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August 5, 2014

Ask any distributor or pet specialty retailer and they’ll say, “dog food is both a blessing and a curse” because of the impact of premium dog food on the pet business.
Dog food represents a major portion of sales in most full-line pet stores today. Animal food was the mainstay of every feed store in the early years and the margins were low. Foods brought customers in more often and paved the way for more consumables.

It’s amazing to look back and consider that early dog foods were very low priced and had an unimpressive list of ingredients. When dog food was selling for as low as $4.99 a bag back in 1967, the thought of a $79.99 bag of dog food was an impossibility. Ever wonder who had the vision to make higher quality foods and what brought that about?
Here’s a story about a family that has had a major impact on the growth of the pet industry for years and is still creating “state of the art” foods that fit a need and help pets live longer lives.

Veterinarian Mark L. Morris Sr. (1900 – 1993) was born and raised in Henderson, Colo. Prior to his final year of vet school he was awarded a scholarship to complete his final year at Cornell University in New York.

Following graduation he purchased a practice in Edison, N.J. Dr. Morris took the innovative step of converting the practice from a large animal to a small animal practice. Most vets in those days were taught to treat large animals like horses and cows and to make a living providing veterinarian services. Few had any idea of how small animals would grow in popularity. Subsequently he built the Raritan Animal Hospital, which at that time was only the second small animal hospital built in the U.S.

Dr. Morris took the additional step of installing an in-hospital diagnostic lab, a major innovation, as at the time most veterinarians did not use any type of actual diagnostic testing prior to treating their patients.

He started drawing the correlation between the dog’s or cat’s diet and the development of certain diseases, and he developed diets to address these conditions. As a result, demand from other veterinarians for the Raritan Diets began to grow.

In 1948 a contract was signed with the Hill’s Packing Company of Topeka, Kan. to manufacture and ship the five products that had been invented to date (now called Prescription Diets) to clinics around the country. Dr. Morris spent considerable time traveling around the country educating veterinarians about the use of diet to treat their patients while still maintaining the hospital in New Jersey.

By 1952 Dr. Morris’ wife Louise gave Mark an ultimatum that they were going to run a hospital or animal food company, but not both. So the family sold their practice and moved to Topeka to be closer to the manufacturing of the products.

Soon Mark Morris Jr., D.V.M., Ph.D. (1934 – 2007) established Mark Morris Associates, as well as Theracon Incorporated, which was his research and development center north of Topeka. In 1948 he also established the Morris Animal Foundation, which today is the largest private charitable funder of animal health studies in the world.
Mark Morris Jr. started working on the expansion of Prescription Diets, and in 1967 invented Science Diets and ZuPreem. The next year the Hill family was selling Hill’s Packing Company, and as part of that transaction the Morris family sold ownership of Prescription Diets, Science Diet and ZuPreem to Riviana Foods as it was acquiring Hill’s Packing Company. In that exchange, Mark Morris Associates entered a professional services contract whereby it served as Hill’s research and development, quality control and professional education division on an outsourced basis. This relationship continued for 20 years.

During those 20 years, MMA brought to market more than 105 products within the three product lines, but also specialized diets for military working dogs invented during the Vietnam War, and later for sled dogs used in explorations of both the north and south poles.

David Morris, the grandson of Mark L. Morris, Sr. and son of Mark Morris, Jr. follows in the family tradition today, but is creating his own legacy.

In 1992 Hill’s announced their plan to discontinue the last five products within the ZuPreem line to make room in the manufacturing plants to manufacture the Prescription Diet and Science Diet products. At that time, David was finishing graduate school so the timing was perfect to continue the product line independent of Hill’s.

So he moved to Kansas City and created a company to do exactly that. He had to establish manufacturing and distribution independent of Hill’s and then started the process of developing new diets. While ZuPreem enjoyed high levels of penetration in zoos across North America, he realized that the opportunity was to expand the brand’s offering in the pet channel.

He focused first in reptile diets and then a family of avian diets, which most retailers know ZuPreem for today. Small animal diets were soon added and continue to grow along with the rest of the product lines. Over the last 10 years ZuPreem’s international expansion has been robust and ZuPreem products are now sold in more than 35 countries around the world.

-Phil Cooper

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