The Tough Questions We Ask Prospective Brands
September 23, 2021
Ever wonder how Nicci & the team at NorthPoint Pets (NPP) evaluates brands to determine what foods end up on our shelves? It’s actually a lot of work and involves a lot of tough conversations. We thought it would be fun to show you a little behind the scenes of what questions we ask and why, so you know how choosy we are when it comes to the food that ends up in your (and our) pets’ bowls!
Recently a pet food company reached out to us in an attempt to earn a spot on our shelves – and in response, Nicci asked a series of questions regarding the quality and safety surrounding the food. The following is a dialogue between her and a Prospective Pet Food Company. (Please note that additional information is provided for context)
1. NorthPoint Pets: Who formulated each of your formulas? New formulas? What are their qualifications and experience (e.g. who taught them/who did they work for)?
Prospective Brand: We consult with a number of veterinarians and animal nutritionists who provide input on formulations as well as ongoing data from health and lab results for generations of dogs and cats on our food. We feel this is more objective than having a small team of nutritionists or veterinarians on our payroll and gives us access to a broader group of experts and studies. We formulate blends that meet (and often exceed) AAFCO Nutrient Profiles for dogs & cats and use only ingredients that have been proven through independent studies to have long-term health benefits and are the most digestible for the intended species.
NorthPoint Pets: This didn’t answer the question: who, and what are their qualifications? The veterinary nutritionist or Ph.D. nutritionists do not have to be employed by you, but their experience and qualifications are important to know considering there are so few of them in practice. Further, there is a big difference between a veterinarian and a veterinary nutritionist or board-certified nutritionist because veterinarians alone generally do not have the expertise or experience in formulating pet foods, so a veterinarian and/or Ph.D. with nutrition qualifications is important.
Prospective Pet Food Brand: (Did not further respond to this question)
2. NorthPoint Pets: Do you test your inbound raw ingredients for safety and quality? (e.g. are the vitamin levels of your raw ingredients what your supplier says they are? Are they free of heavy metals?)
Prospective Brand: All our ingredients are USDA/FDA certified to meet USDA nutrient profiles and FDA quality and potency standards. A Certificate of Analysis (COA) is provided for every ingredient which includes test results for a variety of standards including heavy metals.
NorthPoint Pets: The FDA doesn’t certify ingredients. Do you conduct any independent testing outside of the COA that you receive to ensure the ingredient levels are accurate? (Example, Hill’s wasn’t testing their vitamin D which led to their recall)
Prospective Pet Food Brand: (Did not respond)
3. Do you have a certificate of origin for ALL of your ingredients? (e.g. country of origin – France, Germany, China, USA, etc.) and do you test those ingredients to ensure they are accurate concentrations intended for your formulation?
Prospective Brand: Yes, we trace every ingredient and every supplement back to its origin.
NorthPoint Pets: Ok – but are you able to provide that information? And, do you source from China?
Prospective Pet Food Brand: (Did not respond)
4. NorthPoint Pets: Do you perform 3rd party nutrient analysis on ALL of your finished formulas? Are you willing to provide that analysis that should include vitamins, minerals and amino acids? In other words, a full AAFCO nutrient profile, or typical (aggregate) analysis
Prospective Pet Food Brand: Our nutrient profiles are all substantiated and include all AAFCO essential nutrients, plus others that we feel are relevant, in both AS FED and DRY MATTER values. Our profiles are published on our website:
NorthPoint Pets: The information provided on your website is incomplete and unclear. For example, are these typical or targeted analyses? A typical analysis would provide the actual analyzed values of the formulas while a targeted analysis is just a prediction. Using predictions is not something that NorthPoint believes is safe or accurate. Additionally, how often are your formulas tested? These links don’t say.
Prospective Pet Food Brand: Did not respond.
5. NorthPoint Pets: Do you perform 3rd party digestibility studies for ALL of your finished formulas? (raw, wet, freeze-dried, and raw) These include individual values for protein, fat, total energy and total digestibility)
Prospective Brand: We use ingredients that have published results for these tests, to the extent they are available for human consumable ingredients. As a company, we do not perform caged trials. We have 14 years of proven history with multiple generations of pets on our exclusive diets.
