From the moment a pet is brought home to join the family the first order of business is determining the best food for the animal. In what has become a multi-billion dollar industry, pet food is definitely not all created equally in terms of quality and as such it’s essential that pet owners are properly educated on the optimal food types for our four-legged friends – or perhaps two-legged if it’s a bird in the hand.
Brent Hauberg, who’s based near Vernon, B.C., co-founded Tail Blazers in Calgary in 2000. Recognized as a preeminent supplier of high-quality, species-appropriate pet food, the national franchise is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has blossomed to 24 successful locations throughout Canada.
Within a couple of years of launching the business Hauberg recalls that a number of notable transformations began to take hold within the industry.
“One of the biggest changes was around 2002 when there was the Mad Cow disease outbreak and the borders were closed to all products coming from the United States,” he begins. “A lot of products at that time originated in the U.S and so many people saw it as an opportunity to start Canadian manufacturing.”
A fundamental upside to having a greater level of Canadian manufacturing is that it provides many more options than was available within the marketplace 18 years ago, not to mention jobs.
Hauberg feels it’s wonderful to now be able to buy and support local economies and having a myriad of choices, which wasn’t the case two decades ago. The increase in options represents notable progress for the Canadian market in the pet food industry. The sector grew by more than $500 million in retail sales between 2006 and 2016, and is now worth $2 billion on an annual basis according to Statista.
Supporting Canadian manufacturers and local companies is always most preferential and is a more efficient manner of food manufacturing within the supply chain.
“I believe that in all industries you’re going to see quite a movement in the next few years to the efficiency of locally-grown, produced and sold products as opposed to having everything shipped in from other countries like China,” predicts Hauberg.
Led by dedicated individuals such as Hauberg and his Tail Blazers enterprise, the pet food industry has evolved markedly over the past 20 years. At Tail Blazers, waste disposal bags are biodegradable and the stores also carry a selection of non-toxic, eco-friendly recycled toys, bowls, shampoos, and bedding. Cat litters are all natural and biodegradable. Stores also stock such items as apparel, collars and leashes, cleaning products, food supplements and various assorted treats.
The vast majority of the Tail Blazers Pets locations cater primarily to dogs and cats, but there are several locations that also provide health foods for the likes of birds, rabbits and guinea pigs.
Dogs and cats are very similar to their ancestors in terms of their nutritional requirements, which mean they have retained the same digestive systems over time. Digestibility is critical to a pet’s wherewithal to absorb all nutrients in the food and easily dispose of waste products. Higher nutritional food provides a notable upswing in the immune system and improved health over the long term with less stress on the pet’s organs. Additionally, the liver and kidneys already toil hard to remove toxins such as chemicals and preservatives, and so a reduction of those ingredients absolves a great deal of needless stress from those vital organs.
Over the past few years there has been a progressive push for humans to eat more plant-based meat products although the overall success is debatable and seems to have settled in as more of a niche specialty as opposed to a widely popular mainstream dining choice. Hauberg makes it abundantly clear he’s not in favour of going down that route in the pet food industry.
“Anytime there is a trend in the human industry there are always going to be companies that look towards that – including pet food. However, it would not be a direction Tail Blazers would ever go. We are firm believers in feeding species-appropriate diets,” he states emphatically. “No matter what kind of marketing you put out there, a cat is not designed to be eating a plant-based diet. It’s just wrong and I don’t care what a person’s belief system is on the matter. It’s just not what a cat is meant to eat.”
In staying true to the original business plan, Hauberg has never been tempted by fads in the marketplace, which come and go all the time. The primary focus of Tail Blazers from the outset has been providing species-appropriate diets to enhance overall health.
“When you’re feeding something into the body that it doesn’t recognize the body system is going to have an immune response. It’s foreign to the body and there will be a reaction to it. It can create many problems such as abdominal inflammation and trigger allergic reactions,” expounds Hauberg.
If a person or a pet is experiencing any kind of health problems, the first thing Hauberg recommends is examining the dietary intake. Selection of high quality food assures the optimal level of nutrition for your pet and promotes better digestion and a longer and healthier life. Pets dealing with chronic medical conditions could be diet-related. Chronic skin disease and diarrhea are just two examples of pets receiving the incorrect types of protein and nutrients.
Bones and raw food – or the BARF diet – provides meat, bones organs and some vegetables but is designed upon the way animals would be eating in nature. Tail Blazers’ BARF diet is full of enzymes that sanctions easier digestion. It is also contains natural trace minerals, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and much more.
“The enzymes their bodies would naturally be using are available in the raw form – that is, non-cooked foods. We try and mimic that as much as possible so it’s the easiest for their bodies to recognize and utilize,” notes Hauberg.
All breeds of dogs are much the same internally, regardless of size, which means most high-quality foods will provide the same intrinsic benefits. It’s the same with all types of cats. The genetic structures are very similar and so the base model is the same, much like it is with humans.
