"No one was asking for iPods or jet skis, but millions of people are buying them now."

"Seasons change and so should your pet's food," says Roman Versch, owner of the Pet Depot chain of pet stores. Why? "In the summer, dogs need higher levels of lineolic acids and omega oils in a lower protein and fat formula," says Versch. "In the winter, dogs need higher levels of protein and fat." As evidence he points to Chapter 11 of the 2006 NRC publication Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Versch will soon find out if pet owners are going to buy the concept.

"Shedding is a profound and obvious effect that seasonal changes have on dogs and cats," notes Versch, "but it is by no means the only one." He points out that the seasons are a powerful force in our lives. They affect the activities we do, the foods we crave, the clothes we wear and often, the moods we are in. "Our animals are also affected by seasonal changes," he says.

A patent and licensing

Working with nutritionists, Versch developed petfoods to address seasonal changes. In October 2006, the US Patent Office awarded him a patent entitled "Selected Climate Change Control of Petfood Formulation and Distribution." Following up on his patent, Versch founded Seasons Pet Food Co. with the idea of selectively licensing his formulas to companies capable of global and multi channel petfood distribution. He plans to unleash the concept one way or another by August 2008.

A new path

"Superior ingredients nutrition is a well-worn path in the US," notes Versch. "Customers must have a powerful reason to switch from brands they are satisfied with and current petfood leaders in the US will not willingly give away market share."

He strongly believes Seasons Pet Food Co. is the right company to create a new path based on seasonal formulas. "A survey done by the company shows that the seasons concept is one that 78.6% of consumers are willing to try," says Versch, "because it makes sense." When he's told no one is asking for seasonal formulations, he responds that no one was asking for iPods or jet skis, but millions of people are buying them now.

Versch sees an analogy between seasonal petfoods and hairball control petfoods. "Hill's Science Diet introduced its hairball formula in 1996 and changed the market overnight," he says. "Consumers eagerly converted to Hill's feline hairball formulas with the advantage of natural hairball disposal through food." Hill's improved retailer support and created excitement for specialty retailers because the product was not available through mass merchant locations.

Kibble in his veins

"I've got kibble in my veins," comments Versch. He first joined the pet industry in 1971 when he began working for a pet retailer in Los Angeles. There he learned to position and sell petfood products including the original Nutro Pet Food and Science Diet when it was packaged in brown bags and "Acme Buttermilk" kibble from Breeder's Choice. "As petfood varieties increased," he says, "consumers became more selective in their petfood purchases. Gradually, the industry shifted to natural, holistic trends and breed specific products found on shelves today."

When working in retail, Versch and others on the staff noticed a pattern every summer: Customers came in desperately seeking advice for helping their pets suffering from dry, itchy coats and hot spots. "We always asked what they were feeding and a pattern of high-protein, corn-based diets emerged," says Versch. "We further discovered that these customers were often adding canned diets high in protein on top of the high-protein kibble. We recommended lower protein kibble and a skin and coat supplement and many customers came back happy with the results."

Visible benefits

Versch is confident that pet owners feeding Seasons Pet Food will "have a pet with a great coat and better body condition." He says one reason why so many pets are overweight is that they receive calories at a steady rate all year, even when they don't need as many calories in the summer. "Our formulas increase fat when pets actually need it: on the lower end of the thermo-neutral and critical cold zone," says Versch. "Fat is decreased when pets least need it during the upper end of ambient temperatures. We also increase very absorbable essential fatty acids which support a healthy coat." Seasons Summer Blend will be sold May through October. The Seasons Cool Weather Blend will be sold November through April.

These questions remain

For everything there is a season. The seasonal petfood concept is appealing, but are pet owners ready for winter and summer formulas? Do seasons really affect indoor pets that much? Will inventory/stocking be a problem? What benefits will pet owners actually see? Time will tell.

New to the NRC requirements

Entirely new to the 2006 NRC publication Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats is a report on the effects of physical activity and the environment on nutrient requirements (Chapter 11). Starting with dogs as athletes, effects of sprinting and endurance activities on nutrient requirements are explored. The effects of temperature, high and low, are examined for energy requirements. Nutrient requirements as a function of amount of exercise and ambient temperatures are discussed for water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins ( www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10668 )