Q&A with Pets Eat Fresh CEO Peter Kaufman

The entire, un-edited interview with Pets Eat Fresh founder and CEO Peter Kaufman

Petfood Industry : What new brands, products or packaging have you introduced in the past 12 months (or how many)? Can you provide information on how they are doing in the market to date? 

Peter Kaufman, founder and CEO of Pets Eat Fresh Inc. : In October 2011, Pets Eat Fresh Inc. introduced the next-generation 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.

Immediate response for the food has been explosive: dogs are instantly attracted to the flavors of cooked fresh meat and pet parents are ecstatic by the renewed passion they see in their dog during mealtime. At the same time, pet owners are front-row witnesses to the many and very tangible health benefits from moving off a highly processed ‘fast-food’ diet to a diet of fresh whole foods. All of this has resulted in tremendous word-of-mouth. 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.

PI : What are your company’s keys to growth?  

PK:  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. However, Pets Eat Fresh sees itself as a manufacturer of ‘food for pets’ —not pet food. 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.

Keys to our growth include the changes in North American behavior that recognize that real, whole foods are superior to ‘Frankenstein’ foods, that home-cooked food is superior to fast food, that minimally processed food is healthier than hyper processed food, and that Mother Nature has her own way of letting us know that a food is fresh, real and natural: it rots and spoils.

PI : What would you say sets your company apart from the competition? What do you strive to be known for? 

PK : Pets Eat Fresh sets itself apart from the competition with its passion to do work that truly matters in an honest and transparent matter. Historically the pet food industry was built upon mystery meats, mystery ingredients and mystery practices. 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.

Having done this, Pets Eat Fresh is uniquely positioned as the only fresh/frozen private label food manufacturer in North America made up of a veteran team with a cumulative 75 years of pet industry experience. The passion, expertise and remarkable product pipeline Pets Eat Fresh offers provides its private label clients a degree of product and technical support never before provided by a manufacturer.

Clients who work with Pets Eat Fresh become part of a new category of food that reflects so many of today’s family values—that food is not just a commodity. With emotion driving so much of how we purchase, pet parents are continuing to understand that “like me, my pet is what he eats.” Pets Eat Fresh understands this and every day works with passion to deliver food for pets made with honesty, integrity and trust.

PI : Please provide sales estimates for 2012—or a comment on sales trends.  

PK:  The frozen/refrigerated food category is experiencing double-digit growth. Consumer values are mirroring the features and benefits that reflect this type of food. 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 the next decade.

PI : What is the outlook overall for the future of your company?  

PK:  The outlook for Pets Eat Fresh is incredibly bright. 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.

Dogs are immediately hooked when they experience the taste of real whole fresh food. The cooking process of the meat unleashes flavors that dogs fall in love with. The passion and enthusiasm that dogs have for our food plus the health benefits from eating fresh food equal very happy pet parents. Dogs win. Pet parents win. Pet Eat Fresh wins.

PI : Where do you see your biggest opportunities?  

PK:  Our team of experienced industry veterans is uniquely positioned to leverage its IP and production capabilities to produce private label food for leading US/Canadian pet brands and retailers.

Pets Eat Fresh is 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. 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'.

Food safety is number one at Pets Eat Fresh. As a result, all federally inspected meats that arrive in our self-contained butcher shop are inspected, hand-trimmed, grounded and then cooked. Pets Eat Fresh does not produce raw diets and will not release food for sale until independent lab testing shows E-coli 0157 and Salmonella negative.

Our private label diets are manufactured in a modern production plant, uniquely designed to provide clients with the option of promoting transparency and honesty as key ingredients in the food. Producing a next in class food requires transparency but it must also combine artisan food skills with a technical knowledge and experience in animal nutrition.

Pets Eat Fresh recognizes the significant contribution and importance of science. To not include evidence-based nutrition short changes the diet and limits its ability to be complete and balanced. Pets Eat Fresh uses a propriety blend of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and pre- and probiotics that were formulated specifically for the diet. The mixture is added only after the meat has been cooked and cooled down.

Maintaining the highest quality control, Pets Eat Fresh chooses ingredients from local suppliers and produces in small batches. Small batch control allows for quick and immediate discarding of any product that does not meet specifications. This type of manufacturing environment marries the artisan school of cooking with modern technology plus science, in a fully scalable production model. As a result, Pet Eat Fresh has successfully created a process that allows pet owners to safely and conveniently feed home-cooked food without mess and with confidence that the food is scientifically complete and balanced.

PI: How would you evaluate the current state of the petfood industry? What predictions do you have for the petfood industry? 

PK:  The current state of the petfood industry is healthy but extremely fortunate to ride the continual wave of humanization and premiumization.

The mainstream reporting of health issues stemming from our ‘Fast-Food Nation’ culture plus social media websites, including activist websites dedicated to the scrutiny of petfood, have all contributed to a paradigm shift in consumer wants and values. No conventional petfood company could have predicted this.

Without greater traceability, transparency and accountability, the industry as a whole risks losing the confidence and wallets of the next generation of pet owners. This is a new reality that the industry will have to deliver on.

PI:  What are some of the recent noteworthy accomplishments of your petfood company? 

PK : Pets Eat Fresh product offerings and its plant were built to meet the needs of today’s discriminating and Internet-savvy pet parents. As a result, the plant was designed for transparency with public viewing areas into the butcher shop and barkery areas. We believe we are the first in the industry to provide this level of transparency.

