In 2001, after experimenting in her San Diego, California, USA, kitchen making home-cooked and raw petfoods for her Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mosi, Lucy Postins began formulating recipes of her own. Her interest in proper nutrition and the raw food diet -- prior to founding the company in 2002, Postins served as the equine and canine nutritionist for a Southern California petfood manufacturer -- led Postins to investigate ways to make this form of feeding more convenient and economical, which eventually resulted in the creation (along with her husband, Charlie) of her own holistic petfood company, The Honest Kitchen.

"Our company was originally founded from a quest to find a solution to a problem, not as a money-making venture," says Postins. "We maintain a very strong focus on personal, individualized customer service and on education."

But what makes The Honest Kitchen's start-up story different from similar holistic or natural petfood companies with grassroots beginnings? "The main thing that sets us apart from the competition is the fact that The Honest Kitchen's products are made in a human food production facility and not in a petfood plant," Postins explains. This allows The Kitchen to use the term "human grade" legally on all of their product labels.

The Honest Kitchen  began offering products in 2002 that combine the health benefits of a raw diet with the ease and convenience of dry food. The company claims to only use certified organic grains, hormone and antibiotic-free meats, non-GMO fruits and vegetables and certified fair-trade quinoa. Their comprehensive line includes food and treats for both dogs and cats, grain-free recipes, low-gluten diets, high-protein foods and formulas meant to be used as a base for custom homemade meals. Keen, which was introduced in 2008, is described as a back-to-basics formula combining the human-grade food quality the company is known for with an economical price tag.

"Considering the state of global food costs and the current financial climate, we realized the need for a more economical product that doesn't compromise quality or nutritional integrity," explained Postins in a press release. "Keen is a remarkably exciting product, because it makes wholesome and organic pet nutrition affordable for all pet owners, not just a select few." More recently, The Honest Kitchen has launched a medicinal herbal tea for dogs, as well as a recipe book of meals that consumers can prepare at home for their pets, entitled Made out of Love.

"At The Honest Kitchen, we are advocates for dietary variety and promote our products not as a sole source of sustenance but as a valuable part of an animal's total diet and a truly holistic approach to health," says Postins, explaining her company's untraditional approach. "Our foods can be fed alone of course, but we want to teach pet parents that's it's also really fun and rewarding to create homemade meals and to steer away from an obsession with the science of food! Most people don't know how many milligrams of calcium they consumed today, yet there is this excessive focus on measurement and science in our industry, which is very counterintuitive to me."

Another message Postins is intent on getting out? "Nutritional balance can be achieved throughout the week for cats and dogs just as it is on our own diets," she attests. "There is nothing about a pet's physiology or anatomy that says it should eat the equivalent of a highly processed breakfast cereal for every day of its life. We want to awaken people's minds to the concept that minimally processed, varied food is better -- and we're working to provoke change in the way nutrition is regarded in the industry and among pet guardians."

As controversial as  The Honest Kitchen's mission may be to the majority of the industry, consumers are certainly listening with pricked ears and open wallets. The company's 2009 sales were up about 27% over 2008 figures with an average growth rate of 56% for the past five years, according to Postins. "In late 2009 and early this year we have picked up several new major distributors who are instrumental in the next phase of our growth. We're currently available in almost 2,000 resellers nationwide."

The Kitchen is continuing to innovate, and the company has a new dog food recipe in the works for summer 2010, which will be made with fish as its protein source. "We're expanding online and our community-based grassroots marketing efforts with some exciting new initiatives in 2010. We also have a new groundbreaking, patent-pending initiative that will go live toward the end of this year and will further revolutionize the way companion animals are fed," shares Postins on her company's future. Postins also says she sees many opportunities within the holistic and conventional veterinary communities; The Honest Kitchen is conducting a veterinary-based feeding trail this year that is already yielding interesting results.

"We're very committed to being able to stick to our own path, even if that path takes us on the road less traveled," sums up Postins. "We have some strong ideas about what ingredients we will and will not use in our products, vendors we will and will not work with and distribution channels that do and don't fall within our boundaries of acceptability. We don't make decisions based on the bottom line, but rather on what feels right to us and what fits in with our culture and values."

Just the Facts

Headquarters: San Diego, California, USA

Officers: Lucy and Charlie Postins, Founders

Brands: Force, Keen, Verve, Prowl, Smooches, Pecks, Sparkle, Invigor, Perfect Form, Nuzzles, Ice Pups, Lithe, Embark, Preference, Thrive and Wishes

Distribution: The Honest Kitchen is sold in more than 1,700 resellers - including veterinary offices and specialty pet stores - nationwide and in Canada, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.