A Pup Above in its current form has existed since the company’s rebranding in late 2020, but the company’s mission was launched in May 2018 under the name Grocery Pup by Co-founders Ruth (also the CEO) and Javier (also the president) Marriott. When Petfood Industry magazine profiled them in February 2019, the Austin, Texas, USA-based Grocery Pup had a solid online/subscription-based business and had just entered its first brick-and-mortar store. Now, three years later, a lot has changed for the company and its human-grade, sous-vide cooked dog food formulas.
Rebranding and expanding
Rebranding is a big step for any company, especially when it involves a name change, but the Marriotts decided they needed a better way to tell their story.
“In late 2020, we rebranded to A Pup Above from Grocery Pup,” says Ruth. “We rebranded to better tell the story of who customers are buying from. The A Pup Above logo is the face of our pup Lola Marie — a five-year-old Pomsky (Pomeranian Husky mix) — who is the inspiration for the company. The name itself refers to our commitment to go above and beyond to deliver the best products in the market in terms of flavor, nutrition and health benefits. The bottom line is, if Lola Marie doesn’t like it or we don’t feel good about the ingredients, we won’t make it. Lola has to be the pickiest pup in the world so making products she approves of is no easy feat and we love the challenge.”
The message must be getting through, because in early 2021 A Pup Above gained national distribution through Animal Supply and is now available in over 1,000 independent pet stores all over the United States, including Mud Bay, Hollywood Feed, Pet Supplies Plus, Tomlinson’s Feed, Healthy Spot, Pet People and Bentley’s Pet Stuff.
Of course, trying to expand in the middle of a pandemic has had its challenges, but persistence seems to have been the key to success.
“Basically we just needed to get out there and talk to retailers that were open and willing to talk with us,” says Javier. “Just really reaching out and saying look, we have a really great product, and this is how we’re different from all the direct-to-consumer brands.”
One of A Pup Above’s main points of differentiation is that it’s available in physical stores, where a lot of gently cooked pet food companies use direct-to-consumer models and exclusive online subscriptions.
“[In 2022], we’ve expanded our regional distribution network to have dual distribution in every territory to better support independent pet retailers,” says Ruth. “As of now, we have distribution with Independent Pet Supply, Middle West, Rio Grande, Southeast Pet and Frontier Distribution, and are expecting to on-board three to four new regional distributors very soon. By the end of the year, we expect to be in 2,500+ independent pet stores.”
Connecting with retailers and customers has been a significant strategy of A Pup Above, in part due to the flip side of the massive online shopping growth the industry has seen in the last couple of years.
“One of the things that has happened in the last year or so is, yes, online has really boomed, but we also see this movement of shopping local matters,” says Javier. “Supporting the local community matters. And that’s where we come in. Look, we have this product, there are tons of online companies targeting your customer base [as a retailer] and you don’t have anything to offer because you only want to sell raw. And to be clear, we are not suggesting that gently cooked is better than raw, what we’re saying is there’s a huge market out there that isn’t ready to go raw, there’s a huge market out there where a raw diet is too rich for the dog, and there’s a market where some dogs just don’t like raw.” A Pup Above wants to provide options.
Retailers as partners in brand growth
From 2019 to 2020, A Pup Above grew by 350%. From 2020 to 2021, during their rebranding, the company grew another 400%. And by the time 2022 is over, Ruth says they expect the company to grow another 400%. To what do they attribute their significant growth and success? Independent pet retailer partnerships, an amazing sales team and, of course, a great product.
“Gently cooked is a new category so it’s important that we have partners like independent pet stores who are passionate about educating their customers on nutrition and the benefits of fresh food,” says Ruth. “The gently cooked category has seen tremendous growth over the past few years, driven by the humanization of dogs and a desire by pet parents to feed their pups food that mirrors what they would feed themselves. Customers who go for gently cooked often want a fresh/frozen option but don't want to go with raw due to a variety of reasons (e.g., not comfortable with it, dog doesn't like it, etc.). We’re excited to see the tremendous shift in demand by consumers for fresh food. We’re also excited that independent pet retailers have been supportive of the category by investing in frozen infrastructure. This has made gently cooked more accessible to the pet parent in stores where they regularly shop.”
The company even provides direct training for retail employees so they can learn all about the products, frequently asked customer questions, common nutritional questions and the types of pet parents who are a good fit for A Pup Above’s food. Modules are available on the company website, including Level 1 (information on fresh pet food, the sous-vide cooking method and formulation specifics) and Level 2 (customer service tips and solutions).
Opportunities for growth and a future in pet wellness
Fresh pet food is a niche but growing segment in pet food, and the co-founders of A Pup Above see no reason why the category shouldn’t maintain its momentum.
“The growing humanization of pets continues to accelerate the growing demand for fresh, less processed, better-for-your-pup foods,” says Ruth. “This trend is causing a huge shift in customer demands for fresher foods and more transparent sourcing. We expect this shift to continue as more Gen Z and millennials adopt dogs and apply their own preferences for better-for-you-food products to their dogs’ diets.”
While the company may have rebranded, Ruth says their mission to create the most nutritious, delicious dog foods remains the same.
“A Pup Above was founded with a long-term vision of being a dog wellness company,” she says. “Over the next couple of years, we will keep pushing the envelope, bringing to the industry new innovations that are meant to improve the lives of our dogs through better-for-your-pup food options.”
Headquarters: Austin, Texas, USA
Officers: Ruth Marriott, CEO and co-founder; Javier Marriott, president and co-founder; Brian Levy, chief operations officer
Brand: A Pup Above
Website/Social Media: www.apupabove.com; @heyapupabove on Facebook; @apupabove on Instagram
Notable: The logo in A Pup Above is of our pup Lola, a 5-year-old Pomsky, who is the inspiration for the brand. We have so much fun and passion building a company with her to change dog food for good.
Global Pet Expo Booth: #258