Premium cuisine for dogs, cats expanding
By Michael Rubinkam ASSOCIATED PRESS
MATT SLOCUM ASSOCIATED PRESS Freshpet appeals to pet owners who are eating healthier and want the same for their pets, co-founder Scott Morris says.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Organic kibble? All-natural chow? Fido and Fluffy don’t know it, but their owners want them to eat better — and they are forking over big bucks to make it happen.
Marketed as a healthier, more-nutritious alternative, some premium dog and cat cuisine has gone the Whole Foods route.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the new $25 million eastern Pennsylvania factory of upstart pet-food-maker Freshpet, where thousands of pounds of fresh meat and poultry are pasteurized and mixed with vegetables, then chilled, packaged and sent to branded, refrigerated display cases in more than 10,000 stores across America.
The 7-year-old company, founded by former Purina executives, is trying to establish a new category in an industry long dominated by kibbles and cans: fresh, preservative-free food that requires refrigeration. With sales exceeding $100 million, executives say they’re on their way.
“People are trying to eat healthier, less processed, simpler foods, and I think they are applying that logic when they’re making pet-food decisions,” said Scott Morris, Freshpet’s president and co-founder.
Major manufacturers such as Nestle Purina and Del Monte Foods also are capitalizing on consumers’ willingness to spend more on food they perceive to be better for their furry friends.
Even through the Great Recession, premium dog and cat food
- the latest iteration of which is advertised as natural and organic
- has been claiming an ever-bigger share of the market.
Sales of the more-expensive brands jumped 68 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared with 19 percent for mid-priced brands and only 8 percent for economy brands, according to Euromonitor International.
Marketing experts say manufacturers are tapping into a number of powerful trends and emotions: Americans’ interest in healthy eating, the rising popularity of organic food, the tendency to humanize pets.
“People think of their pets not as pets, but as members of their family, and they want to treat the members of their family with the same respect as they treat themselves,” said Molly Maier, senior analyst at market research firm Mintel Group Ltd.
Nestle, the No. 1 pet-food-maker, has reported solid growth in its high-end, “made with natural ingredients” Beyond line. Del Monte, whose brands include Kibbles ’n Bits and Meow Mix, purchased premium pet-food-maker Natural Balance in July. “Higher consumer spending on more premium pet products will continue to drive market expansion,” Del Monte said.
- Despite its explosive growth, Freshpet remains a tiny player in the $17 billion dog- and cat-food market. Morris sees the company, based in Secaucus, N.J., as fundamentally different, its new “Freshpet Kitchens” factory in Bethlehem using ingredients and processes adapted from human food production.
The company entered the market at an opportune time. A widespread pet-food recall in early 2007 — which followed U.S. dog and cat deaths linked to tainted ingredients from China — jolted consumers and got them thinking about what they were feeding their pets.
- But the jury’s still out on whether food marketed as fresh, organic or natural helps pets lead longer or healthier lives.
- Theoretically, it’s hard to argue with the idea that minimally processed and preservative-free food of the sort Freshpet makes would be better for dogs and cats, said Amy Farcas, a veterinary clinical nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania. But she said the research to prove it is lacking. *1
Farcas routinely advises her clients that as long as their dog is the appropriate weight, healthy and energetic, they probably don’t need a diet change.
“Nutritionally, most adult dog foods would be considered appropriate for most adult healthy dogs, though there are differences in ingredients, quality control and other factors among products,” she said via email.
Amy Eagle, 43, of Center Valley, Pa., stopped at a Freshpet display case at Target recently to pick up chow for her chocolate lab, Potroast. She said the dog turns up her nose at anything else.
“It feels like it’s closer to the farm,” Eagle said. “I don’t think I would go to the length of making fresh chicken or beef for her, but it feels like I’m almost doing that.”
I am pleased to see this kind of attention given to our pets. I would really love it more if I could be sure that better nutrition was finding its way into our pets rather than the usual hype, deceit and misinformation we contend with in our own human food. Look at all the trouble we are having now. When was the last time you bought something in a package, sack, box or can — did you check the label? Have you ever seen any container (a product manufactured and sold to you in something) that didn’t have preservatives of some kind in the label? Its those things plus coloring agents, fillers and all the processing which would dissuade me from any possibility of believing this could be “organic”. Use of the word “natural” is only hype and much overdone
But, like so many others, — I do the same thing. Have been buying “BLUE BUFFALO” for Heidi for years now. No grains at all and minimally processed which is how they caught me in the first place. Without a doubt, I understand that our pets would be so much better off if we just tossed a whole beef steak at them, or a squirrel or bird, rabbit etc. But I can’t do that. She lives indoors with me and I can’t have her leaving dead carcasses and/or pelts, feathers and bones all over the place. I have all I can do to keep from tripping over her toys [she refuses to put her toys away, no matter how often I’ve told her].
Research is not lacking:
#1 above, has Amy Farcas, a veterinary clinical nutritionist is saying the “research to prove whether or not this extra care would even be better for our pets” [loosely interpolated]. Now it’s true I’m not credentialed in this field, therefore can only opine what I believe to be true — what makes sense to me. However, she is incorrect to say that the research is lacking unless one could disregard more than 900 cats over a ten year span including four generations doesn’t measure up. The researcher? None other than Dr Frances Pottenger, Jr This fascinating ‘study’ is recounted in a post not done too long ago (6-9-13), called “Rojek on Enzymes”
See, all animals depend on enzymes — us, any of us and any pets of whatever ilk. Animals cannot digest their food without enzymes health cannot be maintained without nourishment. Heat, cooking food, destroys enzymes. Its pretty simple. Animals per this study I refer to, who were fed “raw” food did not get diseases; no skin problems, arthritis, cancer, heart etc. The facts [story] is fascinating. . . go check it out. Jan)