By Julie Gallagher 
Editor, Center Store
Pet owners are converting members of one of the least discriminating groups of eaters into consumers of specialty foods. And who can blame them?
It's been exactly four weeks since news of the pet food recall broke. And what began as an advisory to pull Menu Foods moist dog and cat food produced in a single domestic plant during four months has since grown to include additional items, production periods and manufacturers.
Because they may have contained contaminated wheat gluten sourced from 16,000 miles away, certain pet foods manufactured by Del Monte Pet Products, Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. and Colgate-Palmolive's Hill's Pet Nutrition were the latest to be fetched from retailer shelves.
A month after the news initially broke, consumers are still confused and retailers remain frustrated. Luckily, natural, organic and locally sourced pet food products have become a source of confidence for both groups.
Publix Super Markets, for instance, is filling holes left on its shelves with greater quantities of natural and organic dry dog and cat food. Purina One Natural blends, The Good Life Recipe and Newman's Own Organic Pet treats for dogs are just some of the varieties the retailer is merchandising.
Dog and cat owners, in turn, are paying a premium to ensure the safety of their pets.
Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous confirmed that since the recall, sales of Purina One Naturals pet food, which contains high-quality, natural ingredients such as steam-cooked salmon, brown rice and oatmeal, have been strong and growing.
The retailer is still considering whether it will replace Menu Foods as its private-label moist dog food manufacturer and/or opt for an all-natural or organic company-brand blend.
Margot Kenly, owner of the Seattle-based Blue Dog Bakery, which supplies all-natural, low-fat, peanut butter- and molasses-flavored dog treats to Wegmans, Whole Foods and Kroger, also noted a spike in sales.
"Chains are making larger orders more frequently," she said. "They have huge holes on their shelves, and they want to put more food out there."
Kenly, who also makes cookies for humans, uses the same locally sourced milk, flour and eggs in her people and pet treats.
Pampering pets with foods that mimic the health attributes and flavors of human fare is nothing new. But what do pets think of their owner's tastes?
Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance Eatables for Dogs, for instance, claims to be "so appetizing and nutritious, you won't be able to tell the difference between my Eatables and a home-cooked meal," according to its namesake. Since I'm not the most adventurous of eaters, I had my 7-year-old golden Lab retriever Betsey put Van Patten's chicken, pasta and vegetable blend to the test. Among Betsey's credentials is her extensive experience tasting a variety of home-cooked meals. In fact, she once devoured an entire freshly baked pie that had been left cooling on the counter.
Although Betsey deemed Van Patten's Hobo Chili edible, it elicited a less-than-enthusiastic response, indicating her contentment with the familiar day dog food and table scraps she so thoroughly enjoys. Luckily, none of her favorites have appeared on the recall list.