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On the Job

A market for healthier dog food

John Edwards saw a market opportunity as he was searching for better food for his dog, Sasha.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

John Edwards saw a market opportunity as he was searching for better food for his dog, Sasha.

When Newton resident John Edwards started researching pet food and comparing ingredients, he realized that Sasha, his golden Lab mix, might be healthier if she ate the same natural, fresher, and locally sourced foods as humans.

Edwards, 36, saw an opportunity for a pet food made in New England with organic, premium ingredients. He launched his company, The Well Fed Dog, in 2010, using unorthodox ingredients such as collard greens, blueberries, and celery and formulating recipes such as beef and sweet potato and salmon and pumpkin.

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“More and more pet owners understand that responsible ownership means making their dog’s health a priority,” said Edwards.

What are some ingredients in commercial food that you find particularly offensive?

Meat meal is a dried meat product that comes from ground bones and flesh, but it’s a nonspecific animal, so it could be a mix of pigs, llama, horses, deer, or anything else.

How does one break into the pet food market?

It is a difficult task, since there’s a lot of oversight from the USDA, FDA, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), and each state’s department of agriculture. As a former banker, I went from one very regulated business to another, but this background was helpful in picking my way through the red tape

In your opinion, when does dog food go over the top? Isn’t it unnecessary to have grass-fed bison in pet food as some places offer?

Some people may think that cruelty-free protein sources like grass-fed bison in dog food is over-the-top, but having options can give you peace of mind.

The consumer is faced with pet food terms, ranging from “natural” to “human grade.” What advice would you give to navigate this maze?

“Natural” or “Human Grade” could be a marketing gimmick or it could be a true indication of quality. The bottom line is people can’t rely on these terms to choose a quality food and need to do research. Talk to your vet, investigate the manufacturer, and shop at stores with knowledgeable staff.

Obesity in dogs is increasing. Is this an owner problem or a dog problem?

The solution for obesity in pets is the same as for people; a little less food in the bowl and a lot more exercise. A dog being overweight is really an owner problem because they rely on us to take care of them.

Are you planning on coming out with a line of cat food?

Cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs. Cats are really carnivores and hunters in their natural state, while dogs have been evolving next to humans for the last thousand years and are perfectly designed to steal food off your counter.

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji.com.
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