We have also initiated to the best of our abilities a 'source local' strategy for all ingredients and packaging. The only exceptions are lamb from New Zealand and our proprietary premix of vitamins, minerals, pre- and probiotics, manufactured in the US from non-Chinese ingredients.

Additionally, Pets Eat Fresh has created a university program to train its private label clients and their teams on areas of production, sales and marketing, business opportunity and technical knowledge. Education is a key driver for success and as pioneers in the fresh/frozen food category, parlaying our enthusiasm and passion with knowledge is very powerful and the ideal recipe for ours and our clients' success.

PI: Please describe your cooking process: Why was it important for your products to not be raw, but also not be a kibble? What kind of consumer wants fresh/frozen? 

PK:  If we accept and celebrate the fact that companion pets are members of the family, then we must also accept the fact that our pets share the same living space as everyone else in the home. Therefore human safety is the number one reason our diets are not raw. Only the meat is cooked and when cooled (to prevent denaturing) the other ingredients added.

Whether it is a family with young children or a home with seniors, no one can dispute that there is a higher risk factor when raw food is fed than with cooked food. Non-raw food is also more convenient to feed. With no special clean-up procedures or worries afterwards, anyone in the family can feed the family pet. As a father of three young children, the question I ask is: “Would you allow a 10-year-old child to feed a dog raw food without parental supervision?” The answer is generally 'no'.

With regards to the opportunity of manufactured kibble, this was a non-starter for Pets Eat Fresh. Firstly, our core mission of promoting fresh food for pets would prove hypocritical and deceitful if we produced a highly processed food with conventional petfood ingredients. Additionally, the name of our company is a mission statement on its own and the sincerity of promoting 'Pets Eat Fresh' while producing extruded food would be disingenuous.

PI: What are some of your most difficult challenges? In other words, what keeps you awake at night? 

PK : What keeps us awake at night is the excitement and passion that we are pioneers in a category that is growing double digits. Timing is everything and the timing for fresh food is now. This is evident in the marketing campaigns of supermarkets and restaurants throughout North America; e.g., Whole Foods, Subway, Tim Horton's, Wendy's and exemplified by the popularity of health shows like Dr. Oz.

A challenge we do face is identifying the best value-added partners. Frozen is a category with its own logistical complexities and challenges but with a unique and exciting story. As a company with one-of-a-kind manufacturing expertise, our objective as a private label manufacturer is to commit our resources and IP not to every company who approaches us, but to work with next-in-class companies with clearly defined distribution channels and established brand equity.

PI: How have the petfood recalls changed your relationships with your suppliers? 

PK : Pet parents remember 2007 and know that petfood recalls are not a thing of the past. As a result, Pets Eat Fresh made a strategic decision that the food we produced was human consumable—if we can`t eat it, we don`t feed it.

The decision was also made not to use any ingredients from China and to work and source from suppliers that are local and within driving distance of Pets Eat Fresh.

PI: Tell me more about your unique facility tours you provide for consumers: Why do you think transparency is so important right now? How do consumers react to seeing dog food being made? 

PK:  We’ve seen a proliferation of petfood brands, especially kibble, in the North American marketplace and this shows no sign of letting up. In our opinion, the net cumulative effect is commoditization and sameness in the kibble category. For example, we watch Fortune 500 pet food companies duke it out with multi-million dollar ad campaigns proclaiming “I’m Natural” while the competition claims “I’m More Natural.”

With too much choice, lack of distinctiveness, confusion and skepticism, pet parents don’t know who or what to believe. The consumer of 2012 is radically different in every way than when commercial kibble was first introduced to the general public, yet kibble looks the same and manufactured in almost the same way. As a result, Pets Eat Fresh believes that ‘transparency’ is the answer and one very important key to cutting through the ‘clutter and noise’ and to build genuine trust with pet parents.

Trust is not simply granted. It needs to be earned. Therefore “show it, don’t tell it” is at the heart of what we do at Pets Eat Fresh. Rather than relying on fancy commercials, a video showing our production process from A to Z is available to watch. We hide nothing when producing fresh food for pets, especially the fresh meat protein that is used.

Visitors to Pets Eat Fresh can walk through two public viewing areas and are welcome to visit and interact with our team. On occasion, we will even prepare lunch using ingredients from production and offer it to our guests. The reaction from pet parents is both joy and relief that there is finally a food option that reflects their personal preferences, values and ideals in a convenient, safe and economical format.

PI: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your company? 

PK : Pets Eat Fresh was founded to become a remarkable company, set in establishing a new category of fresh food for pets built on a foundation of transparency, safety, convenience and fair pricing. The opportunity we recognized was to get back to basics with the health benefits that come from eating a diet of fresh food enhanced with science-based nutrition. By investing our team’s unique talents, decades of experience, financial resources and passion to create a new category of food for pets, we have raised the bar by creating the next generation of food.

Established petfood companies and/or food retailers with in-store brands recognize the glut in conventional petfood offerings and are looking to differentiate themselves from the herd. Couple that with the consumer shift in values and greater scrutiny in how and what we and our pets eat, brands and retailers are quickly seeing the total ROI to have their own ‘ready-to-eat fresh food for pets’. Additionally, instead of being slightly better than everybody else in a crowded and established field like kibble, we believe it is more valuable to create a new distinct market and dominate it with strategic branded partners.

In conclusion, Pets Eat Fresh is the only company in North America that is positioned to deliver the QA, technical support and products to make a fresh food private label a huge success. If companies and the industry want to remain vibrant and healthy well into the future, they will have to embrace this new shift and invest in meeting the needs of the next generation of pet parents with the next generation of food for pets.

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