Carna4: pet food formulas inspired by health food trends

This pet food manufacturer takes inspiration from the human health food sector to formulate innovative, whole-food recipes for dogs and cats.

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Carna4 Hand Crafted Pet Food Co-founders Maria Ringo and David Stauble started their company in 2010 with the vision to provide pet owners with a convenient, wholly natural, pure food alternative to labor-intensive raw meat and home-cooked diets. | Carna4
Carna4 Hand Crafted Pet Food Co-founders Maria Ringo and David Stauble started their company in 2010 with the vision to provide pet owners with a convenient, wholly natural, pure food alternative to labor-intensive raw meat and home-cooked diets. | Carna4

When David Stauble and Maria Ringo decided to combine their decades of pet food industry experience to co-found Carna4 Hand Crafted Pet Food in 2010, they had a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish with their new brand.

“We’re very proud of being a pioneer in synthetic-free nutrition for pets,” says Stauble. “[Ringo] has a long history of introducing natural-rearing principles to the pet industry, so she is particularly gratified to see the recent sales growth in raw/minimally processed/home cooking products available to consumers. It was quite a different scene for her in the mid-1980s when she first launched Sojourner Farms (later renamed Sojos). Being a family-owned company, we get close to a lot of our customers and we know that we are one of few brands to offer the retailer a valuable tool in their quest to relieve their customers’ health challenges. Our innovations allow us to create a completely synthetic-free product line that supplies therapeutic levels of bio-available nutrients.” 

The drive to make a difference in the pet food market

“When we started Carna4, we could have done any kind of business,” says Ringo, who also serves as Carna4’s director of health care. “But we wanted to make a difference in the health of pets and people using only natural foods, so Carna4 was founded with a focus on partnering with retailers who are committed to improving the health of their customers’ pets, not just selling stuff. Similarly, we partner with regional distributors who focus especially on unique, cutting-edge health products. This strategy has allowed us to educate consumers about the benefits of our unique ingredients and processing methods, building awareness and growth in the sector as a whole.”

According to Stauble and Ringo, Carna4 was the first to use innovative ingredients, such as sprouted seeds, which are familiar in the human health food sector but ahead of their time in pet food. “This allows us to create 100 percent whole food synthetic-free, preservative-free products, which far exceed AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards,” says Ringo. “Since synthetic vitamins found in the ‘premix’ of most other pet foods are not truly bio-available, many pets are not getting the vitamins they need and are essentially malnourished, leading to chronic illness that gets blamed on food sensitivities and allergies. Pets (and people) need nutrition from real food that the body recognizes in order to boost the immune system and self-heal.”

The company’s commitment to its mission has paid off in a small but growing premium pet food segment. “Every year for the last five years, sales have grown by more than 50 percent, and last year’s growth was 60 percent,” says Stauble. “Flora4 (a ground sprouted seeds food topper) sales grew 150 percent in 2016 over 2015.”

The company launched Carna4 synthetic-free, grain-free cat food this year, and feedback has been positive. “Cats are loving the taste, which is a big challenge for any natural brand, but we’ve done it,” says Stauble. “Our sales of this new product are doubling monthly.” Carna4 also recently introduced the CarnaFlora grain-free nutritional biscuit, with a special mix of ground sprouted seeds, which Stauble says is also exceeding their expectations.


Flora4 Ground Sprouted Seeds Food Topper aims to make it easier for pet owners to supplement effectively to add the live probiotics, plant enzymes, phytonutrients, and whole-food vitamins and minerals that are lacking in an all-meat diet. The product contains only 100 percent raw organic sprouted seeds (a blend of barley seed, flaxseed and lentils), ground into a fine powder and packaged in daily servings. | Carna4

The draw and challenges of the ‘clean label’

Carna4’s commitment to “clean and green” ingredients in all pet food formulations has struck a chord with the company’s customer base. “If you’ve ever looked at one of our labels, you’ll see it’s probably one of the shortest ingredient lists you’ll see on any dog or cat food,” says Ringo. “What we see when we do tradeshows or retail shows, is people will pick up a bag of our food and immediately look at the ingredients. And they’ll go, ‘Oh, my gosh. That’s a really short list.’ They’re delighted by the simplicity of seeing simple, recognizable ingredients in their pets’ food. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel more confident.”

