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PRIMAL!

Product: Primal Freeze-Dried Canine Chicken Formula (complete meal)
Quantity: 14 oz. bag (approx. 64 nuggets)
Price: $27.99*
Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Necks, Chicken Gizzards, Organic Kale, Organic Carrots, Organic Yams, Chicken Livers, Organic Broccoli, Organic Apples, Cranberries, Blueberries, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Copper Carbonate, Sodium Selenite), Organic Parsley, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Salmon Oil, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Quinoa Sprout Powder, Dried Organic Kelp, Alfalfa, Natural Vitamin E, Mixed Tocopherols (natural preservative)
Guaranteed analysis:

    Crude Protein (min), 37%
    Crude Fat (min), 37%
    Crude Fiber (max), 1%
    Moisture (max), 2%

— AND —

Product: Primal Freeze-Dried Turkey Liver Munchies (treats)
Quantity: 2 oz. pouch
Price: $6.99*
Ingredients: Turkey Liver
Guaranteed analysis:

    Crude Protein (min), 52%
    Crude Fat (min), 5%
    Crude Fiber (max), 1%
    Moisture (max), 3%

Manufacturer: Primal Pet Foods
Country of origin: USA
Company information: 2045 McKinnon Ave, San Francisco, CA 94124; Phone: 415.642.7400 or 866.566.4652; Founder and President: Matt Koss (est. 2001)
Web Presence: Primalpetfoods.com; on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

* Prices are based on one local retailer. We received one bag of each product from Primal Pet Foods in exchange for our honest review.

Primal was Bowdu’s first raw food love. If you search through the early archives of this blog, you’ll find me singing the praises of this company’s products, as they did so much to help us transition to a healthier diet during Bowdu’s summer of immune system meltdowns. Bowdu learned to literally sing for his dinner once we started feeding Primal raw, as demonstrated by this post and video back from 2010. He still serenades me every single night during dinner prep, and it’s all thanks to Primal that he found his voice.

However, it’s been a while since we’ve stocked any Primal meals, mainly because our limited freezer space has been occupied by meats, now that we’ve got the swing of a more DIY raw feeding system. So when Primal offered us a chance to test out a couple items in their freeze-dried product line, we gladly accepted the offer.

Primal freeze-dried formula

Primal’s freeze-dried raw offers several advantages over their frozen product. It’s lightweight, easier to store, and easier to prepare, though the process is entirely different. When we fed their frozen raw, I would portion out the appropriate number of nuggets the night before, thaw for about 24 hours in the refrigerator, then quickly temper the meat in hot water before serving — the last step being the extra push that really encouraged both Bows to take to a raw diet, as the warmer meat was more appealing to them. The freeze-dried products appear to use the same recipes, but the format is different.

Primal freeze-dried formula

You drop the desired number of nuggets into a bowl, and add water. I use water pumped out of my trusty Zojirushi heater (not straight off a boil, but hot), and let it cool to still-warm temps as the product soaks and rehydrates.

Primal freeze-dried formula

The instructions recommend about 1/4 cup of water for four nuggets, which is what you see above. I was impressed that rehydration happened within seconds. Once soaked, the nuggets were easily broken down with a spoon to help force water into the pores. This is quite different from other freeze-dried meals we’ve tried, which took much longer to reach an edible consistency. Primal’s freeze-dried nuggets are ready within minutes. Ideally, you want the end result to appear gloopy and mushy, as extra moisture is part of what rounds out the nutritional superiority of raw meals.

Bowpi (20 pounds) should get eight nuggets a day, and Bowdu (30 pounds) should get about twelve. They are both accustomed to quite a raw variety now, but I still eased them into the product by combining it with The Honest Kitchen’s Keen, which they’ve had regularly for the last couple months. This gave me a chance to compare the two products side by side.

