ɫ̳

Skip to content
Author
UPDATED:

 

  • Nature’s Select pet food brand got its start 30 years...

    Nature’s Select pet food brand got its start 30 years ago at the OC Swap Meet. Today, its wide range of dog and cat products are available nationwide. (Courtesy of Nature’s Select)

  • Paul and Diana Cavanaugh at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim,...

    Paul and Diana Cavanaugh at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The Cavanaughs started their pet food business 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at...

    Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The Cavanaughs started their pet food business 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at...

    Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The Cavanaughs started their pet food business 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Paul and Diana Cavanaugh at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim,...

    Paul and Diana Cavanaugh at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The Cavanaughs started their pet food business 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at...

    Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The Cavanaughs started their pet food business 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at...

    Paul and Diana Cavanaugh and their daughter, Megan Sanchez, at Nature’s Select headquarters in Anaheim, CA, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The Cavanaughs started their pet food business 30 years ago. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

of

Expand

When a glut of cargo ships waiting to dock off the Southern California coast left store pet food aisles empty, Nature’s Select was inundated with phone calls.

They all wanted to know, “Are you going to run out of pet food?”

But Megan Sanchez, the 32-year-old vice president of Nature’s Select and daughter of its founder, said she reassured concerned callers that the supply-chain shortages didn’t affect production because “everything we do is sourced within 80 miles of our manufacturing plant in Texas, and everything is U.S. based.”

As Nature’s Select celebrates its 30th anniversary as a family-owned brand, it continues that commitment to providing locally sourced, high-quality pet food— a founding principle.

Paul Cavanaugh launched what became Nature’s Select from his home in northern Orange County in 1994 as a healthier alternative to commercial products, which he believed was contributing to his cocker spaniels’ allergies, skin irritations and ear infections.

Speaking by conference call alongside his daughter, the 71-year-old president and CEO said the three types of kibble he originally produced at a small Perris mill specializing in quality animal feed made a “remarkable” impact on his cockers.

They weren’t the only dogs to benefit from the brand in the early days.

On weekends, Cavanaugh promoted his brand at the OC Swap Meet in Costa Mesa, where he handed out samples of the chicken, lamb and beef-based kibble in Ziploc bags to attract customers.

Among pet owners these days, branding matters. Data provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) suggests Gen Zs and Millennials prioritize brand recognition more than Gen X and Boomer pet owners. But 30 years ago?

“The bags didn’t even have a name on it,” he said. “They were only labeled with the protein and fat content. People would come up, and they would listen to me explain it to one person. Before I knew it, I’d have 10 to 15 people standing there waiting to get a sample and fill out information so we could follow up with them.”

Nature’s Select launched as a pet food delivery service in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. Today, it’s available nationwide and remains a family-owned brand headquartered in Anaheim.

“We’re light years from those days,” Cavanaugh said. “But I take a lot of pride in that part of it. And I take a lot of pride in my daughter sitting in the company, ready to take over my office.”

The Southern California ɫ̳ Group caught up with Cavanaugh and Sanchez to reflect on 30 years of Nature’s Select and the future. This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

Q: When did you join the business, Megan?

Megan: I would help out with little shows and events, but I didn’t actually work here until high school, when I had an official customer service role. After college, they brought me into the social media marketing side. While learning about the business, I saw a need to automate a lot of stuff to improve timing while still keeping true to the personalized, friendly aspect.

Our customer service is what sets up apart, and people enjoy talking to us. We’re always here to help them.

Q: Is it true Nature’s Select was one of Southern California’s first pet food delivery businesses?

Megan: Starting off, it’s how we got the bulk of our business because it was such a novelty. Our customers had a route day. If they placed an order, it wouldn’t arrive until the next local delivery day.

Q: How long did it take for the business to expand beyond Orange County?

Paul: Do you know where it started? It started with customers of ours moving to Dallas and Chicago (in the late 90s and early 2000s).

Megan: They wanted to know how to keep getting the pet food. Shipping it nationwide didn’t exist. So (her father) developed the distributorship program, which isn’t technically franchising. It’s similar but different.

Q: How does a family-owned brand compete against e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Chewy?

Megan: It’s hard to compete with same-day and next-day delivery models, so we phased out the local delivery trucks and segued into more of a shipping model.

We are on Amazon. The difference is we fulfill the Amazon orders. Our products are not in the Amazon Fulfillment Center. We’ve always been direct-to-consumer, but I know a lot of our customers want to see us in little mom-and-pop pet food retail stores. So, my goal in the next few years is to explore those different sales channels to make it more available to them.

But I think the biggest way our business grows through word-of-mouth referrals from family and friends.

Q: What makes Nature’s Select stand out in a market flooded with competing pet products, each claiming to be the best?

Paul: We use dehydrated meal in our product, so dogs and cats get most of their protein from a meat source, not from vegetables.

Megan: (Dehydrated food rehydrated with water) and fresh food are becoming trendy, but they are not a replacement for kibble. Most families can’t afford them anyway. My dog is a 55-pound German shepherd mix, and it would cost $350 a month to feed him exclusively fresh food. So, kibble is always going to be an affordable option.

For our brand, the food quality speaks for itself. We have vitamin packs, selenium yeast, pre and probiotics. All of those things come together using quality products. It is possible to have a kibble that’s affordable, and you can feel good feeding it to an animal because the animal is digesting it properly, and they’re getting all the nutrients they need to sustain a long, healthy life.

Q: Have you faced any difficulties with the quality of your products or services due to supply chain shortages?

Megan: The only time we had issues was when Texas had those really gnarly storms in the winter of ’21. It delayed us by maybe a week or two because trucks couldn’t drive on the icy roads, but that’s about it.

Paul Cavanaugh

Title: President and CEO of Nature’s Select

Before Nature’s Select: After working in freight sales, Cavanaugh opened a ServiceMaster franchise that provided cleaning and restoration services in the commercial sector for about 7 years.

The birth of Nature’s Select: Cavanaugh and his wife, Diana, decided to become business partners. They focused on pet nutrition based on the experience with their cocker spaniels.

Today: Cavanaugh’s daughter, Megan Sanchez, has helped grow the brand and modernize it over the past five years.

Megan Sanchez

Title: Vice President of Nature’s Select

Earliest memory of her family-owned brand: “I remember doing the local deliveries with my dad. Back in the day, customers would put out a white dog food bucket that had our logo on it. My dad would put a fresh liner in it and pour the kibble in. Obviously a lot has changed since then with repackaging laws, but it truly was a service.”

Why she’d never sell the business: “A lot of family-owned brands sell to a big company, and then all the quality that made them great goes out the window.”

Most boastworthy: “We’ve never had a recall in our 30-plus-year history.”

Originally Published:

More in Business