Inside Natura: Meet your feed

My friend Susi, who has a habit of asking very interesting and pointed questions, posed a great one to the people at Natura on our tour last week: What’s the difference between Natura foods and Eukanuba? Now, the guy answering the question works for Procter and Gamble, which owns both brands, and they position themselves similarly in terms of the type of person who might buy them, so I was very intrigued to see how he would answer it.

We were not wearing our Blue Man costumes at the time.

He gave a sports analogy. On one side of the coin, you have the athlete who assembles his morning protein shake with the specific components that he knows will give him optimum results: whey powder, DHA supplements, this or that protein optimized concoction. Maybe he uses a BlendTec. He wins lots of races. On the other side, you have the person who assembles her morning smoothie with the whole foods that she knows has the best assortment of nutrients that she needs: bananas for potassium, peanut butter for protein, that sort of thing. She throws it in the VitaMix and off she goes. She wins lots of races. So is one better than the other? Or is it in the eye of the beholder?

Pet food has a lot in common with religion, doesn’t it? People take it very personally. They get very passionate about their choices. And at the end of the day, they look to the approach that makes the most sense to them and their personal philosophy to get them to where they want to be. So in that regard, while both Eukanuba and Natura create formulations based on the scientific literature, use feeding trials to assure its efficacy, and can say with confidence that they provide excellent nutrition, they just have a different approach to reaching that goal. So it all comes down to what matters to you. I happen to be one of the ones drinking spinach and berry smoothies in the morning, so that’s my bend, though I have nothing against the protein powder guys.

The rationale behind the choices

My choices have changed over the years as my pets’ needs have changed. When Emmett had lymphoma, for example, he was on Evo because there was some evidence a high protein, low carbohydrate diet can help with certain types of neoplasias. Now, with a senior pet and an active pet who are both in generally good health, I want a good middle- of- the- road nutrient profile that will serve both of their needs. I like reading ingredient lists. Companies know there are lots of people out there like me who are attracted to ingredients that mimic what we might use were we to cook for our pets ourselves, and they market to that.

Ironically, many of their formulations are still based on ideas proven by research done by bigger pet food companies, but some still manage to imply that they are “better” for having come up with a sexier ingredient list although the carbs in a more “sciencey” brand may have been chosen because of their impact on long term glucose regulation, for example. Without having a nutritionist in front of you to ask why they choose what they do, it can be hard to know why a food uses peas instead of brown rice as a carbohydrate source. Is it marketing or science? Truthfully, hopefully, probably a little of both.

I DID in fact have a nutritionist in front of me at Natura, her name is Kari, and I like her very much. She’s a smart cookie and very passionate about her job. I hope she will agree to talk to me more about her job, because it’s a vital one. At Natura, she describes her approach as such: they go through the literature to find the latest information about what’s going on in nutrition research. And based on that knowledge, her job is to find the whole food that best fulfills that need, because that is part of their philosophy. That is why you will see “menhaden fish” as an ingredient, to give you an example, because of its optimum fatty acid profiles. That sort of thing.

I thought that little picture you always see associated with Natura of bins of carrots and apples going into a conveyor was a marketing thing. That maybe the reality was a little more processed. Frozen looking or something, I don’t know.

But it’s really there. To the left, bags and bags of produce and stacks of Land o Lakes cottage cheese like you would see in a restaurant’s cooler. They really do that, and that is pretty cool. Those ingredients are tested and inspected before going into the food- in this case, they’re about to go through a metal detector to check for contaminants- and then they enter an incredibly tight, clean process to turn them into Innova or Karma or whatever they are making that day.

Speaking of ingredients, Natura rolled out something that is entirely unique in the pet food industry and represents a level of transparency that to this point has never existed. Everyone wants to know where the ingredients were sourced in their pet food, right? Well, now you can. See Beyond the Bagย is a site that allows you to find out where each and every ingredient was sourced from. The apples in this picture come from Washington. The turkey, from Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s an impressive tool.

Now, you can have the best ingredients in the world and that doesn’t matter if you turn them over to a place that’s a dump for the manufacturing process, one of the concerns I’ve always had about foods. You just don’t know what the conditions are. At Natura, they decided to bring it in house a decade ago by building their own plant from the ground up. It’s solid concrete, about the least pest-friendly sort of environment you can have. I’ll get more into that in another post- the three other topics I want to cover are quality control in manufacturing, feeding trials, and the P&G acquisition. For for now, I leave you with this:

Science is awesome and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Natura was the first company to prove with a published study that a high protein diet does not negatively impact organ function in healthy dogs. This research was the basis for Evo and all the other high protein kibbles that came after them. Boo yah. I took a picture with the abstract because I’m a nerd, and that is why you all keep reading.

Whole food choices based on science. Sexy.

Filed: Behind the Paw, Blog, Health Tagged: , , , , ,
  • Lisa W

    In the past, I have fed Sophie Evo (the weight loss version) and Oscar has eaten Call of the Wild. Now that the recall has occurred and I discovered that CotW doesn’t manufacture their own food, it’s Evo for Oscar too. Thanks for this info – it’s really fascinating.

    • I agree Lisa, the more I learn, the more I want my food to be manufactured in house.

  • Susi

    Nicely done. Dr. V! As for the Blue Man outfits – I say we take it on the road.

    • We can attempt to crash various pet food plants around the country. Yes?

  • Will there be more Natura posts? I love reading about the science of pet food.

    • Yes- there’s three more topics I want to cover.

  • Great blog!! Thanks for sharing and looking forward to the next installments.

    • Thank you Thomas! I really enjoyed getting the insider look at the company.

  • MeWowZa! Super Duper Stupendous and Tasty info. While I am not sure cats need apples and carrots, it was nice to know they are real ingredients, that you saw with your very eyes! And how clean the environment was, and how open the staff was to answer your questions.

    • They were going into Evo dog- I don’t recall the Evo cat ingredients off the top of my head.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much for the scoop! I am definitely going to introduce Natura into Clyde’s rotation. Evo is already in Alley’s lineup, so it’s good to hear such a positive report on this facility.

    P.S. You look so cute in your “smart” glasses!

    • Aw, thanks. I save those for serious occasions.

  • Cathey

    Great post, Dr. V. & keep those nerdy photos coming. You are completely right, we ARE pet nerds & proud of it!!!

    • I love my nerdy readers.

  • I think the main difference, other things aside, is in the nutrients that DON’T GET counted. Phytochemicals, for example. Thing that didn’t make it on nutritional requirements lists, yet might be just essential. That, then, would make a huge difference.

  • The interesting thing is we were buying Natura for the longest time and dropped them when P&G bought them. I guess they will have to let them keep their integrity, so they have something to show off ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • And would that be a terrible thing? ๐Ÿ˜€ Integrity is OK, right?

    • Anonymous

      Well our pet used to eat Evo grain free without hesitation. The recent bag has been different. She’s rather go hungry than eat this stuff. She won’t even touch it.

  • Knvet57

    It’s very important to remember that pet nutrition is science. Science and nutrition should be supported by marketing but marketing should not drive our choice of what we feed our pets. Nice post

    • It’s so hard to convince people that there *is* science behind the marketing, isn’t it? My job, and it’s a hard one, is to try and figure out who’s doing it, and then convince everyone else.