehensive to try it, until we explain the benefits.”
Those benefits are many, according to manufacturers.
“The raw diet is important for our pets because it delivers complete nutrition by keeping important vitamins, minerals and enzymes intact,” says Brad Johnson, chief marketing officer at Nature’s Variety, Inc., the St. Louis-based manufacturer of Instinct – The Raw Brand. “When food is cooked, important nutrients can be lost, cooked out or no longer recognizable to our pets’ systems and thus unable to be used or absorbed.”
The Instinct brand encompasses a variety of raw products for dogs and cats, including dry foods coated in freeze-dried raw food, raw toppers that can be added to a pet’s meal, diets that combine high-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw in one bag, and 100 percent raw frozen offerings.
“Our goal is to redefine ‘better’ in pet food and help every pet parent unlock their own pet’s potential to thrive through the unmatched nutrition of raw,” Johnson says.
According to Melissa Olson, marketing director at Vital Essentials, the Green Bay, Wis.-based manufacturer of the Vital Essentials and Vital Cat brands, a raw diet offers numerous health benefits.
“Because they are getting the vital nutrients they need, dogs and cats are also naturally healthier,” Olson says. “All foods are high in protein, which helps promote strong muscles and reduces the risk of injury. Hydration keeps kidneys and urinary tracts healthy, supported by frozen foods, which maintain high moisture content. Pets can have thick, shiny coats and healthy skin as a result of essential fatty acids found in our food. And probably the most appealing benefit from a pet parent point of view—less poo in the yard to pick up.”
“Raw food, correctly prepared, has the highest bio-availability of nutrients,” says Patti Salladay, sales and marketing manager at Northwest Naturals Pet Food. “Pets on a raw food diet will see brighter, cleaner teeth with less chance of plaque buildup, especially when combined with recreational bones and raw meaty bones; better breath; healthy skin; better digestion; shiny coat; less stool; optimal body weight; and healthier joints attributed to the natural essential fatty acids, as well as the overall pH balance becoming normalized, reducing inflammation.”
Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Naturals offers a line of raw dog food in frozen chubs, dinner bars, freeze-dried diets, nugget diets, nugget fruits and veggies, and raw meaty bones, as well as raw frozen cat nibbles and freeze-dried cat nibbles. It is introducing 10-oz. Value Pack Freeze-Dried treats in single-ingredient Beef Liver, Chicken Breast, Pork Liver and Whitefish varieties.
“Raw inherently delivers on what pet parents are seeking: pure, real, whole-food ingredients; recipes high in protein that’s responsibly sourced and derived from animal sources and not vegetables; and [food that] is minimally processed and crafted to be as close to its natural state as possible,” says Johnson. “As more and more consumers demand greater simplicity and purity in the food they feed their pets, more and more pet parents are discovering and turning to raw.”
“Dogs and cats are biologically designed to thrive on a diet rich in meat, including organ and bone, and low in carbohydrates,” says Sharon Durham, marketing communications manager at Ziwi USA Inc., in Overland Park, Kan. “The inclusion of organ meat is extremely important, as organs provide very high levels of bioavailable nutrients. Liver, for example, is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available, particularly rich in vitamin A and B12, while heart is a natural source of taurine, an amino acid vital to life, and lung is high in iron as well as vitamins B12 and C.”
Sojourner Farms, the South Saint Paul, Minn.-based manufacturer of Sojos, describes its freeze-dried raw formulations as “raw made easy” with the convenience of kibble, since consumers simply add water, soak and then serve a nutritious, affordable raw meal in a matter of minutes. The line is made without genetically engineered ingredients, fillers, preservatives or anything artificial, and includes Toppers in Lamb Plus, Beef Plus and Turkey Plus varieties that are designed to be sprinkled on regular pet food as a way to introduce animals to a raw diet.
When it comes to raw pet food, Radagast Pet Food is fully focused on felines.
“We are the only company that produces food specifically for the feline carnivore,” says Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of the Portland, Ore.-based manufacturer of Rad Cat Raw Diets. “In the raw cat food category, specifically, our products are the only ones that do not contain ground bone, which can be challenging for the cats’ digestion. In catering to cats’ carnivorous nature, we also do not add vegetables to our products and keep all of our varieties single-species, using humanely raised, whole meats and organs.”
