Pet treat companies could be one tool for economic development in the United States and around the world. For low-income individuals, small-scale pet treat production allows entrepreneurs to start with utensils they may already have or can obtain inexpensively, ingredients from the grocery store and science-based recipes. While moving into retail outlets will require that pet food entrepreneurs consider larger legal and logistical issues, a start-up pet treat company could be within reach of many.
If one is going to produce pet food, they should comply with the rules for labeling, registration and safety, Greg Aldrich said.
“However, enforcement is not typically going to track someone down to pay their tonnage tax if they are producing in the garage and selling at the farmer’s market,” he said. “It is when one begins to market via established retail channels that the regulations begin to kick in. Each state has its minimum and the FSMA has a minimum for registration of the facilities/company.”
Pet treat start-up advice
Pet treats businesses could provide a route to starting a business with a strong story to tell, since pet owners tend to support brands with similar espoused ethics to themselves.
“The pet treat area is very scalable and simpler than the total diet production. So, it fits quite well for entrepreneurs to begin here,” he said. “However, because of this, it is very crowded and there are many failures. Only the best ideas and execution survive and grow.
“Since treats are for intermittent feeding, there are no set nutritional guidelines. It really comes down to what works to form the product and what the dog (and their human) like…When one begins to ‘industrialize’ the process, or produce in large volumes, then we have some frameworks that need to be considered.”
Differentiation may be one opportunity for pet treat brands launched by ethnic and cultural minorities, immigrants and refugees, or other groups with compelling stories to tell. Pet owners want to know the history of the brands they buy for their pets, especially folks in high-income households with money to spend on superpremium pet treats. Premium pet product buyers want that purchase to benefit more than their dog’s health but also the wider world. This socially aware demographic may feel influenced to purchase pet treats if those products also help the company’s owners overcome historical and ongoing adversity.
No matter how inspiring the backstory, any aspiring pet treat entrepreneur faces the same problems as everyone else in the business, Aldrich said. First, they must identify the market. Then they need to produce a product that the market desires and will reward with purchase. If that product proves successful on the small scale, they then must find financing to scale the idea.
“There are funds available for federal loans and grants via the Federal/State Market Improvement Grants, the SBIR, SBA, and others,” Aldrich said. “Think of starting a pet treat/food business no different than any other manufacturing operation. The local/state/federal governments have a vested interest in seeing new ideas become successful enterprises. It contributes to employment, tax base, and builds communities. For those at the lower register of the economic strata there are even more programs than those with more. Success really comes down to the same key elements – smarts, hard work and a bit of good fortune.”
Starting a business isn’t for everyone, and the pet food industry also has opportunities for education and employment. At Aldrich’s KSU, the program he collaborates within is a combination of research, teaching and outreach. As part of the school’s Land Grant Mission, KSU provides opportunities, financial and otherwise, to uplift future animal nutrition researchers, he said.
“Depending upon what one desires, there is likely some sort of financial support in the form of scholarships and other programs to help advance integration of industry with science,” Aldrich said.
Either through entrepreneurship, employment or education, the pet food industry may provide opportunities for economic advancement.