Q&A with Small Dog Wonders Bakery CEO and founder, Valerie Perlowitz

Read the full Petfood Industry interview with Valerie Perlowitz, CEO and founder of Small Dog Wonders Bakery, maker of Bistro Bites treats made especially for small breed dogs.

We just celebrated our first anniversary of Bistro Bites with a fantastic new cadre of retail partners who recently joined at the Total Pet Expo.

Petfood Industry:  What new brands, products or packaging have you introduced in the past 12 months? Can you provide information on how they are doing in the market to date?

Valerie Perlowitz, CEO: Small Dog Wonders Bakery LLC, the owners of USA-made and sourced Bistro Bites, officially unveiled to the industry at the 2012 Backer show in Chicago the all-natural line of healthy dog treats that are the first to have been created based on new and unique recipes with the small dog in mind.

Bistro Bites include five flavors of biscuits: Berries & Almonds, Chicken Livers, Peanut Butter & Carob, Sweet Potato, and Vegetable. The sixth and final flavor is their training treat in Peanut Butter Applesauce.

In this first year, we have grown to include:

  • 32 retail partners
  • 41 retail stores
  • 1 online-only store
  • 19 states

PI: What are your company’s keys to growth?

VP: Building strong partnerships with the people who are selling our product and educating consumers about how to care for their pets better are two cornerstones of our culture. When we sign up new partners, we look for ways to increase the exposure of our partners in a way that is mutually beneficial.

We leverage our social media channels to increase awareness of the value-add that our partners bring to their communities and their customers. As education is key to assisting our partners in helping their customers make the right choices, we have built a collaborative environment which houses a variety of materials for them to become educated on topics such as pet obesity and nutritional value that can be shared with their customers.
Ideally, we want to serve as a resource for our partners, providing information they need—offering information, tips, advice and ways to improve business, such as advising them on how to display and sell our product.

In the coming year we will continue to build out the community to allow for sharing between our partners, so they can learn how to better utilize their assets in order to help increase sales as well as learn about other important topics.

PI:  What would you say sets your company apart from the competition? What do you strive to be known for?

VP: Our approach to creating partnerships between ourselves and our retail and distribution companies is centered around education of ourselves and our customers is a cornerstone of our differentiator.

We help people see how important the size of what you feed your dog is; all natural is great, but if you don’t have the right size, that balance is still off. Cutting a large treat in half doesn’t mean the two halves are equal—hence our smaller-sized treats. Appropriate size is always important.

When we first introduced Bistro Bites in 2012, our approach called attention to obesity—particularly prevalent among smaller breeds. In just the past year, you can see how much the conversation has centered around pet obesity. By continuing to expand our partner community, we leverage the combined knowledge of people who meet consumers every day and need to have the tools to answer their questions and ensure they make the best decisions for their pets.

Going forward, we will continue to look for underserved areas where we can take the Bistro Bites product line. Part of this is how we present our product to the consumer. Meaning, we give them the right amount of information so they can see clearly what is and is not included in our product. Reading the labels is important in what we decide to buy for ourselves to eat, and now it is what we see happening as people purchase products for their pets. By providing the tools to our partners, they in turn can help educate their customers to make an informed purchase that ultimately will keep their pets healthy and living longer. All these are key to our motto of providing healthy treats.

PI:  Please provide sales estimates for 2012/2013 or the most recent quarter—or a comment on sales trends if you do not share this information.

VP: We are trending upwards as we broaden our retailer partner community. Our expansion to date has been successful, as reflected in the fact that we are now available in 19 states, in 42 stores by 31 retailers. Our goal is to continue this growth into 2014, with the addition of distributor partnerships to assist us in not only penetrating new markets, but in expansion of the retailers we have in all states.

We started thoughtfully with Bistro Bites, and we will continue to grow with the right retailers hand-in-hand with strong distributors who encourage and complement our philosophy of consumer education. Right now we’re in 19 states, but naturally we would like to be available in every state, with a footprint across the entire country. Distributors can help us build depth in the markets where we’re already available and introduce us into new markets to bring Bistro Bites to all pet owners.

PI:  What is the outlook overall for the future of your company? Any projections or possible new directions?

VP: Continuing our growth, with Bistro Bites available in more new locations, our projection is expanding our reach, broader and more deeply into the US as we look toward eventually exporting our product.

As Bistro Bites gains more popularity with pet owners, learning what they need to help their pets stay healthy will be key in how we look to add new flavors, types and other new treats that are enjoyable to dogs and that their owners feel good about giving them.

PI:  What do you see as the key trends currently in the petfood and treat market? How is Bistro Bites responding to these trends? Any predictions for future trends?

VP: All-natural is the big push right now, but there are many ways that pet food and treats can be classified as all-natural. As the pet owner moves from reading the labels on the food they eat to reading the labels of the food they feed their pets, more attention will be paid to what "all natural" really means. Bistro Bites has always had clearly written labels as well as the ingredients we use, and will continue to lead this trend.

