Evy Serpa, the president of a small Colorado pet food maker named Kumpi Pet Foods, wrote us a heartfelt letter about the choices she made when developing her food — researching ingredients, suppliers, and manufacturers.
(This is in no way an endorsement of Kumpi Pet Foods. Please read and compare for yourself.)
Her whole letter is after the jump.
1) Something the general public isn’t aware of is that most pet foods are ‘dial-a-formula’ products. Both in the wet and dry pet food industry manufacturers have a wide variety of formulas for their customer (the pet food company) to choose from. The difference? The ability to mass market and have lots dollars to make the product fly. On the other hand, I first worked with a premiere multi-species nutritionist. Then I did the leg work on talking with a wide variety of private label pet food manufacturers.
2) Industry standards are a strange beast in the pet food world. One top brand of pet food started listing an ingredient on their label that is not in the AAFCO manual. By AAFCO protocol we are to use only the ingredient name they have outlined. In this case, “Dried Beet Pulp” is the AAFCO definition. Yet one company had enough money and marketing savvy to begin placing “Dried Beet Pulp (sugar removed)” on their labels. Needless to say, those of us following the rules received many calls from concerned consumers that our beet pulp had sugar in it, which it does not. It was the same exact ingredient. But the offending company has money and they took a bold stand against AAFCO and it has gone on for years.
3) With the formula I want to produce in hand, “How do you find a manufacturer you can trust?” I asked myself nine years ago. The people I trusted earned it because:
- They are an APHIS facility (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service):
That means they are willing to hold themselves accountable to an organization that is part of government regulation. Big plus.
- They are voluntarily an AIB facility (American Institute of Bakers):
This is extraordinary. They are willing to have their plant inspected by these folks who will hold them to the standards of a human bakery, whose standards are darn high! Those plants are really big and this showed me that they are doing their house keeping well per contaminants, etc.
- They source their ingredients from a company that let me take a look:
I visited the source of their ‘dries’ and even looked at the suppliers of suppliers. No euthanized animals, roadkill, horse meat, etc. I had the opportunity to watch as they tested their ingredients and saw a truck drive away that didn’t meet their standards. It was a bad day for that farmer, but an assurance to me since I got to watch the probing and could see for myself why the grain was disqualified. FYI, they exceeded the standards set by the government in testing to make absolutely sure their initial dries are safe
- I deal with two companies really and they are ‘heartland’ people:
This was the deal maker for me. They are located in two very small towns and their economy is very reliant on the integrity of their products. If anyone is aware of how tenuous and fragile this industry is — they are. Also, spending time in town and the plant, you can’t help but see the sense of community pride. Very compelling.
- They looked me straight in the eye when we talked. Yes, all of them!
There is a lot to be said for going with your gut when making business decisions. There had been plenty of times before my growth where they treated me just like a big company and dealt with my tiny concerns about kibble size, where to place the time-stamp production mark, holding my food in their bays for me (so I didn’t run the risk of picking up field mice during transit since my food is produced, kept in rodent free bays with rapid deliveries) and on and on. I felt that if they didn’t treat me like a number and dealt with me as an individual they would do the same with my product - and they have. Every plant member, staff member and corporate too.
4) Part of my blessing is that I wasn’t trying to start a pet food company. My other job involved me with dog behavior. That is where my journey started. I watched for years as my ex-students returned with pups, only to tell me their first dog died around 7 - 9 years of age with cancer. Now, you’re talking with a old fart here. When I was a kid you didn’t get nervous about a larger breed like Labs, Goldens or Shepherds until they were around 15 years old! Then when my dog died of cancer when he was only 5-years-old. My conclusion? Fire corporate America and take things into my own hands!
6) Pet food labels. Let’s get one thing straight. The first ingredient is not the ‘base’ of a food. If there has been one thing that has frustrated me, it has been that conception. I actually have a meat/grain comparison chart on my web site to prove my point. Think of is this way:
- 1st ingredient - 301 pounds (meat)
- 2nd ingredient - 300 pounds (grain)
- 3rd ingredient - 300 pounds (grain)
- 4th ingredient - 300 pounds (grain)
Now tell me that is a meat based food. This is the greatest deception the industry has pulled in my opinion. Too many people are feeding meat flavored cereal and at a high price, not only financially but in the health of their pet as well.
7) The ‘C’ word - corn. Talk about an ingredient that has received such bad press by blatant ignorance. I am attaching a study that was done on broad spectrum grain. Corn is only a little over 1% less digestible than one form of rice and far more digestible than another. Over 60% of the naturally occurring fat in corn is the powerful anti-oxidant Omega 6 (aka linoleic acid). That plays a large part in why my customers’ dogs have beautiful coats — a healthy, saturated hair follicle doesn’t break off easily. Remember it ain’t raw corn in that dog food, it’s corn meal.
8) I see the comment that ‘corn’ is a bad source of protein. Well duh. That’s like being anti-honey because you can’t wash your hair with it. What people get confused about is that many companies use corn gluten meal (different animal from corn meal) for a protein source in their foods. It bugs me when I see it on a cat food label since it keeps the protein high and the ash content down, but doesn’t deliver the essential amino acids that meat does.
My advice to the consumer: nutrition is science. To the pet food industry: shame on you for following consumer trends and making products that are easy to market. You should be setting the standards and not chasing after dollars.
My nutritionist made a sobering comment to me when I first starting working with him. He told me, that in the current market, with the current perception of the pet food consumer that I had two choices.
I could look like the best dog food or be the best dog food.
Well, you know which route I took.
Public thanks to the canine units of The New York State Canine Handling Unit, The Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City and The United Nations Ambassador Security Detail for trusting me all these years.
Evy Serpa can be reached at email@example.com.
Attached Kumpi Corn Breakdown (Word Document)