Canine Cuisine Fine Food for Pampered Pooches

An increasing number of German dog owners are demanding organic and special chow for their pets, creating a high-end food market for smaller firms.
I only eat organic.

It is hard to say what gets Birgitta Ornau more upset: bad dog food or bad dog owners, who don’t walk their pets often enough.

The founder of Terra Canis can’t do anything to combat lazy dog owners. But she can do something about the terrible dog food. For the past nine years, the Munich resident has produced home cooking for dogs, made from ingredients that could be found on the plates at a local pub.

Marcus Abenthum’s mother cooked dog food herself 38 years ago. After Mr. Abenthum got a dog while he was a student, he tackled the issue of healthy food for dogs, read many specialized books and articles, spoke with veterinarians, alternative health practitioners, breeders and nutrition experts.

“Through that I learned that many prepared foods are processed from only waste and contaminated entrails, which are harmful in the long-term,” said the 39-year-old Mr. Abenthum.

That led to a business idea, and he created his own dog food brand Alpha Natural in 2008. His recipe: pure lean meat, only natural nutrients from fresh vegetables and herbs, no synthetic ingredients, grain-free, and made with careful cooking.

Désirée Schmidt was running a dog kennel when she noticed that many of her four-legged guests weren’t tolerating the food. She started feeding them raw meat, the species-appropriate cuisine for canines, which had suddenly become popular. She now sells frozen raw meat and complete menus through her online shop “Paul und Paulina” to busy dog owners, who still want to feed their animals the way nature intended.

There are differing convictions when it comes to dog food: Most place value on the quality of the meat and cook or boil it. For others, raw feeding is the best option

“There are customers who still boil the food,” said Ms. Schmidt, who had sales this year of about €300,000 ($375,000).

Christoph Edenhofer offers feed certified by Bioland, the largest organic association in Germany, via his company Eden Food. Wolfsblut, Aras, Yarrah… the list of producers offering specialized dog food is constantly growing. It is also a highly competitive market. “You get the feeling that everyone who knows a butcher suddenly wants to produce dog food,” Mr. Abenthum joked.

Every couple of weeks, a new brand comes onto the market. The growing demands of today’s dog owners have created a new business segment. Despite the fact that the number of dog registered in Germany actually declined from 7.4 to 6.9 million last year according to a pet care industry group, the long-term trend for food producers is positive.

That’s because an increasing number of German dog owners do not want to feed their dogs industrial waste scraps, cardboard canned food and animal parts of unknown provenance.

“You open the can and it usually smells dreadful,” Ms. Ornau said of traditional dog food, adding that was because ingredients were rotten. She, on the other hand, with her company Terra Canis, has been selling food for the past nine years that comes from the Munich butcher Schäbitz. What fills the cans is as good as the veal sausages or roast pork that the two-legged customers eat, but without the seasonings. This year, her firm’s revenues grew by 50 percent to €12 million. Next year, Ms. Ornau wants to sell food to 17 million dog owners. Originally she financed everything herself, but three years ago an investor jumped on board with a minority interest.

 

Birgitta Ornau lies down with the dogs.

 

It is not surprising that investors would also want to get involved in the business because families, and also more single people and senior citizens living alone are willing to pay more money for the four-legged member of the family.

“They want to pamper the dog,” said Friederike Friedel, who has operated a bakery for dog treats called Dog’s Deli in Düsseldorf for eight years. Each year her business grows by double digits – this year it jumped 30 percent.

According to the German pet supply association, the turnover from dog food has grown by almost 27 percent to about €1.2 billion since 2005. That doesn’t include the self-prepared dog food. And since more and more dog owners are looking and buying online, they are finding fancy creations such as Terra Canis’ “Baltic Moose with cucumbers and berries.” Dog’s Deli offers a classic treat made with bananas and shaped like a bone, and a special cookie for puppies called “Sweetheart,” or the “Frau Antje” for the well-groomed older dog.

Almost all of the entrepreneurs are dog lovers who came to the business idea because of the lack of food options. But their businesses are growing due to the rising demands of their customers. Ms. Ornau from Terra Canis admits that the many different varieties probably don’t matter to the dogs. But she said the issue is not just pampering pooches, adding that proper nutrition and the ingredients that requires has its cost. A 400-gram can of “beef with carrots, apple and brown rice” has a price tag of €2.79, much more than the average supermarket brand. Alpha Natural’s 160-gram glass container of its grain-free gourmet venison menu costs €2.29.

There are also differing convictions when it comes to dog food. Most of the producers place a lot of value on the quality of the meat, and cook or boil it. For others, raw feeding is the best option. Veterinarian Jutta Ziegler shook up many dog owners and business owners with her 2011 book exposing vet practices being sponsored by pet food producers.

“Those who signed on to only sell Royal Canin (food) received grants and students at universities are taught by employees of Royal Canin,” wrote the veterinarian, who practices in Hallein, Austria, and also runs a store. “The demand is unbelievable.” She said it therefore wasn’t surprising that many veterinarians are speaking out more often against these newly popular forms of dog food.

However, the demand from customers is evident in the range of products offered by the pet supply store Fressnapf, which now has its own brands, such as Real Nature in this segment. Many of its stores also have freezer sections for frozen meat.

And it would appear cats are set to become as pampered as man’s best friend. Terra Canis’ founder Ms. Ornau has founded a cat food equivalent, “Terra Faelis.”

“The cat food business is currently growing immensely,” she said. The division currently represents a tenth of total sales, but she expects that the change soon.

The cat owners are becoming more critical and enlightened,” she said. The market is certainly there. According to the pet supply group, turnover for cat food has risen by almost 40 percent since 2005 to more than €1.5 billion.

 

Joachim Hofer, Anja Müller and N. Schink are reporters for Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: h[email protected] and [email protected]