Other trends are being driven by how people treat food in their own lives as a holistic picture of what they need to remain healthy which will drive the trends in the pet industry. The categorization of food as a means of sustenance, with treats used as rewards or for special events, will result in healthier pets. Bistro Bites will continue to be there as the healthy treat for pet owners and hopefully we, as a company, can be a role model in consumer education about these trends to find ways for all our pets to lead longer and healthier lives.

PI:  Where do you see your biggest opportunities?

VP: Continuing to grow our retail partner network will help get Bistro Bites into more pet owners’ hands, and forming partnerships with distributors will help us increase our footprint exponentially.

As we continue to grow within the US, especially in partnership with distributors, we also look towards exporting Bistro Bites. Based on conversations at trade shows in 2013, there is a strong demand for the healthy ingredients found in our product in many markets outside of the US. We will expand into future markets using the same thoughtful approach as we have to date. Educating ourselves about how best to bring Bistro Bites to a specific market and then finding the right partners will be how we proceed. It has proven to work and brings the most value in getting our Bistro Bites to the dogs who love them.

PI:  How would you evaluate the current state of the petfood and treat industry?

VP:  Keeping in mind the billions of dollars spent on pets every year, the current petfood and treat markets are very robust, and open to newcomers such as Bistro Bites. One reason is that the sourcing and production of both food and treats are coming under more scrutiny. Combine this with a desire to provide more support for local products that are all-natural, the overall industry is growing and moving to meet the needs and demands of the pet owner/consumer.

PI:  What predictions do you have for the petfood industry? What big changes do you foresee in the coming years?

VP: As with every consumable market, the petfood industry is growing and changing to meet the demands of the consumer. More and more pet owner consumers are conscious of what they themselves are eating. Label reading has created a petfood customer who questions ingredients s/he doesn’t know. The industry is responding by using more natural and wholesome ingredients, and creating easier-to-read labels.

The petfood industry has the ability to make the changes which will help as better educated consumers will want foods and treats that they themselves would eat. Bistro Bites was created with the educated pet owner in mind and will continue to work with our partners to meet the future needs of the pet owner.

PI:  What are some of the recent noteworthy accomplishments of your petfood company?

VP: We just celebrated our first anniversary of Bistro Bites with a fantastic new cadre of retail partners who recently joined at the Total Pet Expo.

We have had conversations with distributors who are interested in working with us to bring Bistro Bites into more markets and help us to serve our retail partners better. We are excited about these conversations and are hopeful about additional announcements before the end of the calendar year.

PI: How has your company changed over the past several years?

VP: Our initial strategy was selling directly to the pet owner/consumer via the Internet. We found that consumers generally look to the Internet for products they know at discounted prices, which is not what Bistro Bites is about. As we became more educated, it was clear that building partnerships with retailers and educating them on the value of our product was the right growth approach. We have spent the past year developing more awareness of Bistro Bites through these partnerships. We are now positioned as a more mature company to bring Bistro Bites to a much larger audience through the addition of distributor partners. Focusing on those who share our values in educating the customer are the distributors with whom we want to be talking.

PI: What are some of your most difficult challenges? In other words, what keeps you awake at night?

VP: Finding the right companies to work with is our focus right now as we build upon the base we created during our first year of having Bistro Bites on the market. While many companies are interested in us, we are rigidly adhering to our plan to grow with distributors and retailers who bring value products to their customers. As a new product in the market it is too early for us to go through wholesale channels as we don't want to undercut our valued retail partners.

Building our partner community and bringing value to our customers through education have been key for us. We are constantly looking for ways to increase the communication among ourselves, our partners and pet owners with relevant and timely information. This communication helps us understand what is on the minds of pet owners, so as we develop new products in the Bistro Bites line, we continue to offer what the customers want. We don't want to become just another dog treat but serve as true partners in all aspects.

PI: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your company?

VP: Starting with trying to fill the gap in the market for size-appropriate treats for small dogs, we developed Bistro Bites utilizing a network of dogs (large—yes, large—and of course small) up and down the East Coast who would receive the current batch with a sheet on which to score the product. You can certainly imagine the good as well as the bad treats we developed along the way. The one constant was Yoshi. Being my dog, he had access to everything well before any dog did and I learned very quickly (after spending hours making a recipe) not to go through with making a recipe if Yoshi didn't like the dough! The point here is we knew, well before any product hit the shelves, that dogs would love our healthy treats. So strongly do we believe in our treats that everyone on the team has had at least one biscuit so we all can say "we've eaten our own dog treat"!

I’m confident that with Bistro Bites, we have created a treat that is good for your dog and good for you. Have a Berries & Almonds with your afternoon espresso!

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