Natural Progression

Successfully navigating the latest innovations in natural dog and cat food requires retailers to partner with vendors that can identify which product trends have the most staying power.


Trends within the burgeoning natural pet food market develop and shift so frequently, it can be tough for retailers to keep up. With this in mind, the ability to identify and partner with vendors that consistently recognize the potential of various trends within the natural pet food segment to become standards in the market can be invaluable in ensuring a pet store’s future fortunes with this rapidly growing and evolving product category.

Here are several standout manufacturers that are on the cutting edge of the latest innovations in natural pet food: 

Clean & Simple
When Adrian and Pamela Pettyan’s Golden Retriever puppy, Karu (derived from the Welsh word, Caru, meaning “to love”) began experiencing allergies and chronic ear infections, the pet parents began serving a homemade diet, following the advice of their veterinarian.

After finding no options comparable to the food they made at home, the Pettyans developed Caru, based upon the original home-cooked meals prepared for their beloved dog. Launched at the 2014 Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., the line of products are free of fillers, by-products artificial preservatives, grain and gluten. The Vero Beach, Fla.-based Caru Pet Food Company processes its diets in accordance with FDA regulations for human food, according to Adrian Pettyan. “Recently, our line of Caru natural stews for dogs received FDA verification that our products are made with 100-percent human-grade ingredients,” he says.

Dedicated to offering food comprising only clean and simple ingredients, the Pettyans are considering developing additional products that cater to the “back-to-natural movement,” including a line of feline diets.

A Natural Tradition
For Wheeling, Ill.-based Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, natural pet food has been a tradition since 1935. The legacy continues with president and owner Holly Sher, who ensures that the company manufactures pet food using only fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, bypassing the use of meal or by-products.

While maintaining its focus on fresh meat, the company’s latest product utilizes a popular ingredient used by health-conscious humans for their own consumption—kale. According to Sher, Evanger’s Super Premium Dinner for Dogs with Spinach and Kale is meat-based, moisture-rich and nutrient-dense, elevating the selection of nutritious dog food.

“[The] meals are slow cooked in small batches and provide optimum nutrition and digestibility for all life stages,” she says, noting that the gluten-free canned dinner is also made without preservatives, salt or fillers.

Health Sciences
Dedicated to offering all-natural pet food, Scott Freeman, founder and owner of Nature’s Logic, strives to simplify the choices in the natural dog and cat food categories. Nature’s Logic diets are formulated completely from whole-food and natural ingredients, which provide all essential nutrients, without using synthetic supplements.

According to the company, Nature’s Logic is the world’s first pet-food brand free of synthetic ingredients in all categories. It has been subjected to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trials to substantiate that its products meet, if not exceed, the functional nutrients required to qualify as a complete and balanced diet for dogs and cats at every life stage.

During feline feeding trials, queens and kittens exhibited blood taurine levels that were 56 percent and 98 percent above the minimum average without adding synthetic taurine. “Some veterinarians get concerned when they don’t see taurine [on the list of ingredients],” explains Freeman. “Our taurine is coming from the real animal protein ingredients. When you are getting your nutrients from food, they are working synergistically with other real food nutrients to produce the right outcome: good growth, healthy blood, healthy joints and healthy skin.”

A Family Focus
After 110 years in business, Fromm Family Foods remains committed to developing all-natural pet food and is led by the fifth generation of the Nieman-Fromm family.

Bryan Nieman, brand director, emphasizes the family’s dedication to Fromm’s tradition of excellence. “We are incredibly hands-on at Fromm, from formulating recipes, sourcing ingredients, producing products and even packaging,” he says. “Our process takes skilled technicians time to learn, and we are constantly checking in on all aspects of the process to ensure it meets our family standards.”

While the company values innovation and the formulation of the most effective diets for raising healthy pets, Fromm also continues to stand by the recipes that have made the brand a trusted source for natural pet food. Available for dogs and cats, and a variety of life stages and lifestyles, Fromm Gold is a holistic line, prepared in small servings from fresh ingredients such as duck, chicken, lamb, eggs and cheddar cheese.

A Fresh Approach
Founded in 2010 by Michael Landa, Austin, Texas-based Nulo began as a solution to keep animals active and healthy, and fight pet obesity. Nulo was launched using fresh ingredients such as chicken, lamb, salmon, apples, carrots and brown rice. According to Landa, “Obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed in the last five years, and we take great strides to make certain we are providing ingredients low on the glycemic index, using carbohydrates like sweet potato, lentils and peas versus potatoes or tapioca.”

