How to Compare Human-Grade Pet Foods
If you follow what's going on in the pet food world at all, you've probably noticed a recent explosion of cooked "human-grade" foods available both online and in stores. Over the past seven-and-a-half years, we've seen many companies come and go. Only now does it seem like the broader market place is truly ready for the concept. When we first launched in 2009, we found that retailers and consumers had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of a frozen-fresh food that wasn't raw. Since our food is cooked, but at a much lower temperature than canned foods or kibble, we came up with the term "gently cooked" to describe what we do. It seems to have stuck and now many companies and professionals use the term to describe the emerging category.
While we aren't the only company making gently cooked food, we set the high watermark for ingredient quality standards and ethical sourcing practices. We are also the only company where the owners ate their own food for a month straight. This culinary endeavor, which we called Evermore Me, generated quite a bit of public attention and ultimately inspired other dog food revolutionaries to jump into the marketplace. We know this for a fact because we’ve fielded calls on multiple occasions from individuals looking to start their own pet food companies and asking us for advice (really). To use a dog analogy, every time we hear about a new competitor, our hackles go up a bit. The scientific term for hair standing up is piloerection. In dogs this is an involuntary response to excitement and not necessarily a signifier of aggression, as is commonly believed. We are excited because now, more than ever, conscientious pet consumers have options when it comes to purchasing human-grade food.
This sense of genuine enthusiasm for the growth of the category was put to the test over a year ago, when one of our regular San Francisco customers e-mailed us.
Tater's been on Evermore for over 6 months now with NO gastrointestinal issues. This is a miracle. He usually has bloody stools every 3 months. However, his interest at mealtimes has been waning. This is typical for him; he is not super food-driven and is a picky eater. He usually gets bored of a new food after a few days or weeks, so it's amazing that he's been excited about Evermore for this long :) I'm looking to rotate and switch up Tater's food to another similar fresh-cooked, human-grade dog food, and then switching back to Evermore in a few months to maintain his interest. I also read that diet rotation for dogs can be beneficial. Are there other brands that you recommend?
This request put us in an unusual situation. We always strive to provide the best customer service possible. In this case, it meant finding and recommending our strongest competitors. It was an interesting exercise, forcing us to don our customer’s shoes and decide which criteria are most important when selecting a cooked food. Alison, being an amazing researcher, tackled the task with gusto and from it arose a series of questions about each company she assessed. If you are looking at gently cooked, human-grade foods, here are some things you need answered, ideally in a forthright way on the company’s website:
Is it easy to find substantive information about the food? A stylish website is a great selling tool, but in order to make informed choices, it helps to have actual information. Why should you have to provide your personal data in order to get more information on the product(s) you are considering?
Who is behind the company? It's no secret that the pet space is a hotbed of investment activity. While capital is an important ingredient in growth, once a business is on the hook for a substantial sum of money, there is pressure to grow quickly and create returns for investors. This can be at odds with providing the absolute best products and service possible.
What is the actual quality level of the ingredients? Terms like human-grade, USDA or restaurant-grade tell you very little. Natural doesn't mean much, and organic only counts if it's modifying an ingredient or if the whole product is certified organic.
How clean are the ingredients? Many people look to a gently cooked food because they want an effective preventative diet or to address a specific health issue. Reducing toxic load is critical to achieving these goals.
What does "when possible" mean? If a company claims that certain practices happen "when possible," this is a major red flag. Seven plus years of experience has taught us that it is always possible to find humane, clean ingredients, it is also always more expensive.
How robust is the ingredient list? Do grains or starchy filler veggies like peas and potatoes fill prominent positions on the list?
Is the food complete and balanced? If so, how is this balance arrived at? We’ve seen foods that claim to be balanced with no supplementation, no discernible calcium source and no organ meats (which would naturally provide certain key nutrients). It is not possible that such a food could be balanced.
What is the ingredient-to-supplement ratio? In other words, are there mostly recognizable food ingredients contributing to the bulk of your pup's daily nutritional needs, or are they being met primarily through supplements?
If supplementation is used (which it needs to be unless a company has a very varied ingredient list, organ meats and a natural calcium source like bone or eggshell), how forthcoming is the company about which supplements are used? To simply say “vitamins and minerals” is not transparent. Where are the supplements manufactured? Are these food or feed grade? What forms of the vitamin/minerals are used? Are these the most bioavailable versions of a given nutrient?
Does the company provide easily accessible complete nutritional profiles for its products? A guaranteed analysis that tells you protein, fat, moisture and fiber is not a complete nutrient profile. This information should include calories, vitamins, minerals, fatty and amino acids.
What is the company’s routine lab testing protocol? Do they test every batch before releasing for public consumption? Keep in mind that pathogen testing requires culturing bacteria, which takes about a week. Any company that ships food within 2-3 days of manufacture cannot possibly have complete lab work.
In all honesty, Alison couldn’t find a single company that 100% lined up with her criteria, but she was able to select her top four picks and passed them along to our customer. A year went by and then one day out of the blue, Tater’s mom placed an order. Along with it, we received an email containing the following:
Just so you know, I have been trying out different fresh cooked dog foods, per your recommendations in the email thread we had going about diet rotation. Nothing compares to Evermore. There are usually more grains and always more supplements/vitamins added for other fresh cooked diets; Evermore is absolutely the best I've found!
It feels great to hear that we’re “the best,” but don’t take our word for it. Do your own research. :)