Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Conversation with Wagatha's Norman Levitz

I had the opportunity the other day to speak with Mr. Norman Levitz, one of the founders of Wagatha’s organic dog treats . We’re very pleased that Wagatha’s is one of 2Dogs’ sponsors.

Our conversation began when I asked him how he learned about 2Dogs2000miles and Hudson, Murphy, and Luke.

I came to know of Luke’s efforts from a mutual friend, Tracie Hotchner. Tracie actually lives a few miles from us down in Bennington (Vermont). She told me about Luke’s efforts and I thought it was just a fabulous idea. I just thought it was great. I’m totally supportive of what he’s doing. There needs to be more of this kind of a thing going on.

I noticed on your web page that an important part of your philosophy is to give back to the community. One of the things that Luke has told me is that for every shelter that he visits, you send them 10 pounds of Wagatha’s Treats.

That’s correct. … The products that we make are 100% organic, we manufacture everything right here in Vermont. Most of our ingredients are domestic and the ones that aren’t are either from Central America or Europe. Everything we do is human quality. We want our best friends to have the best.

You’re the developer of the biscuits yourself?

Yes, my wife and I started making these biscuits about 30 years ago when we were in college, so there’s quite a lot of history behind them.

Can you give us a little bit of the history? Why did you start making dog biscuits?

Well, here’s the thing. Like I said, about 30 years ago my wife and I started making these biscuits in college because we had a lot of friends and family who had dogs and … you know, on a college budget, there’s not a whole lot you can do at holiday time. So we decided to try making dog biscuits. The dogs loved them and it became an annual tradition for us. About 15 years ago we had a bakery in Rhode Island and we started making these biscuits at the bakery just as an aside. We sold a lot of them. I always wanted to do this as a business but the timing just was never right. Then I finally got together with my present business partner [Neil Reilly] who thought this was a fantastic idea and here we are, 2 years later.

So you got started in 2006?

2006, yes that’s right.

Right from the beginning we wanted to be 100% certified organic and we do not do anything that does not fit that profile. We’re also kosher. We didn’t want anyone to have any barriers to why they couldn’t bring Wagatha’s into their lives.

As a professional chef and as a culinary educator, you obviously understand the issues of good nutrition. Do you see a connection between nutrition and the higher incidence of cancer in animals?

Yes, I do. I see it in people too. You are what you eat and your body can only fight off and deal with so many chemicals and artificial ingredients and things of that nature before it begins to rebel. Even more of a reason for us to be completely organic … every ingredient in our treats is there for a reason. Most of the treats are very high in antioxidant properties to help fight cellular damage.

What drew you personally to the issue of nutrition in dogs in particular?

I think it was a number of things. One of the things is, as a culinary educator, nutrition was a big part of what I had to learn and teach to my students. So, to me that really made a lot of sense. And then, the more I researched commercially available pet products and pet foods, it was horrific what I found. I knew if I was going to get involved in this business that everything we did had to be nutritionally sound because I didn’t want to be part of the problem. I wanted to be part of the solution.

I understand that Hudson and Murphy especially like the Tuscan Tomato and Herb Biscuits. Do you know what your best selling product is?

The best seller is our Breakfast Biscuit. In the South we found that the Tuscan Tomato and Herb is the number one seller. In the North it seems to be that the Cranberry and the Breakfast go neck and neck, and on the West Coast is seems the Breakfast is number one. I think it just depends on people’s life style, eating habits … we haven’t found a dog who wasn’t partial to these biscuits!

In the years ahead, do you see your company expanding into dry food, because there’s certainly a need for that?

We are actually doing research into that – whether it’s going to be dry, wet, or raw or some combination of the three we’re not sure yet, but we’re really working hard to find the right direction to go; but no, we’re not going to be just a treat company. We are looking to extend our philosophy beyond the treats.

Do you see yourself moving into less of the canine boutique or on-line ordering and maybe getting out there to mainstream your product?

We’ve really built our business so far on supporting the independent retailer. Once you cross the bridge into the mass market there are a lot of problems that go with that and we really want to maintain the integrity of our brand. So, independent is where we’re staying. But our treats are all available on our web site, you can purchase on-line, and shipping is very reasonable – over $50.00 shipping is free. And we ship almost immediately – we usually ship that day or the next day FedEx ground.

Do you see your company, even as new as it is, leading the way to a new philosophy of thinking about feeding animals?

I think we understand the difference between right and wrong and understand what the health requirements are for animals and I think that we are just reflecting changes in the way people are starting to look at animal nutrition. We’re supporting that in everything we do. We try to get that message out to everyone we interact with -- that by feeding Wagatha’s they’re feeding their dogs the best available products that they can find. We put a lot of research and time into our biscuits and stand behind what we do.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Wagatha’s and your interest in 2 Dogs?

I think that what 2 Dogs is doing is fantastic and I think raising awareness about canine cancer is really important. I think that grass-roots efforts will raise the awareness of people’s choices when they go into the store and buy what they buy. It seems that every month there’s another food recall, whether it’s pet or people … and why take that chance? For the majority of people, their pets are the center of their lives -- why subject your best friend, your family member to something you don’t have to subject them to? There are choices. And they’re not necessarily any more expensive.

Mr. Levitz, thanks for speaking with us. And special thanks for donating to the shelters Luke goes to.

It’s my pleasure. We live in a world where we all really have to help each other out … reaching out to our neighbors and friends is really what we have to do.

Wagatha's name and logo are the copyrighted property of Wagatha's. Their logo is used with permission.

1 comment:

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