IN FOCUS – Small Business: Replicating nature

Posted on Jan 12, 2016 :: Small Business Spotlight
Andrew Schaick
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Green Bay butcher who recognized dogs and cats are carnivores by nature pioneered a pet food concept that has since grown into a nationally known brand with a presence in more than 3,000 stores around the country.

Carnivore Meat Company has been an industry co-packer for more than 30 years. In 2009, ownership and administration changed, adding more co-packing clients, but also establishing an independent brand, called Vital Essentials.

A line of raw pet food for dogs and cats, Vital Essentials is based on the alpha prey-model — a diet of all natural, raw products allowing the pet to get the same nutrients they would get if they were out in the wild.

As natural carnivores, dogs and cats instinctively thrive on essential nutrients found in whole animal-raw meat, bones, and vital organs, and a diet based on that concept promotes vitality and supports overall health and wellness for all breeds and ages, the company says.

“In the wilderness, the alpha would get the nutrients from vital organs,” says Lanny Viegut, CEO of Vital Essentials. “Our goal is to have products that resemble the prey animal of the wild, so all pets have the opportunity to become healthy,
alpha level.”

In nature, when prey is killed, the alpha, which is the strongest and healthiest of a pack, gets the first opportunity to eat, thus taking most of the nutrients away from others in the pack.

Breeders who feed Vital Essentials to their dogs say they notice a difference.

Faith Beam breeds Kerry Blue Terriers and has fed the mother Vital Essentials since she was a pup. When the litter gets older and it is time to wean the pups off of their mother’s milk, she will start the pups on a raw diet through Vital Essentials as well.

“When we feed the mother Vital Essentials, we notice she holds her coat and weight all through pregnancy and she provides a clean milk supply for the pups,” Beam says. “We noticed the dogs have much more stamina, are easier to groom, and have gorgeous teeth.”

Innovation pushers

For Vital Essentials, the key to its success is to push the boundaries within the raw pet food industry by continually developing new products.

“We are the most innovative pet food company in the world, in that everyone within the industry is following and trying to replicate what we do,” Viegut says. “For example, we created our Beef Nibs which are all 100 percent meat and our competition followed us shortly after we created it.”

A business model of trial and error can be tough for many businesses to stomach, but for Vital Essentials, this is where the company found opportunities for growth.

The most recent innovation the company launched was its freeze-dried minnows for cats. Viegut says this product has been flying off of the shelves at stores that carry the line. The best part for owners who have both cats and dogs in their homes? Dogs
can eat them, too.

“Innovation is always at the forefront of what we do, and we have many products we are currently testing and expect to launch within the upcoming months,” Viegut says.

Healthy growth

The past two years have resulted in tremendous growth for Vital Essentials, Viegut says. The company has invested over $2 million in capital for the organization and has doubled its employee force.

“We make investments in talent to help us accomplish what we do,” he says.

Another part to the overall mission Viegut and his team stay focused on is to make the local economy and community stronger, by providing quality job opportunities.

“It feels great to be part of such a successful company that values its employees, just as much as they value the products they make,” says Laura Ritchie, social media coordinator for Vital Essentials. “When I started working, they put me out in the plant so I got to really know the products we make, and also get to know the people who make the products.”

Ritchie says another benefit of her job is looking at the testimonials that come in each day, whether they are write-ins or video. She says it validates her position within the company and the industry as a whole.

“People reach out to us because they want to share their experience with us and that is something we love because we wanted to create awareness about the industry in the first place,” Ritchie says.  “It is inspiring to see how the products are changing the lives of pets and to be a part of that movement is so special.”

With a low turnover rate, Viegut wants Vital Essentials to be part of building employees’ careers — no matter where life takes them.

“Our job is to help the people we hire to be successful in their life wherever they go, and if we hire someone that outgrows us and maybe starts their own business or does something successful, we did our job. That is a great feeling,” Viegut says.