The rise of gourmet pet food brands proves that owners are increasingly becoming particular about what goes into their pets’ meals
Two-year-old Kub, a playful Labrador, ‘monches’ carob nibs in his vegan Poca Poca. Containing peanut butter, apple, oat flour and flax seed powder, it is a significant upgrade from brittle dog biscuits and chewy rawhide bones off a supermarket shelf.
With the humanisation of pets (they are called ‘fur babies and ‘furends’ now), dogs now attend doga (dog yoga), participate in pool parties and have expensive spa days. So, not surprisingly, gourmet pet food is finding more takers, as the market looks for nutritious, tasty and imaginative alternatives to bowls of dry pellets.
“People now don’t like being called pet owners. They call themselves pet parents. And just as they are conscious about eating healthy, they also make sure to check what goes into their fur babies’ food,” says Chef Samir Singla, who in December 2019, started Chennai-based Tail Tale, which he describes as “an all natural and humanised pet food retail brand”.
A former chef with the ITC group, Samir says his ingredients are from free-range, farmer-friendly sources. This comprises whole and ancient grains such as karanguruvai rice, barnyard millet, amaranth, quinoa and barley from farms in Chengelpettu area. Butter nut squash, sweet potato, moringa leaves, pulses too feature prominently in his ingredient list.
The menu at Tail Tale has 12 treats (Apple Pretz, Chucky Cheese, Yummy Gummy, TM Ladoo , Baked Fries, Bon Bons…) and six balanced meals consisting of chicken, mutton, pork, beef and a vegetarian Kerala meal, all priced between ₹175 and ₹950 per meal.
“It took me two years of research to come up with this,” says Samir, adding, “I got in touch with Dr G Dhinakar Raj, Director, Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. He suggested a few tests that we could do in his lab, like myotoxins and micro biology tests, and we found the food safe for human consumption too,” explains Samir.
During his research he also found that kibble, frequently fed to pets, may not be the best option. “Most of the animals used in the preparation of it are injected with chemicals. Chemicals are also added to kill pathogens, and to bring up the nutritional level,” he says.
Across the country
Abhishek Agarwal, 32, who started DawgieBowl, a subscription-based meal plan for dogs and cats, in Noida, grew up in a family with more pets than humans. “I was used to fur on my clothes and face licks,” he laughs. His dogs were on a semi-balanced home-cooked diet. But later, as an adult living away from home, working crazy hours in corporate jobs, he found it a challenge to keep a pet.
“The day I decided to finally adopt a dog, one of the important questions that popped up was, what is he/she going to eat?” he says, adding “I always knew that packaged pet foods were bad. So I started looking for a worthy pet food brand, or a way to process food in bulk and store it to feed my pet over time.”
He started research on what an ideal diet should be: it involved understanding the needs of a pet, the fundamentals of nutrition, food processing methods, regulations and policies, nutrition labels…
Abhishek used eveything he learnt to prepare food for the dogs on his street and friends’ pets. Eventually, requests started coming in. “People saw value in what I was making. Better yet, they were ready to pay a fair price for it, starting at ₹1,399 for dogs and ₹1,099 for cats.
Thus, came about DawgieBowl, launched on International Dog Day, August 26, 2016. “Today we have an industrial facility with a production capacity of over 500 kilograms per day. We serve over 160 pets on subscription and about three dozen on an ad-hoc basis every month, with orders also pouring in from Lucknow, Jaipur and Bhopal. Additionally, we offer vacuum-dried pet food, that is 100% natural, species-appropriate, balanced and complete, ready-to-serve, with no by-products, gluten, corn or soy-based fillers, preservatives, colours, flavours or taste enhancers like MSG,” he says.
At DawgieBowl, food is portioned into daily packs based on the dog’s nutritional needs. This also removes the risk of overfeeding or starving the pet due to unregulated feeding. There is no menu. When customers sign up, they provide details about their pets. Meals are customised to suit their life stage and lifestyle, explains Abhishek.
Gourmet pet food makers also address allergies and health concerns. While R&D is underway at Tail Tale for Prescription Diets, DawgieBowl is already at it, customising meals to address medical concerns.
City-based Uthra Ravikanth, who became one of the pioneers of the home-cooked pet food retail model in the city when she launched Pawtastic in April 2016, swears by the wonders of a home-cooked meal. “My older dog had a lot of allergies. But after I shifted her to home made meals, it made a world of difference to her health.”
Now, Uthra creates meals for other pets too. “Pet parents reach out to us for consultation regarding allergies and other health issues. I have catered to pets who had obesity and helped them lose weight. Then there were puppies that needed to put on weight and pets with hip dysplasia. We have to be careful about what we feed them.”
Uthra is currently pursuing an online course on Canine Nutrition and Holistic Wellbeing. At her unit in Pallikarnai, fresh food (priced at ₹220 for 500 grams) is prepared every day. “The recipe in most of my client’s cases is what has been suggested by the vet, in terms of the meat and vegetables to include. We source fresh meat in the morning and cook the food which is then delivered in the afternoon to the respective houses.” Her recipes use brown rice, vegetables, fish and meat. In addition to meals, Pawtastic also has preservative-free treats like sardine, chicken feet, beef and tuna jerky. And as you would add seasoning to your food, here, pets have the option of adding sardine flakes to up the taste.
While, for long, generic packaged food was the only option for busy ‘hoomans’, the recent spate of new companies offering healthy alternatives is making pet parenting easier.
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