Raw Diets for Pets

Manufacturers are working to educate consumers and retailers about the booming raw diet category.




Today’s dogs and cats live indoors, get birthday parties and wear coats, but many still do what their ancestors did in the wild, which is eat raw foods. Raw diets are gaining popularity as pet owners look for more ways to nourish their furry loved ones. Manufacturers say there is much opportunity for growth in the category, and the key to success is to make sure consumers and retailers become educated about raw foods.


“More and more pet parents are looking for the best solutions for their pets, so there is a lot more interest in this category,” says Molly Mulcahy, vice president of brand marketing for Stella & Chewy’s. “Pet parents recognize that feeding raw is the pinnacle of best in class nutrition.”


To maintain the nutritious value of the foods, the Oak Creek, Wis.-based company has its own raw facility in Wisconsin and uses high pressure processing (HPP), which is 100 percent natural and uses water at pressures five times greater than the pressure found at the bottom of the ocean.


“HPP is recognized by the USDA as an anti-pathogen treatment, since harmful bacteria can’t survive in high pressure environments,” Mulcahy says. “The pure, real nutrition of raw remains intact since HPP has no effect on taste, nutritional value, vitamins, minerals or enzymes.”


Stella & Chewy’s recently launched wet cat food in Cage-Free Turkey morsels, Chicken & Salmon Morsels, Cage-Free Chicken Pate and Cage-Free Turkey Pate. Also new are Simply Stella’s Limited Ingredient Diet in Turkey, Lamb and Duck, and Lil’ Bites in Bitty Beef, Chicken Little, Dainty Duck and Little Lamb.


Selling Convenience

Consumers might wonder whether raw foods are safe or have a misconception that raw foods take longer to prepare.


“The convenience factor continues to be an issue with raw foods,” says Anthony Santarsiero, president of TruPet LLC in Oldsmar, Fla. “A lot of consumers think feeding raw is tedious, time consuming, messy and could be hazardous. You don’t want to contaminate your kitchen preparing raw food.”


TruPet provides a solution to these issues with TruDog dehydrated raw food and freeze-dried raw food. Both are designed to be as easy to serve as kibble.


“Just cup it out of the bag, put it in the bowl, maybe add water or maybe not,” Santarsiero says. “Both of these products are designed to be a more convenient solution.”


The company’s Rawgo! dehydrated raw foods are available in beef and carrots, lamb and cranberry, and chicken and rosemary. They have no GMOs, fillers or byproducts, and are air-dried instead of made with a high heat process. This summer, TruDog plans to extend the line with kangaroo and mackerel, and will add a whitefish recipe to the TruDog freeze-dried raw line.


In addition to convenience, transparency is another important feature related to raw foods, or any pet foods. TruPet has a fully staffed customer service center that answers phone calls about the products and about raw foods in general. There are also representatives who answer questions from retailers, as the company is currently making a big push into stores, after selling the foods online for five years. TruPet is also developing a digital platform, with educational resources for stores and consumers.


“Our big mission is going to be store training,” says Santarsiero. “If a person is interacting with the customer, I don’t want them to be uncomfortable. I want them to be an ambassador.”


Working With Retailers

Well-informed retail staff can help shoppers learn about these foods, and feel more comfortable buying them.


“Retailers may not be fully familiar with how freeze-dried products are made,” says Julie S. Washington, chief marketing officer of Auburn, Ky.-based Champion Petfoods USA, which makes ORIJEN Freeze-Dried foods. “Our retail team is working to help retailers understand the kitchen preparations so they can, in turn, educate their customers about how this food is made.”


ORIJEN Freeze-Dried is nutrient-dense with raw meat or poultry, organs and cartilage or digestible bone, and contains up to 58 percent protein. The raw food ingredients are combined, and then gently freeze-dried to remove all the moisture while the nutrients remain intact. “This process resolves some of the food safety concerns pet lovers express about serving a raw food diet, while bringing the nutritional benefits of raw ingredients to the dog bowl,” says Washington.


