The Champion Transparency Council, a unique four-member panel of independent outside pet care industry experts and Pet Lovers met recently at Champion Petfoods’ DogStar Kitchen in Kentucky to observe how the company makes its ORIJEN and ACANA dog and cat foods. Reports from their first visit are now public. The Council’s stated objective is to verify the promises Champion makes about its Biologically Appropriate pet foods mission, and its long-standing history of sourcing food ingredients from regional farms, ranches and fish suppliers.
Council member Andrea Coffman, who was appointed following an application process open to Pet Lovers in U.S. and Canada reported in her first article, “I came to Champion with high expectations prepared to ask the hard questions and to be the eyes and ears of the public. Having seen the operation from top to bottom I can say Champion didn’t settle on their kitchen design, and they don’t settle on their ingredients, suppliers or process either.”
Coffman said she observed that every lot of pet food coming through the production line is, “tested for safety, quality, nutritional balance and consistency.” The on-site Council experience included an in-depth briefing by Champion production managers on how the kitchen operates. Background data and information was also shared about the dietary requirements for dogs and cats that constitutes the basis for Biologically Appropriate recipes the company says is intended to match the physiology and eating anatomy of pets.
Transparency Council members toured the kitchen from ingredient in-take to cooking, safety, quality management and through to final packaging. The Council team also visited a regional supplier of catfish and were given the opportunity to join the fishing boat crew to harvest catfish that will be used in Champion foods.
Commenting later on his tour experience, Dr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM, pet care author and holistic veterinarian said, “we were there on the boat participating in the catch and observed how the crew carefully separated the best fish and threw the less desirable ones back in the lake. Formulating pet foods with larger amounts of fresh proteins like catfish and using the entire fish including muscle meat, organs and edible cartilage that dogs or cats would consume in the wild, helps Champion deliver on their nutrition claims without resorting to significant synthetic supplementation,” he said.
Why transparency is important
Don King, Champion’s Vice President of Marketing, said he believes that better informed and educated Pet Lovers can make more informed choices in the pet foods they buy. “People no longer accept claims and assertions made by pet food – or any food companies really – at face value. They want to see with their own eyes what goes on in the kitchen and how ingredients are sourced to make the determination on the quality of the food they want to provide. That’s why we created the Transparency Council.”
Transparency Council member April Scott applied to join the Council because she sees the importance of transparency in her own decisions. Her report states, “as a caring pet owner, there are a few things that are essential to me when I look at the ingredient list on the back of a pet food package. What resides in the pieces of kibble, and how do we genuinely know what’s in them,” she queries. Scott wrote the kitchen tour experience was eye opening, “Champion has put a lot of thought and consideration into their recipes and food manufacturing process. They make sure the farm animals and fish are treated ethically and that’s important to me.”
Ingredient sourcing relationships
The Transparency Council was provided with an overview of how the company qualifies and maintains its relationships with farms, ranches and fish suppliers. “They don’t accept ingredients from any random supplier,” said Scott in her report, “each farm and fishery goes through an in-depth vetting process and must meet Champion’s strict standards and values.”
Champion began building its network of regional farm relationships 25 years ago when the company first pioneered Biologically Appropriate foods that require high levels of raw and fresh meat, fish and poultry. “I have to say the most significant thing I experienced wasn’t about the food-making process,“ Council expert Dr. Clayton Greenway, host of the popular ‘Animal House’ pet talk show on Toronto’s Newstalk 1010 radio station said in his article. “At one point, Chris Milam, head of Ingredient Innovation and Supplier Relationships, spoke about his main suppliers calling the owners by their first names. He had known them for decades. They weren’t just business partners, they were friends.”
The Champion Transparency Council is planning a second meeting in September 2019 where the agenda will cover more details about pet nutrition, product innovation and food safety procedures. The Council members are each filing four reports in 2019 on what they have witnessed. The first reports are available online and the others will appear periodically during the balance of the calendar year.
The Transparency Council reports can be read in full at championpetfoods.com/transparency.