As you all know, I’m always exploring and learning more about pet nutrition. It’s one of my favorite topics. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I rotate the dogs’ food, and one of my regular brands to rotate in is the Honest Kitchen. After reading Made out of Love, their recipe book, I asked founder Lucy Postins if she would be available for a e-mail interview, and she very kindly agreed.
Above all, I was really fascinated that in a business dominated by a handful of large pet food companies, a person with an innovative idea was able to jump in and create a unique product. The concept of home cooking, once considered almost blasphemous, is steadily gaining ground these days, but if you go that route- the choices! The controversy! Raw versus cooked? Is it BALANCED? It can be very intimidating. For those who are interested but maybe not quite there yet, their product is one way to bridge that gap.
This post isn’t a product review, nor was I approached to do it or compensated for writing it. I wouldn’t say that CEOs of pet food companies are generally the most accessible of people (ever try e-mailing the head of Ralston-Purina?), so I wanted to take advantage of Lucy’s accessibility to learn more about her background, her philosophy, and what it’s like to run a pet food company. I find it all very fascinating. Regardless of your feelings on nutrition, I hope you find it interesting too!
What made you make the leap from kibble to home-prepared foods? Did you have a pet with a specific condition or was it just a change in the way you thought about food?
I had been working for another pet food manufacturer (who makes kibble and canned foods) for about 5 years and just became interested in the raw diet when I got my first puppy. I started off making his meals from scratch but found it to be very messy and time consuming. So I started thinking about how to create an alternative that would provide many of the same benefits as fresh food but without the mess, storage issues and inconvenience of having to defrost raw ingredients.
What is your background in animal nutrition? Did you find it difficult to access the data you needed to formulate balanced recipes?
I have a bachelor’s degree in equine business studies form the UK (horses and business management). I started off working in the equine department for another manufacturer and then migrated over to canine and feline products. I’ve now been in the industry for over 12 years! The product development process is rather involved, with consideration for both palatability and nutritional calculations with a pretty strong emphasis placed on laboratory testing as well.
Do you really have a person taste every batch of food? (That is not to be construed as me volunteering 😀 )
Yes! We taste everything we make, from the raw ingredients to the finished products. We eat the raw ingredients we are using as part of the R&D process to choose which products we’re going to utilize in new recipes, as well. I’ve eaten all our recipes.
What was the motivation to develop a dehydrated food? Was it based on a human product, or just experimenting to create a dog food in this form?
It was really just the desire to bridge the gap between the health attributes of a fresh diet and the convenience of a dry product. Cooking destroys so much of the natural nutrition but dehydration is a slow, gentle process that helps to preserve many of the natural nutrients in the raw ingredients.
It seems like owners are too scared of nutritional imbalances to even attempt feeding at home, even if they are interested in doing so. What advice would you give to an owner who is interested in home cooking, on a regular or intermittent basis?
Yes that’s right. I think many of the major manufacturers in our industry have brainwashed pet owners and vets, and made people think they somehow don’t have the skills to take charge of their pets’ nutrition. Many of us manage to feed our children and ourselves on an almost exclusively home-prepared diet. The key is dietary variety. We humans would never expect to achieve optimal health if we ate a diet of nothing but processed ‘balanced and complete’ breakfast cereal for every meal of every day of our lives.
When one single type of food is the sole source of nutrition, it’s true that nutritional balance becomes pretty key. But if we’re offering different foods throughout the week, the animal gets to benefit from a wider array of nutrients, amino acids and so on. Even if you start off just adding an egg to your pet’s food a couple of times a week, maybe some fresh meat or a little plain yogurt – your pet will benefit.
Ultimately, my goal is to get people to go ‘back to basics’ by feeding their animals a really varied diet with all sorts of different foods – or at the very least, feeding less processed food and rotating between different recipes to get a broader spectrum of nutrition. There’s no logical reason why our domesticated pets should eat a homogenous product day after day. We don’t do that ourselves and our pets’ wild counterparts don’t either.
What’s an average day like in the life of one of your pets?
We have a great routine! We spend the mornings together as a family, then the dogs and I drop of the children at school and head to some local hiking trails or to a local dog beach. We then come in to the office where they greet their canine co-workers and then we settle down to work. They sleep on their dogs beds next to my desk or on the sofa in my office.
They don’t get to lounge around all day though. There’s often some tasting to be done in our test-kitchen, or pictures to pose for if we have a journalist come by or special feature going on, on our Facebook page. They love to show off at any opportunity! We take a lunch time stroll around downtown where we work and then head home in the evening. We play in the yard or go for a walk in the evening after dinner and then read or watch TV for a short while, before bed.