The frozen/refrigerated/fresh petfood category is experiencing an incredible amount of growth—more so than other niche markets like organic, raw and functional. "Many consumer values are mirroring the features and benefits that reflect this type of food," explains Peter Kaufman, founder and CEO of Pets Eat Fresh Inc., a Canadian fresh petfood manufacturer of their own brand—Buddy's Kitchen—and a successful private label program. "As a result, by providing a ‘home-cooked style’ diet that is safe, transparent, convenient and economical, sales are projected to grow by double digits for [us in] the next decade." In October 2011, Pets Eat Fresh introduced food for dogs called Buddy’s Fresh Food. Buddy’s Fresh Food is sold exclusively in Canada to premium specialty food grocers and independent pet stores. In February 2012, Pets Eat Fresh successfully launched a private label program for a retail chain of 150 stores.

"We all agree that the intense human/pet bond and the continuous recognition that pets are members of the family have been critical keys to growth for everyone in the petfood industry," says Kaufman when asked about his company's explosive growth and the reasons for such success. "Pets Eat Fresh sees itself as a manufacturer of ‘food for pets’—not petfood. This may sound like semantics, but there are critical distinctions and therefore the drivers that we see as keys to growth go beyond the obvious." Kaufman points to the changes in North American behavior that recognize the difference between real, whole, "superior" foods and over-processed "enhanced" foods. "Pet parents are thrilled that there is finally a convenient, safe and affordable home-cooked style food for their dogs that actually lives up to its health claims and manufacturing process," he adds.

Pets Eat Fresh further sets itself apart from the competition with its passion to do work in a uniquely transparent matter. "Without greater traceability, transparency and accountability, the industry as a whole risks losing the confidence and wallets of the next generation of pet owners," explains Kaufman. "This is a new reality that the industry will have to deliver on." Pets Eat Fresh product offerings and its plant were built to meet the needs of today’s discriminating and Internet-savvy pet parents, the company claims. The plant was designed with public viewing areas into the butcher shop and bakery areas. And rather than relying on a flashy marketing campaign, a video showing the production process from beginning to end is available to watch on their website. Visitors can walk through the two public viewing areas and are welcome to visit and interact with the Pets Eat Fresh team, says Kaufman. "On occasion, we will even prepare lunch using ingredients from production and offer it to our guests."

Kaufman is also careful to point out that Pets Eat Fresh is not just another niche producer, but first and foremost a private label manufacturer of fresh/frozen food and specialty treats for companion dogs and cats. "Our proprietary food process and formulations were developed over 24 months to ensure that all standard requirements for conventional petfood were exceeded and that a new bar was set for producing the next generation of real food for pets," says Kaufman. "Our objective is to enable private label clients to lead the charge and help change the quality of petfood from ‘feed-based’ to ‘food-based'."

Eat Fresh has also initiated a source local strategy for all ingredients and packaging of their products. The only exceptions are lamb from New Zealand and a proprietary premix of vitamins, minerals, prebiotics and probiotics that is manufactured in the US from non-Chinese ingredients, according to the company. Additionally, Pets Eat Fresh has created a program to train its private label clients and their teams on areas of production, sales and marketing, business opportunity and technical knowledge. "To become the ‘next generation’ of food for pets requires risk and confidence to lead; to break-away from the status quo and recognize that greatness begins by thinking differently and to not be afraid to execute," concludes Kaufman.

The outlook for Pets Eat Fresh is incredibly bright, according to Kaufman. "We are only in the first inning of the frozen/fresh category in North America. Companies that have creative capital and are petfood leaders recognize the opportunity for their brand equity and gross profits to have their own fresh food line."

Business Basics: Pets Eat Fresh Inc.

Headquarters: Aurora, Ontario, Canada

Facilities: Complete processing plant on location for food and treats

Executive Team: Peter Kaufman, founder & CEO; Maurizio Barbieri, operations manager; Dr. Gary Pusillo, PhD, chief nutritionist

Sales: The company has recently experienced double-digit growth, according to Kaufman

Brands: Buddy’s Fresh Food and private label

Distribution: Canada and US\Employees: 10