Hiperbaric conducted an interview with Amy Zalneraitis, the Chief Brand Officer of We Feed Raw. The interview focused on discussing the common misconceptions about high-pressure processing (HPP) in the pet food industry, the advantages of providing your pets with species-appropriate raw food, and the future of the pet food sector.
Q&A with Amy Zalneraitis, Chief Brand Officer of We Feed Raw
Tell us about We Feed Raw andhow the business got started?
We Feed Raw was born out of a love for dogs. It’s really as simple as that. My sister, Alissa, founded this company out of a dedication to the well-being of dogs and a desire to feed those dogs the healthiest diet possible. After her heartbreaking passing in 2014, I made it my mission to keep her dream alive. Today, We Feed Raw delivers healthy, safe, and convenient raw meals to tens of thousands of dogs all over the country.
While we’ve grown tremendously and expanded our team since Alissa’s passing, our mission has remained clear: to have a positive impact on the lives of as many dogs as possible. The team at We Feed Raw is driven by the unwavering belief that dogs deserve to live their best lives, and that starts with proper nutrition.
Do you have any pets? If so, could you tell us about them?
Yes! I’ve always had pets. Both of my parents were big animal lovers, so I grew up around a lot of pets, particularly rescues! My parents taught us that if you’re a good person, you’re kind to animals. And that’s something I’ve passed on to my son. Last year, we rescued a 2-year-old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon named Watts. He needed A LOT of training when we got him, but he’s an amazing dog who is very much loved. We always joke that he hit the jackpot getting adopted into a family with a pet food business. (My husband is the COO of We Feed Raw.) Watts LOVES his raw meals.
What are the benefits of raw pet food?
The benefits of raw pet food are countless. First: this is a dog’s natural diet. Dogs are biologically designed to derive their nutrients from a raw, meat-based diet low in carbs. This is the way they’ve been eating from the beginning of time, since the dawn of their existence. While we’ve bred them for their looks, their behavior, their temperament, in form and function, their digestive systems are nearly identical to their ancestors. Dogs have no requirement for carbs. There are virtually no grains in the ancestral diet. Even AAFCO (the organization that writes the laws for pet food in the U.S.) confirms that dogs have no need for carbohydrates. And yet kibble averages between 40-70% carbs, not because carbs offer a nutritional benefit but because they are cheap filler. And what’s more, those carbs typically come from grains (corn, rice, barley). These are all high on the glycemic index. Grains break down into starch and sugar. And sugar makes dogs (and people!) overweight and sick. Dogs are harmed by a lifetime of excess carbs. So what is a lifetime of kibble, which is dominated by carbs, doing to our dogs’ health?
The gut microbiome is closely linked with the immune system. High-carb diets (i.e., most highly processed dry dog foods) predispose dogs to unhealthy gut bacteria. Natural raw diets promote healthy gut bacteria. With raw, you’re feeding food in its most digestible state. Cooking the food alters its makeup, causing essential nutrients and enzymes to become less bioavailable. Put simply: with cooked foods, your dog has to work harder to get the nutrients he needs.
Feeding dogs what they evolved to eat, what their systems are quite literally designed to process, gives them the best chance at happy, healthy lives.
Why did We Feed Raw begin using HPP technology?
Using HPP on our raw food allows us to get raw into more bowls. The FDA has a zero-tolerance policy for pathogenic bacteria in pet food. If raw pet food companies aren’t using a method to inactivate pathogens, they’re taking a risk. HPP is the preferred method for so many reputable raw companies in the U.S. because it’s the gentlest, most natural way to get the results we want. We love that it doesn’t negatively impact nutrients or digestibility. Also, it’s a very attractive option for pet parents who have reservations about feeding raw because of possible bacterial contamination. HPP’d raw offers peace of mind.
What are some common misconceptions about HPP in the pet food space?
There is a misconception that HPP’d raw is sterile food, but this isn’t the case. As a mild preservation technology, HPP does not sterilize food. Despite the high pressure level used (up to 87k psi) there are microbial species that survive the process. Beneficial bacteria and enzymes of interest remain active. Lactobacillus bacteria (or “good bacteria”) are very pressure resistant. (Lactic acid bacteria is found in varying levels in raw meat.) In fact, studies have proven that any small amount that may be lost during HPP is regained 6 days after chilled storage. Pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, which is inactivated during HPP, is not recovered after chilled storage.
How does We Feed Raw educate pet owners on the benefits of HPP?
We’re regularly posting about HPP on our social channels, in our marketing emails, on our blog, and I even make it a point to talk about HPP when I do podcasts. We think it’s really important to get the message out there because it’s such a great way of making raw food safe. We want to educate people about the myths and then also the benefits. The vet community tends to steer their clients away from feeding a raw diet because of their concerns about bacteria, but a lot of them don’t know about HPP’d raw. Many vets and pet parents don’t know that safe raw is even an option–all raw gets lumped together, which is unfortunate because not all raw is created equal.
What makes We Feed Raw different from other manufacturers in the pet food industry?
We Feed Raw stands out in the following ways:
Quality: Our food is sourced from high-quality, USDA, human-grade meat and bone.
Safety: We produce in a USDA-certified facility and our food is HPP’d in a USDA facility.
Convenience: Our meals are portioned out, packaged up, and delivered directly to our customers’ doorsteps.
Free shipping, always. We ship directly from one of our 3 strategically located distribution centers.
Flexible Subscriptions. Our customers can pause, cancel, or edit at any time.
Variety: We offer 6 different nutrient-dense recipes.
Customer Service: We always offer 5-star service from real pet owners who care.
Furry companions are increasingly viewed as integral family members, what impact has this had on your business?
While this shift has been happening for a while, we really saw people wanting to care better for their pets during the pandemic. People were spending more time with their dogs at home and thinking about how to make their lives healthier. The best way to ensure a dog’s health and happiness? REAL food. We’ve grown a lot as a result of this mind shift.
In my opinion, there’s been quite a bit of brainwashing when it comes to pet food. Most people have only ever known kibble as the food you feed your dog–they haven’t questioned it. But kibble was invented in 1954–less than 100 years ago. This is nowhere close to a dog’s evolutionary diet. Many people are starting to see that just as highly processed food isn’t good for us, it’s also not good for our dogs.
Where do you see the pet food industry heading?
I think people will continue to seek out healthy alternatives to kibble. As the fear-mongering dies down with raw, I also think more and more people will be attracted to this way of feeding. We’ve always had great word-of-mouth power because when someone experiences the amazing effect raw has on their own dog’s health, they want to share it with their friends, their family, the person they meet at the dog park.
What’s next for We Feed Raw?
We have so many exciting things planned for the future. We’re always optimizing and pivoting based on customer feedback and things we learn along the way, whether that’s expanding our product offering, improving our packaging, or opening more distribution centers for faster deliveries.
On a smaller scale, we’re introducing treats very soon. Single-ingredient, dehydrated, premium quality treats. Just in time for the holidays! We’re very excited about these.
Learn more about the innovations in pet food processing by clicking here.