A new pet food alternative
Capitalizing on Pet-Food Panic
A year ago, FreshPet was a tiny upstart in the mass dog-chow market. But the tainted pet-food scare changed all that. How one maker of all-natural, refrigerated dog food emerged from the crisis with, um, a leg up.
By Matthew Phillips
Updated: 5:16 p.m. ET May 7, 2007
May 7, 2007 - Scott Morris decided it was time to gamble. He’d had a good run as head of marketing at Meow Mix, one of the country’s leading cat-food manufacturers—boosting sales by $150 million. But when Delmonte Foods bought the Secaucus, N.J.-based company, Morris saw that this might be his last best chance to start the new business he’d been plotting. His idea: to become the country’s first maker of all-natural, locally grown, refrigerated dog food. He and two business partners had scraped together $875,000 in seed money, liquidating 401(k) plans, taking out second mortgages, and borrowing from friends and family. They convinced a few retailers in the Southwest to carry their product, got an additional boost from an Australian-based pet-food manufacturer, and set off into a tough and competitive market. “I was scared as hell,” Morris remembers. “Striking out on your own, leaving a day job, it’s never easy.”
Then, the great pet-food scare of 2007 hit. In a matter of days, 60 million units of wet dog and cat food were recalled, tainted due to rat poison. Pet owners panicked, flooding veterinarians’ offices with calls about their sick cats and dogs. The FDA offered assurances that the food on the shelves was safe, but skeptical buyers weren’t so sure. Suddenly, consumers began noticing the curious four-foot refrigerators in pet-food stores, bedecked with decals about locally sourced ingredients and all-natural alternatives to the usual fare—and stocked with loaves of wrapped plastic that looked more like Jimmy Dean pork sausage rolls than the usual kibble or cans.
The pet-food crisis has claimed many victims. Just 16 animals have had their deaths directly attributed to the tainted food. But the FDA says it's received about 17,000 complaints of sick pets since the recall, half of which have resulted in the loss of life. And it’s been a rough several weeks for Menu Foods, the Canadian-based pet-food manufacturer that sold the tainted food to the makers of nearly 100 brands. Two weeks ago, Menu Foods president Paul Henderson testified before a Congressional hearing, answering questions as to whether a Chinese manufacturer intentionally added melamine—the source of the poison—to its tainted supply of wheat gluten in order to boost its protein content. Henderson said that a “case of deliberate contamination” appears likely. Menu Foods is suing its supplier ChemNutra, and now both companies are under investigation for violating federal food-contamination laws.
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