Carnivore Meat Company has been a leader and innovator in producing raw frozen and freeze-dried pet foods and treats since CEO Lanny Viegut founded the company in Green Bay in 2012. Pet Age recently spoke with Viegut to learn how he’s positioned Vital Essentials to be a leader of the raw, freeze-dried category.
Growing up, did you ever think you would lead a company to be one of the fastest-growing raw, freeze-dried brands in the U.S.?
Growing up on a dairy farm in central Wisconsin, I learned firsthand about the dairy and meat industries. In addition to running the family farm, my parents were both entrepreneurs and passed on to me an incredible work ethic, but at the time, I thought they were being hard on me. Most of my friends weren’t required to work that hard! I realize now the incredible gift it was. This upbringing inspired my college education, earning a bachelor’s in food science with an emphasis on meat processing. I entered the meat industry and began creating high-quality, value-added meat products. I never imagined this would parlay into the raw pet food business and create Vital Essentials and Carnivore Meat Company.
What inspired you to start this company, and how did you first get involved in the pet food industry?
In the fall of 2008, a friend told me of a small no-name pet food operation in Green Bay that was bankrupt and about to be shuttered. I was then asked to “take a look” and determine if there was any hope of saving it. Despite having no idea there was such a thing as raw pet food, I noticed the remarkable quality of the products — they were amazing. My first thought was “This is a meat shop for dogs.” I stepped in and began learning the business and industry. There were many challenges and things to fix—no computers, inventory, brand or branded packaging or retail presence, which had to change and fast. I remember the many phone calls with Michael Baker and his team at Pet Food Experts as they helped me finalize the brand name. That’s when Vital Essentials was born and launched at SuperZoo in the fall of 2009. Vital Essentials was the first raw pet food brand with printed packaging and a viewing window, allowing pet parents to see the product before purchasing—the first of many future category-leading changes authored by Vital Essentials and Carnivore Meat Company.
How would you describe your company culture and the impact that it’s had on Vital Essentials?
Carnivore’s culture is inspired by the values, beliefs and experiences (both good and bad) I acquired growing up on a dairy farm and during my many career stops before Carnivore. The Carnivore Culture is… We strive for clarity. We are decision-makers. We find ways to say “YES.” Review day is every day, to name a few. It’s not just words on paper. It’s how we engage with each other internally, with our clients and vendor partners. It’s evident in our selection process, helping to ensure we are the right “match” with those who wish to join our team.
How do you balance the need to grow your business with maintaining your products’ high standards and quality?
With decades of experience in the meat industry, creating and producing value-added ultra-premium meat products, we take pride in sourcing only premium protein for pets. This commitment to sourcing is built into the DNA of Carnivore. Our premium BUTCHER CUT PROTEIN is never compromised. We know the industry and the players. Aligning with suppliers who share our beliefs and have “scale” is critical to this delicate balance.
What makes your pet food products unique, and how do they stand out in a crowded market?
Innovation is about recognizing a need, asking the right questions, challenging conventional paradigms and having a culture to support it, even when an idea seems crazy. Although some consumers may not realize they need it (yet!). In 2017, Vital Essentials launched VE Raw Bar. Never before done, and we had no idea it would be a hit. We created a new sector within the category — of freeze-dried bully sticks, duck heads and minnows. These are just a few examples, but the list goes on. Spoiler Alert! Stay tuned for a revolutionizing concept percolating in the Vital Essentials pipeline, and we can’t wait to share.e