How pet food companies are giving back to pets, people

These new pet treat companies are taking their brands and using them to benefit pet and human communities alike.

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With consumer awareness at an all-time high, pet food brands can benefit from charitable efforts in their communities. | Courtesy K9 Salute
With consumer awareness at an all-time high, pet food brands can benefit from charitable efforts in their communities. | Courtesy K9 Salute

Businesses aligning their brands with various causes and charities is nothing new. But the pet food industry, with its dual goals of meeting human pet owner needs and providing the best products possible for the benefit of those pets, is in a unique position to do good on several fronts. Getting involved with pet adoptions, working with shelters and rescues, spearheading various animal health initiatives, helping communities continue to care for their pets after natural disasters, and working to connect people in need with service animals are just some of the ways the industry gets involved on the human and animal sides of things.

Consumers seem to agree with the importance of their pet brands participating in philanthropic efforts. According to Packaged Facts data, the percentage of people who say a brand’s charitable efforts play a significant role in their purchasing decisions has steadily increased since 2014 (see Table 1). In 2016, 17 percent of people surveyed said they “strongly agree” with the statement that “the participation by pet product brands in pet welfare and rescue causes and events plays a significant role in which brands I buy,” while another 27 percent said they “somewhat agree” with the same statement.

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TABLE 1: A significant number of pet product purchasers take brands’ philanthropic endeavors into account when considering what products to buy. Here, survey-takers responded with their level of agreement with the statement, “The participation by pet product brands in pet welfare and rescue causes and events plays a significant role in which brands I buy."

Charitable work is also a good way to connect with consumers on their level, as they continue to get more involved, as well: in 2016, 33 percent of dog owners and 35 percent of cat owners told Packaged Facts they contribute time or money to pet welfare or rescue causes. These numbers are up significantly from just a year ago; in 2015, 27 percent of dog owners and 27 percent of cat owners said the same.

GivePet: Sharing infinite love

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Chris Dennis has been in the premium pet food business for 16 years, a career that has given him the opportunity to work with many different animal shelters and rescues. He decided he was in a place to do more, and in May 2016 he founded GivePet, a specialty pet treat company that gives a portion of its profits back to partner shelters. “What I really like about it—and what the customers like—is that it’s tangible; every time they purchase a bag, I give them 10 treats to give back to a shelter or rescue in their community,” said Dennis. “So it makes an impact locally, and whether you’re in Plano, Texas, or Minneapolis, Minnesota, you’re giving back to rescues probably within a three-to-five-mile radius of a retail account.”

GivePet’s distributor is American Distribution and Manufacturing Company (ADMC), located in Minneapolis and with a reach that extends to 14 different states. “I’m kind of in a big footprint right off the bat,” said Dennis. “They distribute from Minneapolis down to Texas, down that whole center band of the US. And I really want to expand in every direction from there, one region at a time. In 2017, I’d like to add to distribution and maybe an additional 10–15 states.”

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For every bag of GivePet treats a consumer buys, enough treats are donated for at least 10 shelter dogs. | Courtesy GivePet LLC

Philanthropy in the pet food industry is a win for everyone, according to Dennis. “The reason why I did this is because I thought, there’s so much focus on profitability" in the industry, he said. “But the people who needed help the most — shelters and rescues — weren’t benefiting enough from a wonderful industry. And they deserve to.” But in the triangle partnership of industry/consumer/shelter, everyone comes out on top, said Dennis. Retailers have a talking point with their consumers when it comes to products. Product gets sold to charitably minded consumers, who are aware of the product’s benefits to shelters and rescues. Consumers spread the word about the products and the shelters, and perhaps make a rescue visit themselves. And the shelters can partner with the retailers and the products for more exposure, while the retailers and products become connected with the shelter names. “All three build each other’s brands,” said Dennis.

K9 Salute: Honoring warrior and service dogs

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K9 Salute LLC was founded by Jessica Harris, a retired combat medic with the US National Guard, as a way to honor K-9s serving in all capacities (military, law enforcement, fire, search and rescue, and service dogs), and to give back to the veteran and police K-9 communities. “I started to get the idea around January (2016),” said Harris. “By the end of January, there had been eight K-9s killed in the line of duty—just in that one month.” Recently laid off from her first job post-retirement from the National Guard, Harris started looking for ways to turn what she felt passionate about into a career.

She had considered making dog treats in the past, but wanted to combine them with something more—so, K9 Salute was born. “The first idea that came to me was to feature fallen K-9s on the treat packages,” said Harris. “I started contacting police departments around the country of dogs that had been killed this year, and getting permission from them. As I started developing recipes and making treats, I wanted to bring it full circle with fellow veterans. So I thought, well, what better people to source my ingredients from than veterans who are farming now? And living in North Carolina, there are so many available. I developed a network and community of people, and now I’m able to source my ingredients from veterans.”

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Jessica Harris, here with her Bullmastiff Tilly (vice president of quality control), founded K9 Salute as a way to combine her love for dogs and veterans into a way to give back to both. | Courtesy K9 Salute

K9 Salutes got off the ground in May 2016, and Harris is working with a local nonprofit in Durham, North Carolina, called Vets to Vets United Inc., that rescues shelter dogs and trains them to be service dogs for veterans. She makes monetary donations as well as donations of her treats to help motivate the dogs during their service training, and she said she hopes to expand K9 Salutes quickly in order to make a larger impact—in 2017, she wants to begin purchasing ballistic vests for police K-9s.

ResQ Naturals: Supporting second chances

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ResQ Naturals is the newest brand of pet treats from Rush Direct Inc., a company founded in 2003 with a business model focusing on integrity and fairness. Those tenets naturally expanded to the company’s philanthropic efforts, and the new brand aims to help support animal rescue organizations to provide second chances for dogs and cats in need of a loving, permanent home.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but it really came to fruition in March or April of this year (2016),” said Bruce Flantzer, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Rush. “Everybody talks about donating to this or that, but I thought, let’s put it in a name. Let’s say what we’re going to do right in the name of the product, instead of just talking about it or claiming it on the back of a package. Having it in the name gets an immediate reaction from consumers and rescue groups—they know it’s a product line that’s going to talk the talk and walk the walk.”

So far, ResQ Naturals has partnered with organizations the company hopes have significant breadth to do the most good (such as Karma Rescue, a Santa Monica, California-based nonprofit dedicated to saving animals in need and finding them forever homes, and the Vanderpump Dog Foundation, founded by Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd—of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" fame—which aims to provide for a more humane world for dogs worldwide). “We’re really going to establish the brand,” said Flantzer. “It looks good on the shelf and it’s a good quality product. We’re bringing some unique formulations on dental products; we’re even doing cat products. We feel pretty confident with the lineup—almost 30 products.”

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ResQ Naturals is the newest brand of pet treats from Rush Direct Inc., aiming to help support animal rescue organizations. | Courtesy ResQ Naturals

The brand is due for a national release in the next couple of months. “We’re hoping to launch the product successfully and give money back—to the industry, to the rescues,” said Flantzer. “We feel that if the consumer sees our products, they’ll pay a little bit more because they’ll know the money goes back into the industry and gives back to rescues. We’re hoping to make a really big impact out there, and show that we’re doing what we say we do.”


Learn more about GivePet, K9 Salute and ResQ Naturals


More charity in the pet food industry

Fromm Family Foods:

Global Pet Foods:

Nestlé Purina:

Woof Gang Bakery:

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