The company recently refreshed the packaging for its ORIJEN Freeze-Dried line. The foods are designed to provide a safe and convenient way to provide a raw food diet. The pet owner adds a small amount of water to the medallions, and the food can be served as a complete diet, nutrient-dense topper for a pet’s current food or a treat.


Some consumers start buying raw foods to enhance the pet’s current diet.


“We want to provide a frozen fresh food item for every consumer to integrate into their pet’s bowl,” says Lindsay Meyers, marketing manager at Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco. “We often make mention at retail, ‘Very few of your customers will feed 100 percent raw, but 100 percent of your customers should feed some raw.’”


Many retailers have a frozen section where they merchandise foods as solution-based feeding for sick or allergic pets. There are opportunities to get more pet owners to look inside these freezers. “Retailers should remember that every consumer should be pointed toward a frozen food item in addition to their shelf stable products,” Meyers says. “This doesn’t just benefit the health of the pet, although that’s of course the primary intention, it also insulates these brick-and-mortar stores from online competition. Your customers have to come to you to get their frozen items affordably and conveniently.”


Primal Pet Foods introduced the Edible Elixirs product line of frozen topper items. Meyers says the company has had huge success with add on products like bones, goat milk, bone broth and pronto frozen topper products. The products attract new customers—primarily kibble feeders—to the freezer. The Edible Elixir line of easy to thaw and serve format is available in three varieties: Winter Squash Puree Digestive Support, Healthy Green Smoothie Immunity Boost, and Omega Mussel Mélange Joint Health.


Stay on Budget

Manufacturers also have to dispel the belief that raw diets are expensive.


“Retailers think raw dog foods are only for customers with unlimited budgets,” says Lee Albright, who owns Albright’s Raw Dog Food in Fort Wayne, Ind. with his wife. “Quality raw diets can be reasonably priced.”


Albright says there is profit potential in selling products at a lower price point. Retailers will get more sales at a mid-range price point than a higher one, and pet owners feeding raw will come to the store more often.


“They may buy a bag of kibble once a month, but they’re probably in one to two times a week for frozen raw food,” Albright says. “More opportunities to sell other items.”


Retailers might also think that raw foods are hard to sell, says Patti Salladay, sales and marketing manager for Northwest Naturals. To help them, the Portland, Ore.-based company conducts in-store demos and events.


Northwest Naturals recently expanded its cat food line with three new proteins, Duck, Rabbit and Whitefish. All the cat recipes come in 2-lb. Raw Frozen Nibbles and 4-oz. and 11-oz. Freeze Dried Nibbles.


“Our pet parents think of their pets as family and are looking for the most natural food with the highest in nutritional benefits, which is the best description of why you feed a raw food diet,” says Salladay.


Manufacturers are optimistic about the future of the raw foods category.


“I think we’re going to continue to see phenomenal growth,” says Santarsiero. “This segment is probably one of the fastest growing segments and will continue to grow in the next five years.”


Cat food is especially well-suited for growth. “We are seeing raw food become more popular for cats as they are born carnivores—so this is their natural way to eat,” says Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands L.L.C., which makes Tiki Cat and other brands. “Pure protein is important for their health and allows them to thrive, while carbohydrates offer them no benefit to their diet. Raw food diets are well-received by cats as it is their innate preference.”


The company is launching Tiki Cat Raw, USA-sourced, uncooked, whole ground chicken or turkey with bone broth. These are single protein formulas, with no added carbohydrates, hormones and using only non-GMO ingredients. They will be sold in 8-oz. and 24-oz. BPA-free tubs, which reduces freezer burn and is HPP pasteurized after packaging for highest safety.


Hudson says the company is working to educate retailers about raw foods for cats, because retailers may have concerns about the safety of the food and how to store the food in stores. For its part, Tiki Pet packages the food in convenient BPA-free cups that make it easy to store in freezer space.


“And because of the HPP process we use, where pasteurization is done after packaging, the food is safe and sealed,” Hudson says. “We believe pet owners are seeing the difference in the raw diets, especially for cats, so there will be more demand for a nutritious, raw food option. By educating retailers, they will be able to move forward with the trend as it grows.”  PB


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