Best Breed: natural, holistic pet food focuses on health

This premium pet food company uses its historical focus on natural and holistic formulas as the bedrock of its present and future innovation.

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Best Breed Vice President Levi Wittenmyer, Dr. Toni Cotton, DVM, Founder Dr. Gary Cotton, DVM, and President Kent Benson, here with American Foxhound mix Walter and black cat Barney, focus on natural and holistic formulations to provide the best nutrition available to pets. | Courtesy Best Breed
Best Breed Vice President Levi Wittenmyer, Dr. Toni Cotton, DVM, Founder Dr. Gary Cotton, DVM, and President Kent Benson, here with American Foxhound mix Walter and black cat Barney, focus on natural and holistic formulations to provide the best nutrition available to pets. | Courtesy Best Breed

Since its founding in 1994 by veterinarian Dr. Gary Cotton, DVM, natural and holistic pet food company Best Breed has aimed to make pets healthier and happier. According to Cotton, early in his veterinary career he struggled with the nutritional options available when trying to help improve pet health conditions he would repeatedly see in his Findlay, Ohio, USA, clinic. With the help of nutritionists and manufacturing professionals, he began developing a line of formulas that he believed would help with the ear, skin, coat and gastrointestinal issues that were most prominent among his patients.

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 In 1987, Cotton opened his own clinic in Findlay, Ohio, USA. He immediately began modifying the diets of some of his patients by adding healthy ingredients like eggs and fish oils to help with the many issues he was regularly seeing. | Courtesy Best Breed

“When developing foods, I was focused on the types and quality of fats being used,” says Cotton. “Fats are so important to the overall health of animals; more specifically, to the massive amount of skin and hair they have.”

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“As packaging technology progressed from paper, we moved to high-barrier poly bags,” says Cotton. “The buckets and barrels (pictured here) were very effective but also very expensive, and the reverse logistics of getting them back was a nightmare.” Using them also made scaling sales through the traditional distribution channel almost impossible— a main contributor to the reasons why Best Breed was relatively unknown during the early years, according to Cotton. | Courtesy Best Breed

Cotton says he helped a lot of patients suffering chronic gastrointestinal issues by focusing on fiber and finding specific fiber combinations to make the ideal environment for microbes that control healthy gut functions. Most of the company’s formulas also contain the green-lipped sea mussel, a superfood used as a natural source of joint health nutrients.

Focusing on innovative pet food formulations

“Through the years we have developed some foods that we feel are unique, one of them being our Cat Diet,” says Cotton. “The Cat Diet has worked remarkably well for improving the digestive health of cats. Another is the Working Dog Diet which I developed to fulfill the Schutzhund community's desire to feed a high-fat, moderate-protein diet to their dogs. Since then, we have found that the food works extremely well not only for the highly active dogs, but those that are struggling to maintain a healthy weight.” 

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With the goal of helping promote gastrointestinal health and improve hairball control for cats, the Cat Diet was developed in 1996. It has become one of the most (if not the most) successful formulas developed by Best Breed to date, according to the company. | Courtesy Best Breed  

Best-Breed-working-dog-formula

Uniquely formulated with over 575 calories per cup, the Working Dog Diet has grown to not only feed working and highly active dogs, but also those dogs that are underweight or struggling with to maintain weight. | Courtesy Best Breed

When it comes new product development, according to Cotton, Best Breed is sometimes a little slow to jump on a trend — grain free, for example. 

“In the early years of grain-free formulating, I felt that we could find better ingredients to replace grains than the potatoes and tapioca that were available at the time,” says Cotton. “So, we held off on launching any grain-free foods until we could formulate a food with healthier ingredients that I was comfortable with. Since their inception, our grain-free formulas have performed extremely well.”

In 2017, Best Breed is looking at launching at least one new grain-free pet food formula and is working on a line of treats. The sometimes-conservative approach to development seems to be paying off: according to Kent Benson, president of Best Breed, the company has grown at a 65 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for the last six years, and he said he doesn’t see anything changing the trajectory Best Breed is on.

“We don’t try to be everything to everybody,” says Benson. “Rather, we focus on certain markets and use the resources we have at our disposal to serve those markets well. Once we feel that we have done a good job in that market, we move on to the next.”

Constant growth and an eye towards the future of natural and holistic pet food

Best Breed has grown steadily since its inception, building relationships with distributors, retailers and pet food customers.

“We focused on building volume for our distributor and retailer partners and have become extremely popular in the states we serve,” says Cotton. “It is not uncommon for Best Breed to be a ‘house brand’ for many of our independent retailers. Best Breed can now be found in hundreds of stores throughout the Midwest US, and now the Northeast US as well as many Asian countries.”  

On the heels of this recognition, the company is very optimistic, says Benson.

“The market, especially our segment, is so big and growing so quickly; we see opportunity about everywhere we look,” he says. “It is one of the few industries where the consumer is actively contacting you because they want to learn more about feeding their pet a healthy diet. It is quite remarkable.” 

In terms of the future, Best Breed has a plan for continued segment success: customer education.

“The more we can do to educate the customer, the better,” says Cotton. “We have developed a very loyal base of customers by having straight-forward conversations with them about nutrition and what really matters. The customer expects to be marketed to, but they do not want to feel like they are being sold a bill of goods.

“A very interesting trend we have been experiencing lately is hearing from customers who want to know if they really need to spend the extra money on a grain-free food,” says Cotton. “We have an amazing line of grain-free foods and make more money on them, but are not afraid to tell the consumer, ‘maybe not’, and then go on to talk about how foods with healthy grains and high-quality meat and fat inclusion might be just fine. This type of discussion goes a long way in bridging that trust gap a lot of consumers instinctively have with our industry.”

 

Best Breed’s ownership evolution

Best Breed’s ownership has changed over the years, but has managed to maintain the right connections to its history. Kent Benson, now the president of Best Breed, started with the company shortly after inception as a sales rep for Dr. Gary Cotton, DVM.

In 2000, Cotton developed some health issues and his doctor told him that he needed to divest some of the businesses he owned to reduce stress. So in 2004, he sold the company to Benson with the agreement that Cotton would stay on as an active member of the team. For the next six years, the company maintained sales selling through mail orders and a handful of stores. 

In 2010, Cotton and Benson decided to completely rebrand the company, bringing Cotton and his story to the forefront and going from just “Best Breed” to “Dr. Gary’s Best Breed.” At the same time, Benson’s nephew, Levi Wittenmyer, departed from the banking world and invested in Best Breed. The three of them worked to execute a plan of scaling the business into a regional brand with the hopes of going national — a hope that has since been fulfilled.

Just the Facts

Best-Breed-logo

Headquarters: Findlay, Ohio, USA

Facilities: One

Officers: Dr. Gary Cotton, founder; Kent Benson, president; Levi Wittenmyer, vice president

Sales: 65 percent CAGR for the last six years

Brands: Dr. Gary’s Best Breed

Distribution: US: Online and Independent retailers in most of the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic; International: five countries in Asia

Employees: 10

Website/Social Media: www.bestbreed.com; bestbreedpetfoods on Facebook

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