Rebekah: Can you tell me a little about the history of Evanger’s?
Chelsea: Believe it or not, Evanger’s is an 80-year-old company. Fred Evanger showed champion great Danes and he was frustrated that all the foods that were commercially available did not have any nutritional benefits for his dogs. At that time, dry foods, which were by-products and fillers, were the only foods on the market. He also lived on a farm and knew the benefits of using raw, real meat for his dogs, because he was sourcing this all on his own farm. This led to him canning his own pet foods. He kept expanding and expanding, and eventually breeders from across the country started hearing about the food that he was making for his champions himself and started to buy it from him.
Fast forward 80 years, my family owns the company and we are still using the same locally sourced, human-grade meats in our foods today. The way my family got into it is because my dad was a meat supplier to the Evanger’s factory for 20 years with his own family business. My family has now owned Evanger’s for about 15 years and we are the only privately-held and family-owned and -operated pet food cannery in the United States. It is because of this that we have stayed exclusive to independent retailers. We all have to stick together to continue to have successful businesses.
Rebekah: I know Evanger’s is a family company. What is it like getting to work with family members every day?
Chelsea: A lot of people think it might be stressful working with your family every
day, but it works perfectly for us. We all have different roles and divisions that we are really good at. We really couldn’t function without each other.
Even though we are in the same four walls day in and day out we actually don’t talk to each other that much unless we hold meetings together because we are all working on our own projects. There are five kids in our family and my mom always jokes that she should’ve had more children to be in the family business.
In the last year, we added a second shift so my twin brother and I changed to the second shift together. We have found that having a day shift and evening shift even in the office increases our productivity and enables us to come up with new innovative ideas. For me, it has rejuvenated my passion for what I do because it gives me extra time to focus on the projects that I want to pursue and I’m excited to bring those ideas to fruition.
Rebekah: Evanger’s uses some interesting ingredients like sweet potato, pheasant and even blueberries. What was the inspiration behind these foods?
Chelsea: Our hand-packed products are really unique. We invented them back in 2002 for our own dog, Yukon. He was a true dog foodie. His problem was that typical dog food was not good enough for him. Since his human parents ran a pet food factory, he basically had a buffet every night of human-grade foods.
However, they were in the loaf style, or raw. Loaf style didn’t appeal to him as much as my dad’s steaks did. My dad became frustrated because Yukon never ate his own dog food but always favored my dad’s steaks. Yukon had no problem going on hunger strikes until he got a steak. So my dad took that idea, put a steak in a can and cooked it at Evanger’s. That night he fed it to our dog, and it was the birth of a revolutionary style of pet food that we call hand-packed. It is exclusive to Evanger’s and something we will never co-pack for anyone.
Actually, we hear so many stories of people who discover our foods when their dogs or cats become ill. We’ve heard time and time again that our foods kept their pets alive.
Rebekah: Food trends are always coming and going. What do you do to stay on top of things in the industry?
Chelsea: To stay on top of the trends we try to set the trend. For example, we have been grain-free since 1935 not because it was trendy, but because it was the right thing to do for the optimal nutrition of pets.
We just invented a revolutionary category of pet food; a semi-moist product. It is another product or category that was born out of frustration. First, our family dog who got so picky even Hunk of Beef wasn’t good enough for him anymore and from pet parents who were feeding what was convenient for them, but not nutritionally beneficial to their pets. So we invented a product we call High-Bio (short for High Biological) which is made to have the convenience of a dry food but the nutritional benefits of a canned or raw diet. The palatability is divine because of the high fresh meat content, which FDA studies prove are more palatable than frozen foods.
Rebekah: Evanger’s is having a calendar pet contest. Can you tell me more about that?
Chelsea: It’s fun! We had the idea about 10 years ago to do a calendar contest. At that time, very few companies had any calendar at all. Originally, it was just to spread the word about Evanger’s and maybe to give me a summer job in high school, but the contest has evolved into this tremendous competition.
Now, we use the calendar as an all-in-one sales piece that has all of our brochure information, sales specials for the year, shelf talkers, and our Green Initiative and Social Responsibility efforts. It’s sort of like a Bible to the Evanger’s line. And the pictures are amazing!