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December 1, 2015

There’s no question that the Slow Food Movement, which embraces farm- to table-styled fare, is also influencing the way we feed our dogs.

While whole-food nutrition is not exactly a new canine menu item, the variety of freeze-dried, raw frozen and completely cooked meals in cans has expanded rapidly to become an important category in the pet food aisle.

Cooking for Canines

Many dog owners like to prepare meals for their pets, but look to pet food companies for guidance on assembling a nutritious diet.

According to Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen, the San Diego-based pet food company that pioneered dehydrated meals for pets, the company’s base of mix products to create home-styled meals continue to gain momentum.

“Many customers are interested in home preparing either raw or cooked meals for their pets, but it can be an intimidating process and challenging to be sure that they are in fact achieving the proper nutritional balance,” Postins said. “Our Base Mixes are made with a human-grade vitamin/mineral premix and simply require the customer to add their own choice of protein and water to create a meal. The Preference Mix with fruit and veggie base mix is the most popular, with Kindly, one of our newer base mixes, rapidly gaining ground!”

“Many customers select a Base Mix as a result of protein sensitivities,” Postins said. “Also, a Base Mix allows them choices to add the meat or fish that’s right for their pet—raw or cooked—and (they can further) rotate proteins to add variety without changing the entire meal.”

According to Postins, food allergies are a big factor influencing the decisions pet owners make for their pets.

“Consequently, we’ve created a line of three limited ingredient minimalist diets to respond to this growing trend. Our LIDs (limited ingredient diets) contain no more than six whole food ingredients (plus vitamins and minerals) so they’re perfect for pets with multiple food sensitivities.”

In the Raw

Research has shown that interest in raw frozen and freeze-dried diets are growing among pet owners.

“According to the German research institute GfK, in the last year raw frozen sales rose 32 percent to $69 million. And freeze-dried growth is outpacing natural, grain-free, refrigerated and limited ingredient diets,” said Eric Emmenegger, senior brand manager for brand development at Nature’s Variety, Inc. “And according to GfK data, in just the past year, pet specialty retail sales of freeze-dried dog and cat food have jumped 64 percent to $40 million. These figures do not include pet food products that combine kibble with freeze-dried pieces. Freeze-dried is growing quickly both in dollar sales as well as distribution. In 2011, according to GfK data, 51.4 percent of stores selling pet food included freeze-dried food as part of their inventory. By March 2015, the percentage reached 70.8 percent.”

“Consumers are more aware than ever before of what they’re feeding their pets and we’re focused on supporting the growing level of pet food consciousness with raw solutions for every pet and pet parent,” Emmenegger said.

“Our Instinct Raw frozen diets are formulated to mirror the ancestral diet of dogs (and cats)— all natural, never cooked—with 95 percent meat, organs and raw ground bone; 5 percent wholesome fruits and vegetables; and 0 percent grain or gluten. We use raw, natural and whole food ingredients and pure animal sources,” Emmenegger said. “Our diets are complete and balanced so there’s no need for mixing, measuring and supplementing. To deliver simplicity and accessibility, Instinct Raw is offered in various forms, including pre-portioned medallions and patties, and ready-to-serve bites.”

Last June, the company introduced Instinct Raw Boost Mixers.

“They complement—rather than interrupt—current feeding behaviors,” Emmenegger said. “With Instinct Raw Boost Mixers, pet parents can add raw to their pets’ meals without changing their current kibble or primary food.”

The company offers an extensive selection of point-of-sale materials and support for retailers through both traditional and social media advertising, couponing and public relations. They also work with stores to help place glass door freezers, which are critical to making raw food more approachable.

According to Ward Johnson, president of Sojos, the company has seen phenomenal growth in the sales of the pre-mixes, namely Sojos Original and Sojos Grain-Free, which were the company’s original food selections.

“We believe this is because the mixes give pet owners such control of their pet’s diet by allowing them to add their own protein choices,” Johnson said.

However the company then added to its lineup a selection of products called Sojos Raw Dog Food.

“Our most popular product remains Sojos Turkey Complete, which was the first food we introduced with freeze-dried meat already in the bag,” Johnson said.

Recently the company added some exotic protein to the line-up, such as wild boar and venison.

“Because they are so new, it’s hard to compare their popularity to our other diets, which have been around for years. But there’s no question that pet owners rally appreciate variety,” he said.

New from Stella and Chewy’s is a larger version of its Freeze-Dried Dinner Patties for dogs.

“The new bag is 25 ounces and available in Chewy’s Chicken, Stella’s Super Beef and Duck Duck Goose,” said Katie Wassil, the company’s director of public relations and communication. “The new bag is ideal for households with multiple dogs or larger breeds because it offers the same great quality, but at a lower cost per meal.”

“We never use grains, gluten, fillers, added hormones or antibiotics,” Wassil said. “Stella & Chewy’s was built on the philosophy that pets thrive when they eat the same foods they would find in the wild. That means only the good stuff—pure ingredients as nature intended, raw and minimally processed. Our products are available in the U.S. and Canada in more than 5,000 neighborhood and online pet retailers.”

“One of our most popular products remains our Meal Mixers because they are such an easy and convenient way to add raw food nutrition to any existing diet,” Wassil said. “Meal Mixers helps entice picky eaters, adds an extra boost of nutrition and delights dogs with tasty variety. An independent taste preference study showed that nine out of ten dogs preferred their kibble with Meal Mixers versus just their kibble alone.”

Bravo, a company known for its extensive raw line, recently redesigned its packaging, introduced a new logo and slogan, and further added freeze-dried dinners to its product lineup with Homestyle Complete Dinners for Dogs.

Created to uniquely meet the nutritional needs of dogs of every age and breed, these great tasting recipes feature premium meat or poultry as the top ingredient. Then Bravo adds wholesome ingredients like organ meat and chickpeas, plus a generous helping of garden vegetables and cranberries, as well as natural herbs such as turmeric and sage. Homestyle Complete dinners are available in three different proteins: beef, pork and turkey.

Quick and Easy

Caru Natural Stews are the first USA-made pet food to be packaged in Tetra Pak cartons making them easy to serve with no mess and no fuss. According to owners Adrian Pettyan and Pamela Pettyan, the four flavors – beef, chicken, turkey and pork – can be lightly heated in a microwave to bring out their natural aromas.

In many households, Sunday night suppers are quick and easy meals. According to Betsy Berger, communications manager for Merrick Pet Care, Merrick’s Chunky Cans are ideal for those quick easy suppers on a cold winter’s evening for pets, too. With comfort food names such as Pappy’s Pot Roast, the cans contain chunks of meat in a hearty gravy accompanied by a variety of real vegetables.

“These recipes rank high on visual appeal and aroma for pet parents, and have a meaty and delicious taste dogs will devour,” Berger said.

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