Primal freeze-dried formula

They are comparable dehydrated pet foods from two companies with nutritional philosophies that I respect. The difference is that THK uses slow, air-drying processes, where ingredients are brought up to high enough temperatures so that they can’t bill their product as completely raw. Primal, on the other hand, can call itself a raw diet, as freeze-drying, or lyophilization, is a different (and more expensive) process. They also use High-Pressure Processing (HPP), a “unique, non-thermal process that kills pathogenic bacteria through high-pressure, water-based technology,” to ensure the food safety of their raw poultry products.

THK Keen on the left, Primal freeze-dried chicken on the right

The Honest Kitchen formula that I happened to use for this comparison took slightly longer to rehydrate and came out bulkier. Some THK formulas do contain grains though, whereas Primal’s are all grain-free. Another major difference with Primal is the smell. Primal definitely registered in my nostrils as a RAW product, though not in an unpleasant way. It’s the scent of fresh meat and produce, which I’m sure added to the olfactory experience for the Bows.

Suffice to say, it was a big hit! I couldn’t really get pictures of the meals because they were consumed way too quickly.

What I could get the Bows to pose for were the Turkey Liver Munchies. This was just what I needed to help Bowpi weather some of our off-leash outings in the midst of fireworks season. I mentioned in a recent post that she gets extremely skittish when strange sounds are in the air. Though delicious liver treats were not a cure-all, they were an effective “adhesive,” keeping Bowpi closer than she otherwise would have stayed.

Bowdu and Bowpi's scaredy tail
Bowdu is cool, Bowpi is hiding — but at least she’s with us

It’s hard enough for me to find raw turkey liver, so at least I can get it in this form. I love that these treats are made with a single protein, named organ. Even though we’re paying by the ounce, retail cost is reasonable, relative to other freeze-dried treats currently available. I just have to ration the goodies. Each bag contains many pieces in a variety of sizes. It’s best to break up the bigger chunks, as too much liver in either raw or dessicated form can be overkill.

IMG_7561

But speaking of breaking things up — this is my biggest complaint. Like many freeze-dried products we’ve encountered, the pieces are just too crumbly, so you often end up with a bag of flakes or dust instead of whole, manageable pieces. I counted the nuggets I was able to count, and got to 40 pieces before I ended up with…

Primal Freeze-dried draw: smashed to smithereens

… this. Smithereens city. Given that each bag is supposed to contain about 64 nuggets, the crumbled portions account for over a third of the bag. Yikes!

This wouldn’t be so bad if rehydration and feeding guidelines were based on approximate dry volume, instead of nugget count. The crumbs still absorb water the same way, after all. Once you get used to the routine, it’s not too hard to eyeball the amount and adjust the moisture levels to the needs of your own pet. Meanwhile, the liver treat crumbs can be sprinkled onto any meal as a topper. Nothing need go to waste. Nevertheless, I do wonder if there’s a better way to package the product.

My other main issue is, unfortunately, cost. This is not an item that I can afford to feed exclusively, as both Bows would go through a single bag in about three days! I sometimes don’t even spend $9 a day feeding myself, let alone my dogs. To me, this is suitable as an occasional treat or perhaps emergency rations. I would much rather pack freeze-dried nuggets than heavy tubs of kibble on a camping or cross-country trip, for example. Resealable zippers add to the convenience of these products, but it all comes at a premium.

Overall, I have no complaints about the quality of ingredients, the processing method, or the reputation and overall standards of the company. Primal offers a lot of additional information about their products on their website, including where they source their ingredients and detailed nutritional data beyond what is required on the packaging, down to the percentage of organic ingredients, organ meat, bone content, and even calcium-to-phosphorus ratio (for example, see the complete listing for the chicken formula).

Reviewing these Primal products was like coming “home” in a way. They are familiar to us from our early days of food experimentation, and they’re also local. The company is headquartered just across the Bay in San Francisco, and they maintain strong links with local businesses and animal partners. However, Californians are not unique in how we treat or want to treat our pets. Primal products are distributed from coast to coast in the US and Canada, for now. They are one of several modern pet food companies that has helped raise the bar for how we live with our pets, and so they remain one to keep an eye on.

FINAL GRADES:
Primal Freeze-dried Canine Chicken Formula: A-
Primal Turkey Liver Munchies: A