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Wexford Company on Target with Dog Food Trend

warm up pic.jpg
Emily Farah/90.5 WESA

A Pittsburgh area start-up company caught on to the changing trend in the dog food industry.  

Last year, Americans spent 20.6 billion dollars on dog food.  This year, it’s estimated that amount will increase to 21.2 billion.  The nation's pet industry has seen an upward climb in sales for two decades.

During the most recent recession from 2007 to 2009, Americans cut back on luxury goods, like vacations or H-D T.V.s but actually spent more on pet products.

Frank Gamrat, an economics researcher with the Allegheny Institute, said good are defined as luxury, necessity, or inferior.

"Dog food is somewhat of a necessity good," Gamrat said. "You generally don’t cut back on necessity goods, and then you throw in the extra stuff of it being your dog, and most people treat their dogs better than themselves.”

Gamrat added pet owners are willing to pay the price for good dog food, and don't consider it a luxury.

“Money is no object when it comes to dogs,” Gamrat said.  “In the economics business we call this elasticity. That is responsiveness to changes in price, and we’re finding when it comes to their pets, people are not very responsive at all.  They want the best for their pets."

The best, meaning it’s not enough for the dog to merely be fed.  Gamrat says the public wants their dogs to be fed well--especially after the Chinese pet food scandal.  In 2007, two chinese companies illegally added a type of plastic to pet food to meet the standard for protein in the products.  More than 100 pets in North America died as a result.

“Now they’re paying attention to the ingredients of the pet food, and so you’re getting into this extra step of making sure not only are the dogs eating well, they’re eating organically, they’re paying attention to what’s in the food.”

Gamrat expects the trend to continue, and says the healthy dog food market is here to stay.  That’s good news for a Pittsburgh-area startup company that’s jumped on these trends in dog food.

Chris Puma is the CEO of Wexford Farms Pet Food.  The company's product, called Warm-Ups, is added to dry dog food for increased flavor and nutrition.  Puma said Warm- Ups fills a "white space" in the dog food market.

"The whole premise is based on warmth," Puma said.  "No dog food today is served warm, and unless you're cooking for the dog and adding hot chicken broth or something like that, the dogs senses aren't [as] heightened as they could be." 

So what's wrong with adding chicken broth to dog food?  The answer comes around full circle: nutrition.  Warm Ups' Vice President for Research and Quality, Larry Hawley, said the dog is gets all its essential nutrients in one meal when Warm Ups is added.  A benefit that's lost when adding something like chicken broth.

"It has to not just add warmth, not just add taste, but add nutrition as well," Hawley said.

The company has four lines of the warm and organic food additive: Overall health, fit and active, skin and coat and healthy joints.  The company hopes to add similar products, and according to researcher Gamrat, they could be on the right track.

"I don't see this as a bubble that's going to burst, I don't think we're going to go backwards to the can of gravy, I think we're going to keep going with the healthy ingredients that keep our pets healthy because they're the ones we care about," Gamrat said.

And showing care for a dog, according to Warm Ups, is giving them a warm meal like the rest of the family.