Good for Your Pet & the Planet — Petaluma’s New Sustainable Dog Nutrition
From February through May 2021, 8 pet care startups from 5 different countries joined the Leap Venture Studio to enhance their business plans, prepare for fundraising milestones, and establish minimum viable brands. Learn more about each startup and their leaders through our blog series on Cohort 4. We asked each founder questions about their startup journey, who inspires them, and of course a little bit about their pets!
Petaluma, Inc. (Oakland, California): Petaluma is a public benefit corporation that formulates sustainable dog nutrition with environmentally-friendly and animal-free ingredients. Their mission is to make it easier for fellow pet lovers to provide the best care for both their pets and the planet. Combining pet industry experience and two years of R&D with professional nutritionists, Petaluma has created a more considerate dog food choice for all pet parents.
Garrett Wymore, Co-Founder:
What inspired you to build your pet care startup?
Garrett: We started Petaluma because we love animals and became increasingly uncomfortable with the disparity between how we care for our pups and how we care for the animals used to feed them.
Caroline Buck, my co-founder, and I were changing our own diets as the role of animal agriculture in climate change, wildland loss, and animal welfare abuse became more widely understood. As we reduced and then eliminated meat from our own diets, purchasing 30-pound bags of food made mostly from animal ingredients to feed to our own canine animals did not feel rational or necessary.
At the time, I was working with a team of veterinarians and pet nutrition professionals on a massive pet health study and I was surprised to learn that plant-based diets were not only feasible for dogs but also frequently prescribed by veterinarians for dogs with suspected food allergies. We felt that plant-based dog food was an immediate and proven solution to environmental and animal welfare issues in the agriculture industry and decided to throw our energy behind creating a plant-based brand and product that can earn the trust of pet parents.
Tell us about any pets you have! How did your relationship with your pet inspire your business?
Garett: Caroline and I have been dog-obsessed since we were kids and started fostering and adopting dogs when we moved to the Bay Area in 2013. We have two well-loved rescue dogs — Leo, a 9-year old oversized lap dog we adopted at the LA SPCA, and Oscar, an energetic and mischievous 2-year-old pup from Tijuana, Mexico, by way of Family Dog Rescue.
An experience with our dog Leo at a small hobby farm in Petaluma, California was a major catalyst for starting the company and the origin of our name. The farm was caring for a new brood of baby goats, chickens, cows, and sheep, and Leo quickly assimilated to the goat tribe. While I’m slightly embarrassed that it took a farm vacation to meaningfully alter my thinking about animal agriculture, interacting with “livestock” alongside my “family member” dog highlighted the arbitrary distinction between how we care for different classes of animals. We started Petaluma to address the disconnect between animals we love and animals we raise for food.
We also designed our diet with Leo and Oscar’s health as our top priority, as they’d be our lead quality and taste evaluators. We would not trade their well-being for sustainability or animal welfare concerns. We recruited nutrition experts to formulate the food, sourced premium, organic ingredients, and commissioned extensive laboratory analyses before we’d trust it for our own pups.
What are your goals for this year?
Garrett: We are very excited to begin offering our food to the public after years of formulation and testing. I began cooking samples in our home kitchen in 2018 and our cabinets are still filled with ingredient samples. Seeing the “production-grade” food come out of the giant commercial oven at our partner bakery was one of the most fulfilling moments in a pandemic-clouded year, and we’re eager to share the product of our efforts with more dogs.
What entrepreneurs/leaders do you look up to?
Garrett: We are inspired by companies that have made environmental sustainability and agricultural worker welfare a core part of their business before it was “cool” to do so. I remember a podcast with Gary Anderson, the co-founder of Clif Bar, being particularly influential in our early ideation for Petaluma, as Clif Bar has been a great example of a founder creating better food alternatives while remaining focused on reducing the environmental costs of their products and giving back to the communities they operate in.
Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard have also influenced a large number of entrepreneurs (including ourselves) to make sustainability a core value proposition of their products and share financial success with the planet that makes it possible through initiatives like 1% for the Planet (Petaluma is a member organization). We’re grateful that founders like Ben and Jerry of their eponymous ice cream have helped establish new standards of how businesses are accountable to more than profitability and maximizing shareholders value and have created a precedent for public benefit corporations to exist even within large consumer goods companies. We’re also closely watching companies in the human food realm that have popularized alternatives to animal products through creative marketing, food science, and perseverance through decades when plant-based food was not trendy.
What advice would you give to other founders just starting their journey?
Garett: Incorporate as a public benefit corporation and begin building in corporate responsibility practices from the early days. Starting a new company provides the opportunity to make environmental and social sustainability codified success metrics for your business, and it is much easier when you do not have to rewrite legal documents or disrupt operations by bringing in new suppliers that meet elevated standards. It also provides a competitive advantage against larger industry incumbents that will be able to beat you on cost but cannot (or will not) make more aggressive commitments to creating a “public good” through their products and business practices.
Join us on Thursday, May 6th at 10am PT for the Leap Venture Studio Demo Day to celebrate these incredible founders that are forging new trails in the $100 billion pet care industry! The event will be streamed through YouTube Live (link coming soon). Each company will present a pitch deck on their company and answer questions in the live chat.