Lucy Postins, founder of the petfood company the Honest Kitchen, was recently profiled in an article on FastCompany.com, discussing how she began her petfood company and the drivers of the Honest Kitchen's success in the petfood market.
Postins says she feels one of the reasons for her human-grade whole-food petfood company's success is "disruptive innovation." Postins says this means creating a product that changes the status quo and gives consumers a new option that they may not have realized they needed, based on an old product that may have seemed fine. The challenge in this, she says, is with communicating the need to consumers.
"I think one of the main tasks for the innovator is often the communication. Since you’re creating a product that meets a new need, there’s work involved in explaining exactly what you’ve created and how it’s better than what people are in the habit of using. The great thing with this task, of course, is that you’re telling a story that’s true and meaningful, as opposed to coming up with gimmicky messaging to try and differentiate yourself.
"With our products, once we put them to market, we found consumers were choosing to use them for a really wide array of reasons, so it’s been challenging to articulate our messaging in a way that’s concise but sufficiently explanatory, to every type of consumer who’s interested in the food," she says.
When asked about competing against name-brand petfood manufacturers, Postins says: "It sounds strange to say, but when I look back I don’t feel we have really struggled hugely. From the outset, we didn’t have a major plan for aggressive growth; the Honest Kitchen has grown in an organic way and charted its own course on many levels so we’ve evolved without the pressure to be a certain size at a certain time. That means we have been able to stay true to our roots and allowed our values to thrive. In turn, that’s further fueled our growth because it’s deepened our connections with our customers who then feel inspired enough to tell others."
The most notable challenges Postins says she has faced as an entrepreneur were regulatory challenges from the US Food and Drug Administration and from state departments of agriculture challenging the "human-grade" petfood claims. Postins says the company's human-grade status differentiates it from other petfood manufacturers in that the petfood is produced in a human food facility, on the same equipment used to produce various foods that people eat.
"We’re extremely selective when it comes to our suppliers, too. We’ve worked with many of the same producers since we began in 2002 and insist that all suppliers sign an annual 'Vendor Pledge' to provide assurance of the quality and integrity of the ingredients we buy. We won’t use GMO or irradiated ingredients, and don’t accept any ingredients from China," says Postins.
"I think 'pets before profits' is the most important value that sits at the core of our daily decision-making; it means thinking about what’s right for the animal who is going to eat the food, often at the expense of the bottom line," Postins says. "Switching to 100% free-range, antibiotic-free and humanely raised chicken in our food made no sense from a fiscal standpoint, but has ultimately been good for business because it’s healthier for the pets who eat it – as well as having a positive impact on the planet and on animal welfare as a whole.
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