The pet food trends to look out for in 2022 should come as no surprise: sustainability, corporate responsibility and the ability to really speak to pet owners on their level will be the hallmarks of success in the next year. Enter Petaluma, founded in 2019 and officially launched as a brand in 2021 with its first product, an oven-baked, meat-free dog food for adult dogs. Petaluma’s on a mission to bring sustainable practices to pet nutrition and lessen the animal welfare burden of conventional meat-based products.
“We founded Petaluma because we felt that most pet foods forced us to choose between quality nutrition and environmental sustainability,” says Co-founder Garrett Wymore (Caroline Buck is the company’s other co-founder). “The widespread and continued reliance upon factory-farmed animal protein presents very real ethical and environmental issues at a large scale. We are excited to offer pet owners more compassionate alternatives that use far less land, water and greenhouse gas emissions.”
It’s a plan right on par with what premium and superpremium pet food customers are looking for in the pet food business they bring into their animals’ lives, and while Petaluma’s roasted peanut butter & sweet potato dog food has only been available since June 2021, so far it’s also a plan customers are responding to.
Gaining trust from the start: succeeding in the first year
Transparency is another keyword for 2022, and Petaluma has made a point of following the path of openness with its customers from the start.
“We strive to be a trusted, evidence-based company known for high-quality nutrition that’s better for dogs, the planet and people,” says Wymore. “We know that trust is built on transparency, and that means regularly evaluating and publishing our test results, full nutritional panels and carbon emissions. We are inspired by companies like (clothing company) Patagonia that have deep commitments to environmental and social causes while maintaining integrity around product quality.”
In fact, Petaluma launched as a Climate Neutral Certified company, which means that the company’s environmental footprint is annually measured and fully offset. It’s a move Wymore believes will set his company up for long-term success.
“We think new, purpose-driven brands are best positioned to serve the growing segment of consumers interested in reducing their households’ environmental impact and improving animal welfare,” he says. “We benefit from the ability to incorporate sustainability into our product development from the earliest stages rather than retrofit existing product lines. We can communicate clearly and unequivocally about our products’ sustainability goals and values, which can be more difficult when trying to serve broad (and often conflicting) feeding philosophies.”
Of course, conducting R&D and then launching a brand during a pandemic has presented some unique challenges the co-founders couldn’t have anticipated when they started the company, so every success so far has been one worth celebrating.
“We are most proud of being able to successfully bring a good product to market as a small startup up against industry-wide supply chain constraints,” says Wymore. “Each positive customer review has been validation for the delays and manufacturing challenges required to release a product we’re proud of. We are still in the early days and are only available through a couple of eCommerce channels, but we are most excited with the loyalty of our customer base. Almost three-quarters of our customers become regular subscribers. We are grateful to build direct, long-term relationships with our early customers and to see that retention build month over month.
“We are also excited that the majority of our customers are transitioning from traditional meat-inclusive diets,” he says. “We hope to create a broader movement around sustainability in pet nutrition and are happy to see that our diet is resonating with dog owners that have not previously considered a meat-free diet.”
Customer awareness and education: changing the message
As a company focusing on meat-free dog diets, Wymore says they are well aware of the trend’s somewhat debated place in the pet food landscape.
“We appreciate that plant-based canine nutrition is, to put it lightly, controversial,” he says. “We know there’s a long road ahead for folks to get comfortable with meatless diets, and that some people will never choose it. We remain optimistic that, much like human nutrition, a broader awareness of the grim reality of factory-farming and human-accelerated climate change will prompt people to reexamine what they purchase and why. We are optimistic that we can serve a growing market of consumers who want to reduce their footprint and improve animal welfare, regardless of whether they themselves consume animal products.”
As with any new direction, one of the main challenges is being heard as a different voice in a well-established market.
“Our greatest challenge is decades of advertising that equates dogs to wolves and places a singular focus on meat as the essential ingredient,” says Wymore. “Increasing the amount or quality of meat has been the primary lever for competitive differentiation, and that arms race has created strongly held conventional wisdom about dogs’ biological needs. We are eager to tell the more accurate (and interesting) story of dogs’ co-evolution with humans as they transitioned from the wild to our homes and that journey’s impact on their dietary requirements.”
Academic resources, a transparent nutritional philosophy and research are the tools Petaluma has chosen to successfully grow in the market, but Wymore says that consumers’ own changing perspectives will help just as much.
“Petaluma will benefit from the growing desire to reduce meat consumption stemming from concerns about climate change and the welfare abuses of factory farms,” Wymore says. “While we’re hesitant to apply human nutritional trends to dogs given the different dietary requirements, we believe the desire to consume more sustainable and humane food is broadly applicable and here to stay. We can apply sustainability and compassion as a blueprint to craft species-appropriate diets that will differ from human food solutions but accomplish similar goals.”
The near (and far) future of Petaluma
For a company that has been on the market for less than a year, Petaluma has big plans for 2022.
“We primarily acquire customers through our website and we will continue to focus on building direct customer relationships,” says Wymore. “We currently have new products in development and plan to expand our product offering in the first half of  to include life stage formulas, treats and maybe a few other surprises.”
The company intends to continue to stay on top of shifting customer trends, whether that means finding them where they’re shopping (e.g., e-commerce) or meeting their expectations (e.g., sustainable products and responsible production).
“The last few years have dramatically shifted consumer behaviors and expectations around how and where they buy,” says Wymore. “We intend to continue meeting customers where they are online and in select retail environments where we’re able to tell a richer story about why our products exist. We believe that building a strong online presence is going to be a critical factor to success offline as well.
“Consumers are becoming more aware of greenwashing tactics and are demanding meaningful sustainability improvements,” he says. “We don’t think it will be good enough for the growing cohort of sustainability-minded shoppers that their dog food bag is low plastic or plants a tree for every bag sold. We believe consumers will want more substantive changes in their core product offering, and we expect that the industry at large will need to come to terms with its role and purchasing powering in our broader agricultural system.”
Headquarters: Oakland, California, USA
Officers: Garrett Wymore, co-founder and CEO; Caroline Buck, co-founder and CMO
Website/Social Media: www.feedpetaluma.com; @feedpetaluma on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Notable: Garrett and Caroline are co-founders and also co-parents to two very spoiled rescue dogs, Leo and Oscar. They are getting married in the summer of 2022.