Consumers are looking for simple, says Ringo. “They’ll say, ‘This is such a relief. I know what this is. I trust this. I can feed this to my animal.’ They’re relieved that they get it. I think the days of packaged, heavily processed food are numbered. By what we see in the market, retailers and consumers just want it simple, they just want it clean.”

But customers want more than simple, and there’s a balance to consumer desires that Stauble and Ringo say Carna4 constantly navigates. “Consumers want organic; they want single-source; they want to know their supplier,” says Ringo. “People are much more interested in where their food is coming from. This is where our culture is going. So packaged, highly processed foods are not the foods of the future. However, as consumers, we love convenience. We want convenience. We don’t want to give that up. So we’re trying to balance: we want it to be easy, but we also want to trust the source. That’s why we see Carna4 being so successful. We try to create that balance — you have to have a little bit of processing if you want it to be safe from pathogens, but you don’t want it over-processed and loaded with words you can’t pronounce if you want it to be high quality and as bioavailable as possible.”

Industry influence and the future of Carna4

The dual message of “clean and convenient” is one the Carna4 founders say they’re happy to see spreading. “I’m really glad to see that our message of bridging that gap between wanting to feed clean and wanting convenience is getting out to other manufacturers,” says Ringo. “I can see other manufacturers trying to enunciate that to their consumers and retailers. I’m really glad we’re not the only ones, and if we started that, more power to us, because ultimately, this is what [Stauble and I] chose to do because we love the education aspect. We want to change the world, we want to make it a better place in some small way. And when I hear other manufacturers taking up this cause and saying, ‘hey, we have this new product that’s bridging that gap,’ I’m quite proud of that.”

In the meantime, Carna4 will stay its course and continue to expand. “We still have line extensions to complete, which we’re working on now, for almost all of our products,” says Stauble. “Each new product will be truly innovative to the pet food market as we introduce more novel ingredients from the human health food sector. In addition, we expect to have nationwide distribution in the US by the beginning of 2018, and we are already there in Canada. Our exports are expanding substantially and we expect to be in several more countries by the end of 2017, as well.”


Expert opinion: The growth of superpremium pet food

“Overall, the pet industry has a long way to go to supply the safety and quality that pet owners want nowadays, or think they are already getting,” says Carna4 Hand Crafted Pet Food co-founder and director of health care, Maria Ringo. “The lack of nutritional quality in commercial pet foods is what has driven consumers to the fastest-growing segment which we inhabit — we call it the ‘real food’ segment. So many of the ailments we are seeing in pets today — allergies, yeast, itchy skin, etc. — can be alleviated by brands like Carna4, which use higher-quality, nutrient-dense whole foods, and we are seeing that consumers really want this and are willing to pay for it. Quality food is not cheap, but neither is a trip to the vet.”

That consumer desire for high quality is what will continue to drive the superpremium pet food segment, according to Carna4 Co-founder David Stauble. “The greatest growth will continue to be in the gently baked/dehydrated category as more pet owners seek out the best safety and quality standards they can find on the shelf,” he says. “There have been too many recalls of raw foods, and the extruded and canned products have all kinds of quality issues of their own, historically. But consumers still want more convenience than home cooking provides, both for themselves and their pets, so we will not see a significant outflux of consumers from the packaged pet food market, ever. Both Maria and I have worked in the pet food industry for over 30 years each, and we see this as a recession-proof industry for a long time.”


Just the Facts


Headquarters: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Facilities: Manufactured at Bio-Biscuit Inc. in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada

Officers: Co-founders Maria Ringo and David Stauble

Sales: Sales growth over 50 percent every year, and 60 percent in 2016

Brands: Carna4 synthetic-free pet food; Flora4 supplement; CarnaFlora snacks

Distribution: Canada, USA, Japan

Employees: 6

Website/Social Media:


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