I’ve always regarded the “all-natural” dog foods that line store shelves as more of a marketing gimmick aimed at tree-hugging city folks than feed with enough substance to maintain a working canine. For the most part I still think I’m right, but if I were inclined to go with a “natural” type of feed, I’d definitely check into Fromm Family Foods Four-Star line–in particular the Surf & Turf formula.

I mention the Surf & Turf formula because after looking at many bags of “natural” feeds, very few of them contain high enough percentages of protein and fat to be of optimal use to hard-working canines. The Fromm Surf & Turf formula contains a minimum of 30% protein and 19% fat, which puts it right in the same wheelhouse as performance or premium formulas that are designed for optimum physical activity and endurance.

So how exactly do bags of dog food claiming to contain natural ingredients differ from other bags of feed sitting next to them? Why is the price point so much higher? And why do there seem to be so many different brands of them suddenly?

According to Fromm Family Foods nutritionist Eric Morris, it has to do with the quality of the ingredients, the process of cooking the feed and technology. Those formulas touting more natural ingredients (this is a broad-sweeping generalization, you’ll have to look into specific formulas to verify their ingredients and processes) tend to use unprocessed foods such as fresh meats and vegetables as raw ingredients rather than meat meals or by-products.

“Natural foods, because of the addition of fresher ingredients, have to be processed in a different fashion than regular foods. The main differences being smaller batches and slower cook times,” said Morris, noting that Fromm uses human-grade meats and vegetables and has the highest inclusion of meat in their recipes. “The technology it takes to do this, the cooking time and the more expensive raw ingredients all add to the price. The longer it takes to produce a product, the greater the cost.”

According to Morris, Fromm Family Foods, which is a Wisconsin-based, family-owned business that has been around for nearly 100 years, developed much of the technology used to produce these types of foods. “The reason you’re seeing more of them coming out now has to do with the technology, techniques and methods used to deal with the raw ingredients while still maintaining digestibility and palatability,” he said.

As the technology and market develop for natural, high-quality feeds, more and more companies will produce these foods (a number of them are already!), but if you’re interested in discovering where you can find Fromm Family Foods near you, check out their online zip-code tool.

Morris also had some great tips on keeping your working dog hydrated during the cold, winter conditions of the next couple of months. As I prepare to head to South Dakota during the first week of December, those tips are in the front of my mind and I’ll share them with you later this week!