Petfood Industry (PI) interviewed Evermore Pet Food (EPF) co-founders Alison Wiener and Hanna Mandelbaum about the company's founding and where Evermore is headed in the future. Here's the full Q&A.
PI: What new brands, products or packaging have you introduced in the past 12 months (or how many)? Can you provide information on how they are doing in the market to date?
EPF: Evermore is a new company. We launched our first two recipes for dogs—chicken and beef—in March of 2010. Our nutritionally “complete and balanced” formulas, which are gently cooked and sold frozen, are comprised of high-quality, whole-food ingredients. We have been through a few iterations of packaging for these products and are currently transitioning from Newspring Polypropylene containers (convenient but break easily) to pouches that will be sold in recycled cardboard boxes. Our packaging is domestically produced and, unlike many canned options, contains no BPA. In just one year, we have built a loyal customer base, scored 30 accounts in New York City and the Hudson Valley, received some great press (CNN, People Pets, The NY Post, etc.), and set up an online store. By May 2011, we will have launched throughout the Northeast with distributor Pet Food Experts.
PI: What are your company’s keys to growth?
EPF: We provide innovative products in the marketplace, made with quality, integrity, and accountability. We take a very creative approach to promoting our brand. We follow every lead and make as many connections as possible. Thanks to this, we are launching with our first distributor (Pet Food Experts) at the end of April. Also, we work like dogs.
PI: What would you say sets your company apart from the competition? (R&D, product development, product promotion, etc.)? What do you strive to be known for?
EPF: First and foremost, the quality of our ingredients... we use such nutritious, whole-food ingredients in meaningful amounts that we hit an overwhelming majority of our AAFCO requirements without having to use supplements. Our protein sources are USDA-certified antibiotic and hormone-free, from humanely raised animals. We buy local produce in season. In our personal lives, we are conscientious food consumers and extend this ethos to our pet food production practices. We would rather go out of business than compromise on the quality and integrity of our ingredients. We are truly passionate about creating healthy, sustainable, and delicious food for pets. People often tell us that we’re like the Ben & Jerry’s of petfood.
As for product promotion, we take a unique, almost guerilla-like approach to getting our name out there. In March 2011, we launched our Evermore Mecampaign, where company owners subsisted for the entire month on Evermore and recipes made exclusively from its ingredients. We documented it by airing daily “live feeds” on our website, which are still viewable on our website. We chose to promote the brand by demonstrating the safety, integrity, and accountability of our products. A lot of companies use the term “human grade” to refer to their ingredients. We took it a step further to show that our food is actually “human edible.” Indeed, between the quality of our ingredients and the fact that we produce in a USDA/FDA-inspected facility that follows strict HAACP protocols (we are the only food made there not intended for human consumption), there is no reason why people couldn’t consume Evermore—except that most of us don’t really enjoy the taste of unseasoned (though highly nutritious) organ meatsâ€¦ dogs sure do though!
PI: Please provide sales estimates for the past year or current year to date—or a comment on sales trends.
EPF: In our first year, we did around $60,000 in sales. Our 2011 annual sales predictions are estimated at $150,000.
PI: What is the outlook overall for the future of your company? Any projections or possible new directions?
EPF: Rosy! We intend to grow Evermore as much as we can in a sensible way (we like to do things right, rather than right away). We want to make sure to pace ourselves appropriately, so that our production capacity grows commensurate with demand. Customers have been literally begging for a cat formula, so that is in the works, as well as two novel protein dog formulas.
PI: Where do you see your biggest opportunities?
EPF: Evermore is a pioneering brand in the new “frozen cooked” category. We are priced competitively to premium canned foods; however, our lower temperature cooking process better maintains nutrients and our packaging is BPA-free (most larger cans do contain BPA). Evermore is also a great alternative for customers who may be turned off by raw, either from a personal discomfort factor, safety concerns, or because their dogs simply do not do well on raw diets. Also, a significant portion of the population home-cooks because they perceive a shortage of accountable options with high-quality ingredients. Evermore appeals to this segment where other commercial options have failed, as our products mirror the quality and process of home cooking. Because we do it on a commercial scale, every batch is guaranteed to be nutritionally balanced (a big concern for home cookers), and it takes a lot less work to thaw down a container of Evermore than it does to cook dinner for your dog!
PI: How has your company changed over the past several years?
EPF: We incorporated in December of 2009, so we are still establishing ourselves as a brand. It seems like every day brings new opportunities, and we have grown a lot in a short period of time. That said, growth should not be confused with change: The principals by which we operate have not and will not change or be compromised.
PI: What are some of your most difficult challenges? In other words, what keeps you awake at night?
EPF: Feeding people’s pets is a HUGE responsibilityâ€¦ it’s like feeding family members. Most of us feed our pets the same thing day in and day out. If that same thing is going to be Evermore, we better be damn sure that we are providing the most nourishing, healthy, and accountable products possible. What keeps me awake at night is making sure that people are willing to at least try Evermore. Once they do, they are usually hooked, but converting people to a premium product in a totally new category is a massive challenge.
PI: Were you affected by the 2007 petfood recalls and, if so, how?
EPF: I was actually working as a pet care professional at the time. Several of my cat clients died and almost every dog owner started home-cooking. It was really fascinating watching the dogs switch over to fresh-cooked food from kibble. There were really noticeable health benefits... but it was short-lived. Nobody really maintained the cooking long-term, so the weight came back on and coats lost their luster. It was incredibly educational seeing firsthand how diet affects health and well-being. This really informs our approach and vision at Evermore, where we strive to provide the benefits of home-cooking without the work.
PI: How do you think the recalls affected the industry overall, and do you believe those changes should continue?
EPF: It seems like there is more emphasis on traceability, accountability and transparency than ever before. These changes absolutely should continue.
PI: How would you evaluate the current state of the petfood industry?
EPF: It’s clearly booming... and trends in pet food seem to be following (by about a 10 year lag) trends in people food. The growths of the natural products segment reflect this.
PI: What predictions do you have for the petfood industry?
EPF: We predict that as the artisan and local food movements gain traction for human food consumers, the pet food industry will follow suit. There will be more niche products like ours on the market. We suspect that the “fresh cooked” category will blow up in the next few years, and we’ll probably have a few competitors soon.
PI: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your company?
EPF: Evermore is an extremely palatable food with noticeable health benefits. Connor, my dog (our “spokesdog”) is a prime example of this. He is a seven-year-old shepherd-lab mix. He always ate premium raw, and sometimes home-prepared diets. At some point he started carrying a little extra weight, despite being very active. I assumed it was middle age setting in and that he’d never be as svelte as in his youth. After switching him over to our formulas, he lost all of his excess weight, his coat glistens, and he has the energy of a puppy. Also, his stomach has been historically pretty dicey, and picking up after him was always a messy affairâ€¦ now it’s as close to being a pleasurable experience as picking up poop can be! We hear over and over again from customers that their dogs are super picky, but once they get a whiff of Evermore, they devour it. Even more rewarding are the e-mails and anecdotes where people tell us that our food literally changed their dogs’ lives for the better. Sometimes they make me cry.