At Merrick, Pets are Family
The Texas-based pet food brand believes man’s best friend should dine on the best.
Pet ownership can inspire some decidedly grand—and arguably wacky—behavior, like checking your dog into a spa or hiring a professional chef to cook his meals. Garth Merrick loved his dog Gracie so much that he started a pet food company, Merrick Pet Care, to feed her and pets everywhere the all-natural, whole food he felt they deserved. Since it launched in 1988 with the Flossie, a teeth-cleaning dog treat, the brand has expanded into cat food, limited ingredient meals for pets with dietary sensitivities, and seasonal novelties like Holly Jolly Pot Roast and Thanksgiving Day Dinner. Quiddity spoke with Barbara Liss, the brand’s VP of Marketing, about improving pet lives through food, innovation in the kitchen, and the philanthropic initiatives at the heart of its business.
In 1988, Garth Merrick founded Merrick Pet Care with his wife and their 4 children at his ranch in Hereford, Texas. What was his impetus for launching the brand?
Garth Merrick founded Merrick Pet Care with the goal of making the most wholesome and nutritious recipes that pets deserve. He focused on using the freshest, highest-quality ingredients he could find to make an all-natural, high-protein dog food. Every recipe was handcrafted in his own kitchen in Hereford, Texas, because he believed that recipes taste better than formulas. Over the years, Garth’s recipes gained popularity and, as our company has grown, we’ve continued to build on his legacy. Today we are headquartered in Amarillo, Texas, and our recipes are crafted down the road in our Hereford, Texas, kitchen.
What inspired Garth to focus on natural recipes?
At Merrick, pets have always been a part of our family. Garth’s love for his dog, Gracie, is what inspired him to craft food that was worthy of her. This love for pets is what continues to inspire our team to use real, whole foods and the freshest ingredients without additives, sweeteners, colors, or preservatives. The first ingredient in our recipes is always deboned meat, fish, or poultry. We’re also proud that our recipes feature omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to give pets a healthy skin and coat, and top levels of glucosamine and chondroitin to support bone and joint health.
How do you innovate new recipes and products?
We are passionate about being the best, and won’t settle for less. We were built on a foundation of agile innovation, and this has proven to be the growth engine for our business. We are committed to improving the lives of pets and pet parents and work hard to introduce new products that offer a unique benefit. One example of this is our Fresh Kisses line of all-natural dental treats–they were designed not only to clean dogs’ teeth, but to freshen their breath at the same time.
How has Merrick evolved over the years? How has it stayed the same?
Over the years, we’ve expanded by introducing a range of new products that meet the evolving needs of pets and pet parents and by continuously improving our recipes to be superior in quality, nutrition, and taste. The one thing that has always stayed the same is our unwavering commitment to quality (watch the team eat Merrick’s canned recipes here). It might take us longer to hand-stuff vegetables or a chicken wing into our canned recipes, and it might cost more to start every recipe with real deboned meat, poultry, or fish, but we believe such practices are necessary.
Merrick works with K9s For Warriors, an organization that pairs service dogs with military veterans suffering from PTSD. What led to this partnership?
Doing good and giving back to our communities has always been important to Merrick. We support homeless pets through our feeding partnerships with PAWS Chicago, Austin Pets Alive!, and Tree House Humane Society. We also partner with organizations like K9s For Warriors that share our commitment to improving the lives of pets and pet parents. K9s For Warriors pairs veterans with PTSD and service dogs that have been rescued from high-kill shelters who are trained to help their veteran pet parents return to civilian life. In 2017, Merrick launched an assortment of Backcountry Hero's Banquet recipes in celebration of the partnership and committed $250,000 to clinical research showing the effective role service dogs play in the treatment of PTSD among American veterans.
How do you anticipate and respond to evolving consumer needs and marketplace trends?
Our team’s shared passion for dogs and cats helps us anticipate what pet parents want. We pride ourselves on talking with pet parents to understand which products, ingredients and formats will most improve the lives of their pets. Our sales team has built strong relationships with specialty retail partners, and we work together to identify trends and opportunities in the marketplace.
For example, we recently learned that pet parents want high-quality, allergy-friendly food made from simplified ingredients, and we quickly responded to this insight by updating our popular lineup of Limited Ingredient Diet dry and wet dog foods. Our new and improved dry recipes provide complete and balanced nutrition from a single source of animal protein, are potato-free, and feature a more simplified ingredient list with only eight key ingredients plus added vitamins and minerals.
What’s next for Merrick?
We’re most excited about sharing our story with more pet parents and building advocacy for our brand. We want every passionate pet parent to know about Merrick and about the nutritional benefits of our food.
Frances Thomas is a writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from NYU.