The Food Maker
Working from the gut, entrepreneur Matt Koss’ journey to save his dog Luna led him to start his own pet food company, one predicated on raw, human-grade foods for dogs, promoting health and vitality
"Question what people are telling you,” pet food maker Matt Koss asserts. “If your gut tells you something is not right, keep going until you find the information you need.”
That is exactly what Matt did when veterinarians kept giving his dog, Luna, who had early signs of renal failure, a bleak prognosis. Since the kidney regulates blood pressure and produces red blood cells, it was a serious concern. The vets kept telling Matt there was not much they could do to reverse or cure the disease, but Matt’s gut told him a different story. He thought there must be some way he could help Luna and, tenacious by nature, he sought an approach to put into action. His quest eventually led him to create his own company, Primal Pet Foods, maker of organic, high quality, human-grade raw food for dogs and cats.
Matt’s journey started when a holistic veterinarian introduced him to the work of Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian who believed commercial, supermarket-style pet food was making companion animals sick. Instead of the kibble and corn found on supermarket shelves, Billinghurst recommended a diet comprised of the specific foods that these species ate as they evolved over millions of years. Since dogs in the wild are both hunters and scavengers, the Aussie vet recommended a regimen containing a wide range of both animal protein and whole plant foods. He called this a “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” diet or BARF, for short.
A chef by trade, schooled in human nutrition, Matt decided to experiment with Luna’s diet. He tossed the kibble and got to work creating a delicious diet of human-grade raw meat and bones as well as a variety of high quality, whole plant foods. Then he watched and waited, wondering if such a radical change in diet could bring about an equally radical change in health. As she gobbled down the highly nutritious, custom-made meals created with great love and attention, Luna’s health took a turn for the better. Matt saw an increase in energy, an increase in appetite, and an overall sense of improved wellness. This time Matt’s gut told him he was on the right track.
Matt continued to refine his recipes, striving to create a wholesome diet that would help pets not just survive, but thrive. As he improved his formulations and expanded his offerings,
Matt found his workspace—his kitchen—was getting a bit small. He bought some new equipment and moved to a larger space: his garage.
At the time, Matt was still working his day job as a chef for a family in the San Francisco Bay area. At night, however, he would stay up until the early hours, formulating nutritious canine
meals. Matt talked to a retailer around the corner, asking him, “If I make it, would you sell it?” The retailer said yes, and Matt’s wholesome raw food diet took off from there.
Matt continued to work hard, expanding his menu of meals for dogs. However, the working day and night routine got to be a bit too much. “There comes a point when you have to make a leap,” he explains. Despite the uncertainties of launching a new raw food diet for dogs and cats, Matt took the leap, though readily admits, “It was a scary point in time, a day that I still remember.”
His customers started telling him about how good his food made their pets feel, noting improvements in their dogs’ and cats’ coats and teeth, along with brighter eyes and even positive changes in personality. They reported their pets seemed happier, attributing it to their improved diet.
“Hearing about what our foods were doing for their pets was fuel for me,” explains Matt. “It kept pumping my engine, and I didn’t look back.”
Today, Primal has a full product line of complete meals and supplemental treats for both dogs and cats. The poultry, beef, and game in the company’s meals are 100 percent human-grade as well as antibiotic and steroid free. Primal sources its ingredients from producers in the U.S. and New Zealand and creates its meals in facilities certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Harking back to the days when the ancestors of domestic dogs hunted and foraged in the wild, the products contain fruits and vegetables but no processed grains such as wheat and rice. Primal’s extensive line includes specific canine and feline formulations available in raw frozen and freeze-dried formulas as well as treats containing no preservatives, grains or gluten. The products are available in independent pet retail stores across the U.S. and Canada rather than in big box stores because these smaller distributors educate consumers about the benefits of feeding high-quality, nutritious food.
For those who are new to the concept of feeding their pets using the BARF approach, Primal’s website includes extensive information about the benefits of an organic, raw foods diet as well as the wide-ranging measures the company has taken to assure its products are safe for pets to consume. “Most animals go berserk over feeding raw,” affirms Matt. “When they hear the fridge open, they do twists and turns, and you can see how happy they are.”
Matt has come a long way since he first cooked up a meaty, wholesome meal for Luna. Now hundreds of thousands of pets like Luna are eating Primal foods and Matt’s dream has come to fruition. While the operation has grown, the core values and mission has remained exactly the same: simply to produce delicious and nutritious, biologically appropriate meals for our animal companions so they can remain healthy and happy.