James Bello was a corporate food buyer for Target for over a decade, witnessing first-hand the vast amounts of food being thrown away every year by not only retailers, but also food and beverage processors. The more he saw, the more he knew he wanted his first entrepreneurial endeavor to tackle a growing problem that amounts to 63 million metric tons of tossed out food each year in the U.S. alone.
During dinner one night, Bello had a lightbulb moment while watching his Puggle Mina try to negotiate some table scraps for herself — he could rescue unused ingredients and turn them into healthy dog treats. Serendipitously, at a startup event in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, he met Alex Waite, who also shared a passion for the environment, was a dog lover and happened to be a food scientist. She was on board and they got to work.
“These products were developed at home in my kitchen with my taste testers Madison (Waite’s Yorkshire Terrier) and Mina,” says Waite, who formerly served as director of R&D at Mary’s Gone Crackers. “It’s important that the dogs have a balance of good fiber, healthy fat, nutrients and a little bit of sweetness. We use upcycled ingredients, but no unhealthy fillers or other ingredients that don’t provide any benefits.”
The first four products created are all natural, grain free and boosted with superfoods to provide health benefits while utilizing upcycled ingredients. The treats are soft-baked and relatively small to accommodate dogs of all breeds, sizes and those with teeth issues or few teeth. The upcycled ingredients come in powdered form and are then added to the recipes. In October 2018, Bello and Waite launched their brand with regional retailers, and Shameless Pets was born.
Shameless Pets’ product line includes dog treats made with upcycled ingredients such as egg shell powder (from liquid egg production), minced lobster and shell (from tail/claw processing) and Brussel sprouts (from leaves and off-sized pieces). | Photo courtesy Shameless Pets
Establishing and building the brand
There are currently four treats available, and Shameless has plans for significant expansion in 2020, going nationwide and launching at least five new flavors.
“The first four products include Lobster Roll (Over) made with lobster shells, which provide a natural source of glucosamine for joint and hip health; Break an Egg, made with calcium-rich egg shells for bone health as well as cheese and undersized brussels sprouts; Applenoon Delight, made with ugly apples and pulp for an antioxidant boost; and Blueberried Treasure, made with ugly fruit (which also offers a powerful antioxidant boost),” says Bello.
Everything in the company’s future plans revolves around its mission: fight food waste through sustainable upcycling.
“We are different in that we work with farmers and food processors for otherwise discarded ingredients that can be used for healthy, tasty dog treats that fall in line with trending ‘human’ foods as well,” says Bello. “As far as our fun product names and playful packaging with pops of bright color, what we are doing there is just to build a fun brand that is approachable to everyone. You don’t need to know what upcycling is to follow the brand, but by purchasing our products, you are not only providing your pet with a nutritious treat, but also helping save the environment.”
Shameless works closely with the company’s providers to ensure food safety standards and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans at all stages of processing, including the transfer of discarded byproduct. And in looking for potential new ingredients to focus on, Shameless turns to an obvious source — dog owners themselves. Bello and Waite have been connecting with dog owners everywhere to better understand the specific ingredients dogs like. Once they hear the ingredient, they say, they’re off and running to develop an upcycled supply chain to rescue that ingredient and turn it into a treat.
Accomplishments and first-year growth
Shameless has gained plenty of recognition for its unique idea in formulating dog treats. The company was a finalist for Nestlé Purina’s 2019 Pet Care Innovation Prize, and in March 2019 was selected as a cohort member of Leap Venture Studio, a startup-centric organization for the pet industry. Shameless was also selected as one of the 15 startup company participants in September 2019’s FoodBytes! Chicago, a live pitch and networking platform hosted by global food and agriculture bank Rabobank, was tapped to participate in Rabobank’s Terra accelerator program, and was nominated as a finalist for the Pet Innovation Challenge, another pitching competition for startups sponsored by the Factory and the New Hope Network, an organization that supports businesses in the natural products industry.
All of this attention provides exposure, which has only helped the company grow in its first year.
“Our biggest opportunity is just getting the word out on what we’re doing to be able to grow our network of food processors and ingredients suppliers to continue to build an upcycling supply chain for ourselves and others,” says Bello. “We continue to look to partner with retailers who want to stand behind our brand, and we are building our relationships with farmers and food processors to grow the upcycling supply chain that will help us launch new products, and that could potentially help other human and pet food manufactures. We also continue to work on building consumer awareness and education about food waste and upcycling.”
The future of Shameless Pets
With 2020 on the horizon, Bello says sales tractions are looking good and the word is continuing to get out about the company’s mission and goals.
“We are really excited to be brand new to the pet food industry, and we see a ton of growth opportunities in this industry,” says Bello. “The fact that so many other companies are so passionate about pets and their parents makes us very enthusiastic about being a part of this community. So far, we have had a very positive response from retailers and consumers, so we’re excited to continue our partnerships and growth.”
Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Officers: James Bello and Alex Waite, co-founders
Brands: Shameless Pets
Website/Social Media: www.shamelesspets.com; ourshamelesspets on Facebook, @shamelesspets on Twitter and Instagram
Notable: By the end of 2020, Shameless Pets will have rescued 150,000 pounds of food. The company has already rescued roughly 25,000 pounds of food.