What's in that pet food?

High-quality pet food commands high-end prices as animal owners pay attention to ingredients.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJuly 30, 2013 

Northwest Pets employee Beth Chapman stocks a large bag of Acana duck and Bartlett pear dry dog food.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Growing awareness among pet owners of nutrition and possible pet-food contaminants has helped several Treasure Valley pet-food stores open or expand.

In 2007, thousands of dogs in the United States were sickened or killed by melamine in pet food imported from China. Melamine is an industrial chemical that has “no approved use as an ingredient in animal or human food in the United States,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“People really started to pay attention to where their food came from,” says Darin Eisenbarth, president of Zamzows Inc., which operates 10 retail lawn and pet stores in the Valley. “They want it made in America, and they want the highest quality ingredients.”

Zamzows, founded in 1933, started selling premium pet food in the 1970s. Zamzows launched its own premium dog food under the Grandma Z’s label in 1998, and its pet care and products section grew through the 1990s and early 2000s.

PREMIUM-FOOD SALES HOLD UP

Eisenbarth says the company developed a dog food called Fundamentals in anticipation of pet owners cutting back on pet food spending during the recession. A 35-pound bag costs $34.99. “It’s a good-quality food at a medium price point,” he says.

But Zamzows’ high-end premium foods sold better through the recession, including Grandma Z’s chicken and vegetable ($47.99 for a 35-pound bag) and Grandma Z’s Grain Free ($59.99 for a 25-pound bag).

“People say, ‘I’m not going on vacation. I’m not going to be able to sell my house. They went inward, and their pets became very important,’” Eisenbarth says.

The public’s growing awareness and concern about pet food also has buoyed small, independent pet-food stores in the Valley.

WILD-STYLE FOOD

Del and Angie Peterson opened the first of two Northwest Pets stores at 3060 E. State St. (the Eagle Promenade at Idaho 55) in Eagle in 2005. Last November, they opened the second store at 3036 N. Eagle Road, Suite 110, in Meridian.

The Petersons are self-described corporate refugees: She worked at an auditing firm, he at a pharmaceutical/biotech company.

Del Peterson, 44, is a microbiologist with an MBA. He believed there were enough families in the Boise area with pets to support a new, local pet store.

The Petersons’ niche is high-quality food and supplies for dogs and cats. The Eagle store also has a self-service dog wash that’s popular.

“We wanted to educate people on better pet food,” Del Peterson says.

The shelves at Northwest Pets are lined with brands that contain no corn, wheat, soy, meat byproducts or artificial ingredients. The price for a 25- to 30-pound bag of dog food ranges from $45 to $90.

“This drive to feed the animals more like what they would eat in the wild has driven up pet-food prices,” Peterson says.

MORE STORES OPEN

Other stores that focus on high-end pet food and supplies have opened up in recent years, including H3 Pet Foods, 1801 W. Cherry Lane in Meridian (2006); Bark n’ Purr, 1004 S. Vista Ave., Boise (2008); and Toby & Omar, 393 W. ParkCenter Blvd.. Boise (2011).

All of these stores have staffs interested in pet nutrition.

Heather Rapoza, manager of Bark n’ Purr, says she became interested in the topic when her cat showed symptoms of allergies, including itching and vomiting. The symptoms improved when she put the cat on a grain-free diet.

“Allergies result from high levels of carbs in foods,” Rapoza says. “They contribute to obesity, diabetes, chronic renal failure, feline urological syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.”

Melissa Weinblatt, owner of Boise’s Toby & Omar, earned a master’s degree in agricultural education with an emphasis in animal science and nutrition from Oregon State University. She worked about a decade in the retail and wholesale pet industry before opening her own business.

FOOD RETAINS CUSTOMERS

She planned to focus on treats, nutriceuticals and specialized toys. She began carrying pet food after a few months because of customer requests.

“Food is going to be the thing that keeps people coming back,” she says.

She picks up a lot of business from ParkCenter Boulevard commuters headed to Harris Ranch and points south and east.

“We get a lot of people with unique situations — [pets] just diagnosed with cancer, IBD [inflammatory bowel disease], all these interesting diagnoses,” Weinblatt says. “I find treats [the pets] can metabolize.”

About a year ago, the Boise Co-op spun off its pet food and supplies into a separate space in the strip mall across the parking lot from the main store in the Near North End. The shop now occupies about 1,300 square feet. It’s run by Zach Jones.

The pet shop carries premium all-natural, organic items without byproducts, added colors or preservatives.

Jones says the store’s demographic includes North End empty nesters who can afford $60 for a bag of premium dog food. “Their dog or cat, that’s their kid,” Jones says.

He says pet owners who have a pet with allergies or other illnesses tend to be loyal.

“Once you find something that works, you go out of your way,” he says.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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