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DTC dog food brands are on the rise: What to know

A veterinarian and an engineer teamed up to create Sundays, a new entrant in the direct to consumer dog food market
dogs eating sundays dog food
Shop Sundays and other DTC dog food brands, including The Farmer's Dog, Nom Nom and more.Sundays

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Direct-to-consumer (DTC) pet brands and subscription services have been on the rise over the last year, and one takeaway from shoppers is a litany of ever increasing options when it comes to finding the best dog food for their dogs. And while a canine companion can generally help you unwind and relieve stress, whether you’re pent up working from home or sheltering from Covid-19, you’re probably spending more time together these days and you may be left wanting to reward them for their company or improving their health otherwise. One way to indulge your dog (and really anyone) is through elevating their food. Sundays, a direct-to-consumer dog food brand, claims to be healthier than kibble and easier to prepare than some of its human-grade food counterparts — it aims to fill a void between the affordable dry dog food on one end and the high quality and high-priced elevated dog food on the other.

SKIP AHEAD Other DTC Brands

The DTC brand launched in early August, joining other newcomers in the dog food space this year like Tailored and Jinx, as well as older companies like Nom Nom and The Farmer’s Dog. If you’re on the market for a new dog food or like to stay updated on your options, eyeing the many new ones available to you — from bestsellers at Petsmart, Chewy, Petco, Amazon, Walmart and other major retailers to direct-to-consumer options — there are some things you’ll want to consider. To help guide your shopping through some of those young brands, we consulted experts and veterinarians on what to know before buying food directly from a brand.

I like to joke that the reason Sundays exists is because a software engineer married a veterinarian.

Michael Waxman, Co-Founder and CEO, Sundays

“I like to joke that the reason Sundays exists is because a software engineer married a veterinarian,” said Michael Waxman, an engineer and the co-founder and CEO of Sundays, referencing his partner and wife Tory Waxman, VMD, the company’s co-founder and chief veterinary officer. The duo says they created Sundays in order to offer pet owners an option between kibble and top-shelf dog food. “We would do literally anything for our dogs — except prepare their food for an hour or two,” Waxman said, alluding to another value he hopes Sundays will offer: speed and simplicity.

Sundays Air Dried Food for Dogs

The Sundays dog food formula is composed of more than 90 percent meat, for protein, as well as a variety of fruits, vegetables and natural oils for their respective antioxidants and digestive properties, among other nutrients. Air dried and shipped to your door, Sundays veers away from the need to can or refrigerate its elevated kibble.

That same air-drying procedure leaves Sundays with a jerky-like texture. According to the company, the food has been tested to meet both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standard of fit for human consumption, as well as similar standards from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The food, made in a USDA-monitored kitchen, includes USDA beef composed of different beef parts: beef heart, beef liver and beef bone. Sundays also throws in grains and other ingredients for flavor and health benefits: quinoa, pumpkin, wild salmon oil, kale, turmeric and more. The brand notes its food is completely free of synthetics.

Although there is currently only one recipe, Waxman says that different dogs should consume it in different portions. To help you find the right amount for your dog, Sundays offers up a simple quiz, in which pet owners provide answers regarding their dog’s age, breed and other factors. Additionally, Waxman says Sundays hopes to launch a second recipe later this year, but plans to stray from offering too many choices.

While DTC brands are on the rise, many veterinarians still see kibble as an important part of dogs’ diet. “For dogs, the main benefit to being on a commercially-prepared dry dog food is that they are eating a complete and balanced diet,” Kristin Neuhauser, DVM, of Noah’s Ark Animal Clinic, previously told NBC News Shopping. Something to look out for when shopping for any dog food is that it meets nutrient standards set by organizations such as AAFCO. “If not [complete and balanced] then there’s vitamins and minerals that need to be added,” said Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, a professor of Sections of Clinical Nutrition and Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell. “I, as a veterinarian nutritionist, feel much more comfortable [knowing] a product has met AAFCO specifications.” Still, the type of diet and dog food may vary from pet owner to pet owner depending on a variety of factors, from convenience and price to the ingredients used, their nutritional value and otherwise. To give you an idea of other DTC dog food brands out there, here some of the top options.

Dog food DTC brand alternatives

1. The Farmer’s Dog Beef

The Farmer’s Dog meals are formulated by the company’s veterinarian nutritionists to meet AAFCO nutrition standards and include human-grade, USDA meat and vegetables. They are exempt from chicken or other meals, natural or artificial preservatives and don’t include any kibble and come pre-made and pre-portioned. The beef option is made of USDA beef, sweet potato, lentils, kale and more. Although your dog’s meal plan is determined by a quiz, The Farmer’s Dog also sells a Turkey, Chicken or Pork option.

2. Jinx Chicken Brown Rice and Avocado

Unlike some of the above DTC counterparts, Jinx offers kibble. The recipes are designed by a team of veterinary scientists and nutritionists, meet AAFCO standards and are third party tested. This Chicken/Brown Rice recipe also includes eggs, avocado, patented probiotics, grain and more. You’ll also find other recipes, including Salmon/Brown Rice and Chicken/Sweet Potato. And since we’re all snacking more these days, check out their dog treats.

3. Nom Nom Beef Mash

Nom Nom meals use only USDA-grade A proteins and vegetables, and are created by Justin Shmalberg, DVM to the “nutritional levels established by AAFCO Food Nutrient Profiles,” according to the company. The meals come in options for dogs or cats and, according to the company, ship cold, fresh and pre-portioned. The Beef Mash recipe includes beef, potatoes, eggs, carrots and more. You’ll also find other flavors, including Chicken Chow, Pork Potluck and Turkey Fare. Plus, you can try a variety pack to see which option your pet gravitates to most.

4. Pet Plate Barkin Beef

Pet Plate meals meet AAFCO nutrition standards in terms of protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and more, and are formulated by Renee Streeter, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist. The meals are human-grade, don’t include artificial ingredients and are USDA-certified. According to the company, they are hot-sealed and flash frozen for safety and freshness. This beef option features ground beef, sweet potatoes, beef liver, carrots and more. You can also choose from a variety of flavors including Chompin’ Chicken, Lip Lickin’ Lamb and Tail Waggin’ Turkey.

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