Forget kibbles: US sales of fresh pet food are soaring

In this Feb. 21, 2019, photo, Joe and Deb Colgan sit with their German shepherds Gracie, on the floor, and Takaani, on the couch, in their home in Oconomowoc, Wis. The Colgans started feeding their two previous dogs raw meat seven years ago and continued with Gracie and Takaani because they say they have less health problems and cleaner teeth. U.S. pet owners are increasingly feeding raw, freeze dried or lightly cooked meat and vegetables to their dogs and cats. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

DETROIT (AP) — Kibbles for Fido? Nope. These days he’s getting diced chicken with sweet potatoes and spinach.
U.S. pet owners are increasingly feeding fresh food to their dogs and cats. Some order pre-proportioned meals of meat and vegetables or frozen raw meat online. Others find them in refrigerators at big retailers like Walmart.
Later this spring, Petco and its partner, California-based JustFoodForDogs, will open a kitchen at its flagship store in New York where it expects to make 2,000 pounds of fresh pet food every day.
Proponents say fresh foods preserve nutrients better than canned or dried ones, mimic ancestral diets and improve pets’ health.
“Just as people have become skeptical of highly processed foods for themselves, they’re looking critically at their pets’ foods as well,” said Amy Zalneraitis, part-owner and chief brand officer of We Feed Raw, a 10-year-old raw food meal plan service based in Maine. “They think: How could something with a shelf life of over year be better than real, fresh food?”
But some veterinarians question the trend. They say established pet food companies like 51-year-old Royal Canin are backed by decades of research, while the verdict is still out on fresh food.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says raw pet food has a high risk of bacterial contamination. The agency is also investigating a link between grain-free diets that contain peas, lentils and potatoes and elevated levels of heart disease in dogs.
“There are so many essential nutrients, from all different classes, that need to be considered,” said Dr. Lindsey Bullen, a pet nutrition specialist with the Veterinary Specialist Hospital of the Carolinas. “If they are too high or too low, or in an inappropriate proportion, it can cause significant problems for that pet that the client might not see for months or years to come.”
Bullen says about 20% of her clients feed their pets fresh food. When they do, she said, she questions them about the recipes they’re following to make sure they’re providing essential nutrients. Canine and feline supplements can help round out fresh meals.
Pet food trends tail human ones. When gravy was popular in the 1950s, Gravy Train dog food appeared. In the 1980s, Fancy Feast cat food mirrored a growing interest in gourmet food.
This time, younger buyers are fueling the trend, choosing pet foods they consider safer and more natural, says consulting firm Mintel.
U.S. sales of fresh pet food in groceries and pet stores jumped 70% to more than $546 million between 2015 and 2018, according to Nielsen, a data company. That doesn’t include online sales or people making their own fresh pet food. It’s still just a fraction of the $25 billion U.S. pet food market.