By Teresa F. Lindeman
---- — For dogs — animals that lead with their noses — both dry kibble and canned wet food served at room temperature seem to be lacking a little something.
“I’ve always had this idea of warm food,” said Rich Rothamel, who has spent years working on pet food products for companies such as H.J. Heinz, Del Monte Foods and Wal-Mart.
Now he and his two partners, both of whom are also former Heinz executives, have cooked up new products that take advantage of the things that happen when food is warmed up — specifically making the aroma more intense.
In the last couple of months, the first line of goods from their Wexford Farms Pet Food startup — a dog food supplement called Warm Ups — has begun showing up in stores as well as being sold online through Pet360 and PetFoodDirect. A second product line, Warm Meals, is set to go on sale in November.
Wexford Farms CEO Christopher J. Puma, who was CFO of Heinz North America when the food company sold off its pet foods brands a decade ago and who later was president of Birds Eye Foods, and Rothamel tinkered with the idea of the dog food enhancer, including hiring outside companies to run tests on the early versions, when they decided they were on to had something.
“We were just dabbling in this, but when we saw the feeding results ...” said Puma, as he and Rothamel discussed their startup recently.
The firm they hired had run a standard 40-dog test. Thirty-five of 40 canine subjects showed a statistically significant preference for dog food that had been mixed with Warm Ups.
The 1.75-ounce product is a dry blend of oatmeal, flavoring, rice and vitamins. Customers mix it with warm tap water, stir and then add it to a serving of dry dog food. In the test case, Purina One was used,but pet owners can add it to any brand.
“It covers the kibs and transfers the heat,” said Rothamel, as he was serving his border collie, Ellie, to show how at least one dog loves the product. “It covers nicely.”
A patent application has been filed, although that’s still working its way through the approval process. Rothamel, president and chief operating officer of the new venture, already has his name on several patents, including one for dog chew treats developed at Del Monte.
The idea of warm pet food isn’t new, as anyone who remembers Gravy Train dog food knows. And people are already cooking for their dogs. Wexford Farms has tracked down research indicating 6 percent of pet owners mix canned food or other toppings with their dogs’ dry food to make it more appealing or healthier.
As Rothamel observes, moisture “carries flavor.”
But they think they can solve issues that pet owners have had over the years with convenience and mess. Warm Ups come in single-serve containers and stirring the water into the dry mix keeps puddles from forming.
The American Pet Products Association estimates U.S. pet industry expenditures this year will exceed $55 billion, up from $32 billion in 2003. About $21 billion of this year’s total will be spent on pet food, according to the organization in Greenwich, Conn.
Contact Teresa F. Lindeman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.