Does today feel like a turkey mac and cheese kind of day? Or maybe venison and squash. Perhaps it’s time for surf and turf?
New York’s dog owners can from this spring ask their four-legged friends exactly those questions, with the opening of the city’s first kitchen dedicated to daily production of dog food.
Pet owners will be able to come into the store, in Manhattan’s Union Square, and watch as the “chefs” whip up 2,000lbs of food each day, which will then go straight to the shelves.
The New York kitchen will be the largest yet for Petco, the American pet store, and their partners Just Food For Dogs. Seven such kitchens are already operating in California, and capitalising on a growing trend. US sales of fresh pet food in groceries and pet stores jumped 70 per cent between 2015 and last year, to reach more than $546 million (£419m) according to Nielsen, a data company.
“Just as people have become sceptical of highly processed foods for themselves, they’re looking critically at their pets’ foods as well,” said Amy Zalneraitis, part-owner and chief brand officer of We Feed Raw, a 10-year-old raw food meal plan service based in Maine.
Petco plans to open a series of other kitchens over the next four years, in collaboration with the California-based Just Food For Dogs – a company which launched in 2010.
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When the two companies announced the tie-up, Rebecca Frechette, Petco executive vice president, described Just Food For Dogs as the “inventor of the most radical change in pet food in decades”.
“We extensively researched the fresh, human-grade pet food market,” she said, adding that the company was “at the forefront of a new trend that is rapidly changing the industry.”
San Francisco-based NomNomNow, which makes pre-proportioned fresh meals specific to each pet, sends hundreds of thousands of meals a month to customers in 48 states.
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“The general health consciousness of Americans is transferring to their pets, because we do consider pets as part of our family,” said Lynn Hubbard, the general manager of NomNomNow’s Nashville, Tennessee, production facility.
But the trend is an expensive one.
NomNomNow’s service costs up to $3.80 per meal for a 35-pound dog, and up to $2.80 per meal for a 12-pound cat. Normal pet food can cost around 55 cents a can.
Just Food For Dogs, meanwhile, sells its venison and squash dish for $11.95 – the company is the largest consumer of human-grade venison in the US.
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But some veterinarians have questioned the trend of feeding human quality food to dogs, especially if it is simply supermarket-bought meat.
“There are so many essential nutrients, from all different classes, that need to be considered,” said Lindsey Bullen, a pet nutrition specialist with the Veterinary Specialist Hospital of the Carolinas.
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“If they are too high or too low, or in an inappropriate proportion, it can cause significant problems for that pet that the client might not see for months or years to come.”
Ms Bullen said she recommends her clients add canine and feline supplements to fresh foods from the supermarket, to ensure the animals get the correct nutrients.