NorthPoint Pets: Using the individual values for each of these ingredients is not the same as a full digestibility trial for each formula because individual values do not count for processing losses, ingredient/nutrient interactions, or even how fiber impacts the bioavailability of various nutrients. Further, utilizing data available from human databases is not always accurate or translatable to pets as these also do not account for ingredient interactions and processing losses.
Caged trials are not necessary for digestibility values. For example, many companies feed the food to the employee’s pets and collect stools from them to determine digestibility values. That said, caged trials in my opinion are better than no digestibility values because without digestibility trials you are essentially experimenting on your client’s pets. It is also important to note that longevity in the marketplace does not prove adequacy. A great example of this would be Midwestern Pet Foods who has nearly 100 years and was recently the subject of multiple recalls due to significant ingredient sourcing and food safety gaps.
6. NorthPoint Pets: Does your facility have 3rd party food safety verification? (e.g. SQF) What is that certification, and is it current?
Prospective Pet Food Brand: Our facility is licensed for human food manufacturing and we are under continual USDA inspection at human food standards. In our 14 years, we have never had a recall or a single quality issue or failed an inspection/audit.
NorthPoint Pets: USDA inspection or human grade products/ingredients provide no guarantees. The most recent example is the Tyson chicken recall (8.5M lbs over 4 months) which has now impacted NomNom. Another example would be the Listeria recall for Just Food For Dogs which stemmed from ‘human grade’ green beans. These USDA designations are also not 3rd party verifications or food safety programs.
7. NorthPoint Pets: Where do the calories in your product come from? (e.g. breakdown of calories from protein, fat and carbohydrate). If you are able to provide these numbers are they estimates or actuals?
Prospective Pet Food Brand: Because we use real food the values for our ingredients are substantiated and published by USDA. We can provide actual USDA substantiated values upon request for all our food ingredients.
NorthPoint Pets: I defer back to my response to your answer to question 5, this is not an adequate response because without digestibility values you really don’t know where your calories are coming from or how they are assimilated. Additionally, USDA values provide caloric values based on Atwater – and modified Atwater is used for pet foods. It is also not a secret that Modified Atwater (or Atwater) has never been validated in dogs or cats which means this is a highly inaccurate way to estimate the calorie content or digestibility of your food or individual ingredients in your food.
Prospective Pet Food Brand: Did not respond.
8. NorthPoint Pets: Do you have a positive release program? (test for pathogens and contaminants prior to releasing the product to distribution/for sale)
Prospective Pet Food Brand: We adhere to all USDA HACCP and testing standards for human food manufacturing. This includes continual testing of all food surfaces throughout the manufacturing process as well as ingredients and finished products. Our meats are gently but fully cooked to minimum temperatures recommended by FDA for food safety, and we are required to keep detailed baking and testing logs for every tray. We follow similar logging and testing for raw ingredients. The disparity between feed standards and food standards is impossible to detail in a 2-page response, and we operate at or above the human food safety standards for manufacturing and finished goods.
NorthPoint Pets Comments: This is a fair response, but not great. This is because it does not indicate that their facility is indeed human-grade, shows they do NOT have a 3rd party safety program, or directly answer that they hold their products until testing to ensure that pathogens are not being released into the marketplace. Simply cooking products does not negate any risk of pathogen contamination as evidenced through pathogen contamination of cooked diets like kibble.
Overall, you can see that the responses by this company SEEM good, however, once we break down the terminology and provide some industry insight it is easy to see that this company is less than transparent. The problem is unfortunately not isolated to this pet food company, and in fact, is a pervasive issue in the pet food industry. Pet food companies have become increasingly savvy marketing companies providing carefully crafted answers and terminology that make pet parents and retailers feel good about food when in fact they are no different than some of the others that have caused issues in the past.
This example should serve as a good example of why it is so important to ask your pet food company really important questions and KNOW what the right answers are and what a deceiving set of answers looks like. Unfortunately, it does take a little bit of work, and the above answers can even fool even the best veterinarians. Nutrition and pet food really is a complicated industry – but we’re here to help you navigate it! If you have any questions please do not hesitate to stop in and engage our talented and passionate team.