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Holistic, Natural, Organic, Healthy?

2008 is a brand new year in pet food. At this point I think it is safe to say that every manufacturer, distributor, store, and pet owner is committed to providing the absolute best nutrition for our pets. We saw a lot of media hype, some of which may have confused people more than it helped them. Now it's time to get back to helping our customers decipher and understand the different options available to them. 

The most common requests heard in the stores this past year were for Organic, Natural, or Safe foods. Surprisingly, however, the least common terms used at the retail level were Holistic and Healthy. Even more surprising was the fact that a large number of people can't define the differences between Holistic, Natural, Organic, and Healthy. Ask your sales representatives and customers to define those four terms and you'll never get the same answer twice. In fact, most people will define one or more of those terms using one or more of the other terms. The most common answer given in response to the question What does Natural meanis Organic and Healthy. We've blurred these terms together to the point that they don't have any significant meaning anymore. It has become extremely important for us to focus on this product segment. Therefore, I think it is important to be able to understand the terms most commonly used in selling Holistic, Healthy, Organic, and Natural pet foods. 

Definitions from www.dictionary.com and www.organic.org 

  • -Holistic - To treat something as a whole
  • -Natural - Existing in or formed by nature - To mimic what would occur in nature
  • -Organic - Organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • -Healthy - conducive to promoting a good condition of the body

I find it interesting that only one of these terms, Organic, is precisely regulated in its usage. Therefore, each of us must decide how to apply this information to our product positioning. For example, holistic means to treat something as a whole. By this definition, a pet food is holistic if it deals with every health issue your pet faces. When using the word Natural in describing pet food, it is important to remember that the ingredients must come from nature and that the end product must mimic what the pet would eat in nature. 

Organic describes the type of ingredients used in producing the pet food, however, there are 4 classifications of organic. Less than 70% organic may list organically grown ingredients on their panel. Foods containing 70% or more organic ingredients can use the term, Made with Organic Ingredients in their labeling. Foods containing 95% or more Organic ingredients may call themselves Organic. Foods using 100% Organic ingredients are the only foods that may use 100% Organic in labeling. A fee is paid to the USDA in order to use the USDA Organic seal. 

So what is healthy? The holistic market tends to avoid Corn, Wheat, and Soy. The overall perception is that these ingredients are not healthy. Let's assume that an Organic pet food uses Organically grown wheat or soy as part of their ingredient listing. Would you consider that food to be healthy simply because it is Organic? What if we are trying to feed our pet a natural food. In nature, wild animals consume raw proteins. Can we consider a food to be natural if the proteins have been cooked? 

It seems to me that the two least commonly used terms, Holistic and Healthy, seem to work hand in hand in their common goals. A Holistic diet looks to address every health issue your pet faces as a whole. Again, it is left to us to decide whether or not a food is holistic, regardless of its labeling. Skin, coat, hip, joint, and digestive issues are the most commonly discussed health issues in pet food. But what about kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, circulatory issues, diabetes, cholesterol, eye sight, etc.? If a food does not address these issues, would you consider it to be Holistic? 

The intention of this article was to help simplify the Holistic, Natural, Organic, Healthy debate. I have a feeling, however, that I've stirred up more questions than I've answered here. Each of us have our own opinions and we need to apply that to our marketing techniques. Hopefully, I've given you a strong foundation to base those opinions on.


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