Sojos succeeding in raw petfood market

As specialized petfood diets become increasingly important to consumers, this company maintains focus in the raw/fresh/frozen niche.

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Sojos Owners

Sojos was founded in 1985 with flagship product Sojos Original, a blend of grains and other whole ingredients that pet owners combined with meat and water to create their own fresh, homemade petfood. Two Michigan entrepreneurs created the premix based on the teachings of the “grandmother of herbal medicine” Juliette de Bairacli Levy, and soon expanded into pet treats. In 1996, Ward Johnson, the manager of Minnesota-based holistic practice The Uptown Veterinarian, saw that Sojos was for sale. During his time at Uptown, he’d seen positive results in dogs fed Sojos, and he decided the opportunity was too good to pass up. Today, Johnson and his wife Maggie own the company and continue to expand its presence in the raw, fresh and frozen petfood world.

“Sojos is in the business of transforming the lives of pets,” says Johnson. “We do that by making it easy for pet parents to feed naturally nutrient-rich, raw food. In many ways, we occupy the sweet spot between the awesome taste and nutrition of raw and the convenience of kibble—all in a safe, affordable, completely uncompromised food.” That sweet spot has paid off—according to Johnson, Sojos’ year-over-year sales have historically grown over 30%, and show no sign of slowing down.

Much of that growth  comes from keeping an ear to the ground of petfood trends. “In 2007, the widespread [petfood] recalls alerted mainstream pet owners to the importance of making more informed petfood choices,” says Johnson. “That was the backdrop when we introduced Sojos Complete. It made feeding Sojos even more convenient by including raw, freeze-dried meat in the recipe.”

The company says it also owes its success to the growing acceptance of pets as full-fledged members of the family. “It’s led to greater and greater demand for dog and cat foods made with the assurance of human-grade ingredients—and the same kind of care and quality pet parents put into their own meals,” says Johnson. In March 2014 the company introduced Sojos Complete Lamb recipe as well as Sojos Simply Meat freeze-dried all-meat dog treats. Both have been successful, and in March 2015 Sojos launched a new ultra-premium dog food called Sojos Wild. “The line will include raw, freeze-dried venison, wild boar and wild-caught salmon as the number one ingredient,” says Johnson. “Like the Sojos Complete line, it’s shelf-stable and easy to prepare, with none of the natural nutrients cooked out. Pet parents just add water, soak and serve.”

Business growth has meant some significant expansion at Sojos. “In the last few years, we’ve built a national sales team with reps on the ground across all of North America,” says Johnson. “That’s given our retailers and distributors the support they need to successfully drive home our message.” The biggest change, says the company, is the emergence of a strong senior leadership team. “I think it’s second to none,” says Johnson. “Our director of operations is a master of food safety, having cut his teeth in human food plant operations. Our CMO has a vast history of building brands—everything from petfood to Harley Davidson motorcycles. And our national sales manager has over 19 years of experience in the pet industry. 

“On the production side, we’ve built a state-of-the-art freeze-drying facility with the capacity to support our growth for years to come,” he says. “And with the assistance of professors at the University of Minnesota’s Food Sciences department, we’ve developed a patent-pending sterilization technique that effectively eliminates foodborne pathogens without cooking, HPP or irradiation. As a result, companion animals can safely enjoy all the aroma and taste of raw meat, as well as the inherent nutrients and enzymes that make it so healthy.”

With such expansion across  the board, where is Sojos focusing its attention in order to capitalize on market opportunities? “The market is now flooded with natural kibble brands,” says Johnson. “And big box pet specialty retailers offer most, if not all of them. That said, we believe smaller, independent retailers have a great opportunity to distinguish themselves by introducing their customers to the benefits of raw/frozen/dehydrated alternative foods. Once pet parents see the transformative results, they not only become loyal to the brand, but to the store that took the time to educate them.

“For decades, kibble has dominated the petfood category because of its convenience and perceived cost advantage,” he says. “But now we’re seeing alternative foods occupy more and more real estate in pet specialty. And with greater presence, there’s greater awareness that quality shelf-stable raw foods are not only convenient and cost-effective—they offer a much more natural way to feed your pet. That said, I don’t think there’s any doubt that quality alternative foods, like Sojos, are going to continue growing by leaps and bounds.”

And the company’s overarching goal? Staying focused on pets and the people who love them. “We’re going to continue transforming the lives of pets by building greater awareness of Sojos’ easy, convenient alternative foods and treats—and by keeping our focus on the independent pet specialty channel,” says Johnson. “There’s clear evidence that nothing compares to the natural nutrition in raw, so we’ll continue doing everything we can to make raw food more and more accessible to pet parents.”

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Just the Facts

Headquarters: 2300 Kennedy Street NE, Suite 110, Minneapolis, MN, 55413 USA

Facilities: 2

Officers: Ward Johnson, Maggie Johnson

Sales: 30%+ growth year-to-year

Brands: Sojos, Sojos Wild, Good Dog

Distribution: North America, South America, Asia

Employees: 50+


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