Rad Cat is sold frozen in re-sealable, scoop-and-serve tubs that create no mess. “Our vegetarian and vegan customers have commented on how easy our products are to use because they don’t have to handle the food,” Hatch-Rizzi says.
Still, frozen raw foods do require extra care and merchandising tactics on the part of retailers.
“If a store can’t put the time and resources into the freezer space and learning about how to merchandise frozen foods, then it is probably not worth their time and effort,” says Pet Asylum’s Antonelli.
“Many stores have their freezers and cat sections toward the back of the store,” says Hatch-Rizzi. “If a retailer doesn’t have a glass-front merchandiser to draw attention to what is inside the freezer, having a display of empty packaging on shelves or close to the register can really bring attention to what is sometimes ‘hidden’ in the freezer section.”
Many Rad Cat retailers display empty Rad Cat containers in the canned food set or on an endcap with a small sign directing shoppers to the frozen food section. “This way, customers that wouldn’t necessarily think to look at raw cat food can see the container and engage employees about the product,” Hatch-Rizzi says, adding that the company recently redesigned its label. “The design is fresh and modern, while still tying in our old label design. There is also a new tamper-evident seal on every container for added product protection.”
Got Goat Milk?
While food and treats make up the bulk of raw nutrition offerings in pet stores, the category does extend beyond the traditional. For example, in addition to raw and freeze-dried foods, Fairfield, Calif.-based Primal Pet Foods offers frozen Raw Goat Milk and Bone Broth to aid in the hydration of cats and dogs.
“A well-hydrated dog and/or cat ensures that their cells and organs have the opportunity to function at their highest,” says Matt Koss, president and founder of the company, which prides itself on its edible-grade ingredients and steadfast commitment to food safety and transparency. “Primal Raw Goat Milk and Primal Bone Broth—in Chicken, Turkey, Pork and Beef varieties—are two unique, high-quality products that offer pet parents options when rehydrating freeze-dried pet foods, adding moisture to dry kibble diets or supplementing raw frozen and canned foods.”
Vital Essentials also offers some unusual treats through its award-winning VE RAW BAR retail display of freeze-dried snacks, including salmon skins and duck heads. With its neon sign, the VE RAW BAR is a definite shopper-stopper, says Olson.
“Storeowners and managers report that they generate nearly 50 percent more in revenue, on average, from their eye-catching VE RAW BAR than they do from other treat lines in that same square footage,” she says.
Manufactured in New Zealand, the air-dried Ziwi brand is described as an “alternative to raw” containing 98 percent meat, including New Zealand Green Mussel that is air-dried and ready-to-eat. Ziwi is packaged in sterile, zip-seal pouches that have an eight-week shelf life after opening. Durham suggests retailers display Ziwi next to the frozen food section, as well as near freeze-dried diets.
“While there are many benefits to feeding a raw diet, we know that, for a variety of reasons, it isn’t always possible,” says Durham. “For those who can’t feed raw, Ziwi Peak Air-Dried is a fabulous alternative.”
Due to their uncooked ingredients and lack of preservatives, retailers need to take precautions and educate their shoppers about the benefits of a raw diet, manufacturers say.
“Retailers should contact their manufacturers and get all of the information they can,” says Salladay. “No question is silly. Our websites are packed with information about our products, where we source and the safety standards that the product they carry is manufactured under.”
“The best way for pet specialty retailers to educate is through educational content that is easy for pet parents to take in,” says Johnson. “As Instinct – The Raw Brand, we partner with retailers to provide educational material that explains raw and its benefits in simple and easy-to-understand terms. We also provide how-to videos and other sharable content that explains raw, as well as how to feed.”
“Retailers merchandising and selling raw frozen foods must dedicate adequate space for freezer storage,” says Primal’s Koss. “Retailers must also be diligent about inspecting raw frozen foods when delivery is made from their distributors to ensure that the foods have been handled in a safe and temperature controlled manner. Primal recommends that all retailers utilize thermometers to check all raw frozen products upon delivery from their distributor.” PB