“I know there are companies that will focus on breed-specific foods but when you actually get down to the label and read it they really haven’t changed a lot of the ingredients. It’s more of a marketing game than anything,” reveals Hauberg.
The vast majority of products sold in each Tail Blazers’ store are the same across Canada, but if a region has a higher concentration of certain other animals besides dogs and cats then the company can accommodate and stock the store appropriately based on the specific requirements of the local clientele.
“We base our product line on customer demand and trying to stick with what these animals would be eating in the wild – and what are the most natural foods we can find available to them. It’s the same for dogs and cats,” replies Hauberg. “We have dry, dehydrated, canned, raw and even cooked foods.”
The executive-level of expertise is a clear differentiator that separates Tail Blazers from a sizable portion of the competition. From a consumer standpoint it is critically important to be educated and to properly read the ingredients of pet food to determine the amounts of various ingredients that are part of the overall food product. As example, glucosamine is beneficial for older dogs with arthritis, but if there isn’t a sufficient amount of glucosamine in the entire product it will be too diluted to provide any tangible benefits.
Hauberg keeps an open mind about investigating new ideas and potential new food sources on the market but he’s very particular about keeping to a specific model of being species-appropriate. It’s a winning formula that has worked from Day 1 and as such there is no incentive to move away from that line of thinking.
“I have cautious optimism with some of the things I’m seeing,” he says. “On paper, in theory, they might work but does that mean in reality it’s going to be effective? Not necessarily. There’s a lot of interesting innovations that people are looking at as the world changes.”
In some regions there are experiments being conducted with cloning aspects in reference to meat. Instead of cloning animals it’s cloning particular cuts of meat.
“There is no shortage of what I would call really ‘out there’ ideas that are taking place in the world. I’m always watching them to see where they go,” continues Hauberg. “Ten years from now that might be something that happens but I still always go back to what a cat would be eating in the wild. It would be eating things like birds and mice. Something that has a concept or a food related to those two food sources then I would definitely be interested to see what happens with it.”
Success at any location begins with discovering the best-suited people to be franchisees. Selecting the right person requires that they have business intelligence, but the single biggest component Hauberg looks for when considering expanding to a new location is that the potential franchisee must be most interested in the healthcare of the animals. From that point, Hauberg and his team can provide an excellent support system to develop each store on an individual basis.
Many well-meaning people want to be part of the pet franchise business, and have a tremendous love of animals, but they’re really not educated or deeply interested in the specifics of health-related matters as it pertains to the best quality food products.
“In those cases there are other pet franchise opportunities that I recommend they look at because it would be a better fit. My whole focus has always been on health. When I was in the human health industry it was about diet-related health and it’s the same here with dogs and cats. It goes much beyond just the fun of being part of the pet industry,” cautions Hauberg.
An extensive amount of detailed information and tools can be found on the Tail Blazers’ website including a Raw Food Calculator and an Ingredient Dictionary app – the app is downloadable from the site. It’s a magnificent tool for consumers, who benefit from the professional information it provides.
“We like to think of ourselves as a library source for people. No matter where you are going or what type of food you’re looking at I want people to be able to read the label and actually understand what those words mean. That is why we created that library dictionary for many different sources and put it all together,” explains Hauberg.
Consumers with the app – no matter where they are shopping – have a handy tool at their disposal to identify items. Everything is colour-coded so visitors to the site are given excellent advice. Green is good. Yellow comes with certain cautions and should be further investigated. Red is an ingredient to avoid.
“It all depends on how many yellow items you have in a food as to whether or not you should avoid those foods. It also depends how high up on the list of ingredients it is in that particular food,” says Hauberg.
Tail Blazers is known for its many charitable donations within the communities it serves, including the Pound for Pound pet food drive. The company donates thousands of pounds of food each year while various franchise locations host adoptions in store on a regular basis to promote rescue awareness.
Each of the local franchises develops relationships with their local charities. It can be anything from the local SPCA to smaller charities that are in need of assistance. In some areas the ability to do cross-promoting works incredibly well.
“We do our best to work with all of them. Anybody who’s working with animals and trying to improve their quality of life, we want to be of as much assistance to them as we can,” adds Hauberg.
Tail Blazers is committed to being available to all franchisees on a 24/7 basis. Information is a powerful tool and it’s something Hauberg wants all franchisees to make use of as a means of increasing knowledge, which in turn will serve to strengthen the network of stores under the Tail Blazers brand.
As Hauberg has seen his company expand throughout Canada he recognizes there is still a substantial amount of education that must be passed on to people in terms of what they’re feeding their animals and the inherent benefits high-quality food can provide to a pet’s life.
“It’s constant messaging,” he emphasizes. “We are always looking at improving the amount of people that are aware of healthier choices for feeding their animals, which will improve both their lives and the lives of their pets.”