Though Nulo offers two lines under its brand—MedalSeries, sold exclusively at PetSmart, and FreeStyle, available only through independent retailers—five key characteristics can be found in every formula. Every Nulo product is grain-free and also includes high levels of meat protein, glycemacare—the brand’s low glycemic-index ingredients—and the company’s patented BC30 Probiotic. Nulo assures pet parents with a zero-percent promise, which is a vow to use no corn, wheat, gluten, soy or artificial preservatives, colors and flavoring.

“High animal-based protein is the only way a dog or cat can replenish certain amino acids that they require for growth and the rebuilding of muscle,” says Landa. “It’s not easy or inexpensive to formulate…[but] animal-based proteins are what a dog’s or cat’s physiology thrives on, so it’s extremely important to us.”

Natural Goes Hi-Tek
After 22 years in the natural pet food industry, Dublin, Ga.-based Hi-Tek Rations remains at the forefront of providing wholesome food to pets. Founded by industry veteran Leonard Powell, the company is dedicated to using natural ingredients that provide nutrients integral to maintaining pet health.

Each batch of Hi-Tek food begins with choosing locally sourced ingredients, or items that are found within countries where food sources are highly regulated, such as lamb from New Zealand. Once ingredients are found to meet Hi-Tek’s standards—through rigorous on-site laboratory testing—they are prepared through extrusion cooking or baking.

Every Hi-Tek product utilizes freshly sourced proteins, blended with ingredients that provide antioxidants, pre- and pro-biotics, and complete amino acids. According to Ron Jackson, assistant to the president, “Although the word ‘natural’ does not appear in the name of each of our products as a part of the branding, a look at the ingredient panels of Leonard Powell Signature Series Dog Foods, Hi-Tek Naturals Dog and Cat Foods, Hi-Tek Naturals Grain Free Dog and Cat Foods, LIFE4K9 Dog Foods, and Perfectly Natural Dog Food will indicate the inclusion of natural thinking, as well as natural ingredients and processes.”

Delivering Optimal Nutrition
Using a slow-cooking method to prepare food, Blackwood Pet Food in Columbia, S.C., focuses on improving energy, immune response, and skin and coat appearance, with an emphasis on pet digestion. Marketing and social media coordinator Anthony Burrus says, “We target a higher percentage of starch conversion, which means less work for the animals digestive tract. Since we do most of the work for them, the animal is able to absorb a higher level of nutrients than those foods cooked in a traditional manufacturing setting.”

Blackwood has stopped using potatoes in its grain-free formulas, such as the Chicken Meal & Field Pea option for dogs, and Duck Meal, Salmon Meal & Field Pea food for cats. By consuming field peas as a more beneficial carbohydrate source, pets maintain a steadier blood-sugar level.

Transparency and accessibility are extremely important to Blackwood. The company’s products contain no soy, wheat, artificial colors, flavors, fillers or by-product meal. Included on the front of every package of food, is the company’s money-back guarantee stamp, which according to Burrus, “shows that Blackwood stands behind our foods. If a pet doesn’t eat our food, for whatever reason, we will replace [the product] or refund the consumer.”

Touting Transparency
Seeing a need for transparency within the natural food market, Russell Armstrong launched VéRUS, an Abingdon, Md.-based holistic pet food company in 1993. VéRUS produces its food using human-grade, non-GMO, hormone- and byproduct-free meat from humanely raised sources. The company also strives for only the most natural methods of maximizing the vitamin components in its food.

“All of our dry food formulas contain a vitamin and mineral premix as well as a patent pending freeze dried live probiotics,” says Krystle Eder, vice president. “To avoid using Chinese ingredients, we use human grade or pharmaceutical grade vitamins or minerals if we can’t find a non-Chinese source.”

VéRUS recently launched Life Virtue, a kibble for dogs comprising different proteins, lentils, chickpeas, split peas and yams. The company’s Chicken and Liver canned cat food now includes an improved formula. While VéRUS strives to produce food that helps pets live a healthier life, the company does not conduct animal testing, though employees allow their own pets to enjoy the products, which is the ultimate test and sign of consumer trust.

The Gold Standard
Long before the all-natural pet food trend became the new standard for pet diets, Sissy McGill sought a holistic alternative for her beloved pets when she founded Solid Gold in 1974. The Greenville, S.C.-based company relies on its GoldSource Core Nutrition, a blend of seven nutrients, to provide pets with necessary nutrition for a healthy life.

Solid Gold also sources fish that is wild caught, not farm raised. According to Michael Stoeckle, senior vice president, sales and marketing, “Each carefully selected ingredient in all of our formulas is bioavailable. That means these ingredients work the hardest to deliver a specific health benefit and are delivered directly in its purest form.”

While Solid Gold is a pioneer in holistic pet nutrition, Stoeckle still believes there is always room for improvement. “We are learning more and more,” he says. “We are excited about launching a variety of new dog and cat food dry formulas in the first quarter of 2015.”

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