Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thinking outside the conventional bag: Innovative pet food forms like Pre-mixes are here to stay (Comparison of Pet Food Types Part 3)

In part 1 of this series we started looking at and comparing various types of food, mainly dry, canned and raw food and did so by concentrating on the advantages and disadvantages of the various processing methods applied during the manufacture of these types of food. Today we are going to expand upon this topic by taking a look at the pet food industry overall and how developments are influencing innovation for the pet food market. A further discussion in Part 2 addressed the reasons for the positive development in this market sector, which are primarily substantial growth rates and the desire of pet food manufacturers to set themselves apart form their competition. Positive for concerned pet owners is that these unconventional forms of foods typically also fall into the highly desirable category of healthy and natural food. Today and in subsequent comments we will take a closer look of what is already available to us now and also take a look into the future to see what we can expect ahead of us.

Let’s get started with the so called dog food pre-mixes. Pre-mixes actually are not that new and actually belong to some of the older innovations. The player established for the longest time in this market is Sojourner Farms with its pre-mixes. The company launched its initial product back in 1985. The concept of these mixes is a simple one: Take the mix, add meat and water and voila, you have a complete and balanced meal. The mix itself looks kind of like a muesli, their organic version even says it in its name “Muesli”. The Grain Free version Europa looks and smells very much like a soup mix for humans. Another product I highly recommend is Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health pre-mix. And there are a few other names, not too many though and I have to admit not knowing enough about them to comment here.

Both named manufacturers basically say that with the addition of a specified amount of fresh, wholesome meat a “complete and balanced” in compliance with AAFCO guidelines is obtained. Some of the products we looked at in our store are formulated to meet the nutritional levels standards of AAFCO, others don’t. Remember, in order to be able to make that “complete and balanced” statement the manufacturer must demonstrate through lab analysis that the food contains nutrients to meet all the minimum expected levels and does not exceed the maximums levels of others to maintain the overall health of your pet. Another method to obtain the authorization to use such a statement would be feeding trials. During these trials a specified number of animals has to be fed an exclusive diet of the food in question for a specified period of time. Due to its expensive nature, this is actually a method not too popular with the smaller manufacturers like the pre-mix manufacturers typically are.

Serious players will state on their packages whether or not their mix is “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only”. Unfortunately, you cannot always rely on the manufacturer and I strongly suggest staying away from those who are not clear up front about this issue, unless you are an experienced pet owner with enough knowledge to make an educated decision. Note that pets with specific dietary needs due to health conditions may require further supplements to be added to the mix. You should discuss this with your vet to find out which supplements your pet may require. Of course, be prepared that he most likely will attempt to talk you out of your idea and steer you towards his suggested or prescription diets. But this should not hold you back from following this new idea.

Then of course there is always the question about the value of AAFCO nutrient requirement guidelines to begin with. You probably recall the many articles contributed by Dr. Wysong, DVM on this subject matter and you know that most of the times I am in agreement with the doctor. But this is a totally different subject and not to be addressed here and now. The entire AAFCO issue being neither here nor there, at a minimum you should be looking for a detailed and complete lab analysis of the mix if no AAFCO statements are included. Serious players don’t have a problem with you asking them for it, the ones who do: Thumbs down.

With reference to the shelve life of pre-mix products, Sojourner Farms for example states: “You should store your bag in its original package without any problems as long as you keep the product in a cool dry place. Avoid extreme heat or humidity. During warm and humid months, you may want to store it in the freezer or in an airtight container. It should keep for about 6-8 months.”
Many pet owners argue that they “don’t even cook for themselves”, so why would they take the time to cook for their pets? Well, it all is not as complicated as it may sound. I personally would preparing a meal with a pre-mix not exactly call “cooking”. Goal of the mix makers is to make it simple and convenient for you to feed your pets natural, real, fresh food. If you don’t have time to prepare the mix prior to each meal, you can make larger batches ahead of time and store them in the freezer. Raw meat, and especially ground beef does well for about 4 days in the fridge. Many pet owners fill freezer containers with 4 days worth of the meat, mix, and water, and store several of these containers in the freezer while keeping one in the fridge, ready to serve. As you dish out the last meal from your container, simply transfer another one from freezer to fridge and it will be ready to serve at the next meal. Not only is this method convenient, but it also allows your mixture to soak, the part of the process which cannot be over emphasized enough. Soaking improves digestibility. Cats and dogs have a strong but short digestive tract designed to quickly break down and absorb foods. Grains and vegetables require more complex digestion than meats, fresh fruits, and other foods so having them soak in water for at least up to an hour is critical to the success of a per-mix diet. Soaking overnight in the fridge or for at least a half day is ideal. You can also add other healthy leftovers (before or after you freeze it) to the presoaked portion. For best results, remove food from fridge and wait 15 minutes or add a little warm water to bring food to room temperature before feeding. Note: It is important not to cook any of this, this would defeat the purpose and the heat would destroy important elements of the food just as it happens with any other processed food.

Finally, another issue not to be discussed here and today is the money. All I want to say at this point is that though at the first glance it may appear that feeding raw diets may be more expensive than feeding regular dry food you are most likely in for a surprise once we analyze those numbers in depth.

Stay tuned for the next time when we look at close counter parts of pre-mixes.

No comments: