[Japan] Rainy season brings interest in emergency pet food

Pet owners want a contingency plan to feed their pets during natural disasters.

The recent spate of floods in different parts of Japan that brought widespread devastation and deaths has increased interest in a specially developed “emergency” pet food.

Developed in August 2019 and called Sonae, which means “preparedness” in Japanese, it is a ready-to-serve minced horse meat product mixed with brown rice and an assortment of vegetables such as sweet potatoes, radish, cabbage, carrot and shiitake mushroom. A 250g pack of Sonae sells for ¥864 (US$8.00) and comes in small, vacuum-sealed bags that evacuees with pets can easily bring with them when calamities strike.

The brainchild of Akihiko Yasui, a Japanese butcher from Osaka, Japan who sells processed horse meat for human consumption, Sonae was inspired by the concept of instant ramen noodles which keep for a long time and is a staple relief good in times of disaster. But Yasui’s real motivation for creating Sonae came during the devastating typhoon Jebi in 2018 that made him worry about how to feed his pet chihuahua should they need to evacuate.

Yasui, who has a license in pet disaster management, worked with veterinarians and dieticians to create Sonae’s 12-ingredient recipe with no additives. The result was a horse meat-based dog food with the consistency of baby food and has enough moisture to help dogs stay hydrated when drinking water is scarce. Yasui claims that consuming a pack of Sonae a day gives a dog that weighs 2.5kg the minimum nutrients and water it needs.

Sonae can be kept at room temperature for about a year so it can easily go into a pet’s very own disaster emergency kit.

Scaling up production during the rainy season

Horse meat, Yasui said, is less likely to cause allergies in humans and pets and, so far, Sonae has been a hit with his pet and other dogs. The market is responding favorably, too, so Yasui tapped food manufacturer Ajikikko & Awajishima Genmai Club to mass produce the food.

Sonae’s 2019 soft launch happened after Japan’s “Tsuyu” or rainy season, which happens in early summer. Now that the torrential rains are back, Yasui is seeing an uptick in demand so he is making available bulk buying and limited free shipping in his online shop.

Yasui’s allergy-free emergency pet food is the first of its kind in Japan. Because Sonae is made using human-grade ingredients and preparation, it is also safe for people to eat during emergencies — just add salt to taste, Yasui said.

Sonae is also available in Yasui’s shop in Osaka, where he sells premium “horse sashimi” dog food made from raw horse meat.

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