Marsh Dog’s nutria-based dog treats going national

    Marsh Dog, the Baton Rouge-based company that produces all-natural dog biscuits made from nutria meat, has inked a deal with a national manufacturer and plans to launch three new products to a nationwide market in the coming months.

    But the family-owned business is temporarily ceasing production of its popular dog treats while it transitions from making its products in-house to producing them in a major production facility.

    “We were hoping to have the new products from the producer in hand before we discontinued with our existing products,” says Veni Harlan, a graphic designer who co-founded Marsh Dog in 2012 with her brother, attorney Hansel Harlan. “But they’re a big national producer and they slip us in between their other runs so we’re going dark until they can come out with our new product.”

    Harlan declines to identify the producer, except to say it is a national manufacturer in the pet food industry that will continue to make Marsh Dog’s all-natural, nutria-based products.

    “We’re staying true to our roots as best as we can,” she says.

    Hansel Harlan originally conceived the idea for the company, after learning about the extreme damage nutria cause to marsh grasses and reading an article about how an expensive state campaign to promote nutria consumption proved ineffective. In search of meat to feed his allergy-prone dog, he began to toss around the idea of a business making nutria-based dog treats that would contribute to wetland conservation through nutria consumption.

    In the years since, demand has grown rapidly for Marsh Dog products, which are currently sold online and in about 50 specialty stores and vet clinics statewide. But the Harlans were not able to keep up with the requests that poured in from around the country because making the dog biscuits by hand was so time consuming, and because the products had a limited shelf life.

    For the past 18 months, they’ve been exploring how best to grow, researching how to extend product shelf life and trying to find a manufacturer that was willing to work with them and their unusual ingredient—nutria meat. It was a challenge but the Harlans say they’re ready to take their company to the next level.

    “This will enable us to get a distributor and target key markets that are the right fit for our products,” Veni Harlan says.

    Under the terms of its new arrangement with the manufacturer, Marsh Dog will make three dog treats, somewhat different than the company’s original products. One will be made from dehydrated nutria meat and blueberries. The other two will be soft, nutria treats—one grain-free, the other will include sweet potatoes and rice.

    In another significant change, Veni and Hansel Harlan’s sister, Gretl Kelly, and her husband, Bob, have joined the company as investors and partners. Veni Harlan says Gretl, an attorney, and Bob, a corporate executive, have brought a lot of expertise to the team.

    Pet owners whose canine companions are fans of Marsh Dog products may be dismayed to know that the company doesn’t yet have a rollout date for its new products. Harlan hopes it won’t be too long.

    “People are upset because we are going dark,” she says. “But we can’t tell our manufacturer what to do. We just have three products. If we were Purina, we could demand our order by a certain date and they would scramble. We have to wait until they get around to us.”

    —Stephanie Riegel  

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