PetPlate Founder Renaldo Webb says he supposes he could claim foreknowledge of the way pet food trends would go when he started his subscription-based, human-grade fresh-cooked pet food company in 2016, but the truth is far more mundane.
“I had a dog that had a very sensitive stomach, and by happenstance at the time I was a consultant at some of the leading private equity firms in the world and worked with a bunch of pet food companies,” he says. “So over time I was able to position that — Oh, my dog for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be doing as well as other dogs on kibble — and then I was on factory floors seeing the different ingredients that were used [in pet food]. I started cooking for my dog under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist, and that really helped the lightbulb go off: There are pet parents out there where, for whatever reason, their dogs would have a need for human-grade fresh-cooked type of product, or they’d prefer to feed that to their pets. That was really the motivation for PetPlate.”
From NYC to nationwide
Initially, says Webb, PetPlate was “very much a local business in New York City.” He was making food (with the continued help of a veterinary nutritionist) and delivering it to customers in New York. Somewhat to his surprise, interest continued to grow and there was a lot of excitement around his product offerings. A late 2016 appearance on the American business reality television series Shark Tank (season 8, episode 10; aired December 2, 2016) boosted the fledgling company’s business further, and PetPlate went nationwide in 2017.
“We’ve carved out a space for ourselves in this industry just given our packaging and our unique take on products and personalization,” says Webb. “We’ve worked very closely with the veterinary nutritionist to formulate all our meals and guide us from a veterinary standpoint, and I think what customers like most about PetPlate is not only the ingredients and the subscription aspect, etc., we just think about pet food a little bit differently.”
The company’s current offerings include recipes Barkin’ Beef, Chompin’ Chicken, Tail Waggin’ Turkey, Lip Lickin’ Lamb, Power Packed Pork and Lean & Mean Venison, as well as treats Chicken Apple Sausage Bites, Tummy Ticklin’ Digestive Cookies and Join Jumpin’ Mobility Cookies. The line has been built with an eye toward both what pets need and what customers have asked for over the years.
“As we launched the business, for the longest time we’d see people reach out to say oh, I’d love to feed my dog something like this but they need a low sodium diet, or a low fat diet, or a high protein diet,” says Webb. “We saw a variety of different requests coming in from customers that our general meals might have been good for, but they weren’t really dialed into addressing that specific need. So I think we just answered what our potential customers were asking for. We really focused on making these diets AAFCO (Association for American Feed Control Officials) complete and balanced for growth and maintenance, but really fine-tuning them in certain ways so customers looking for specific things can find them.”
There’s an extra layer of responsibility when dealing with customers as directly as a company working on a subscription model does, and Webb says it’s been very helpful in terms of crafting a business that meets the needs of pets in the ways PetPlate aims to.
“We’re about 45 people full time, and the largest team at PetPlate is our customer service team,” says Webb. “That’s because of the volume of questions and requests we get from our customers, but additionally we want to be proactive in reaching out to them and making sure they’re having a good experience. With that comes feedback, and you don’t ask for feedback unless you intend to respond to it, so we just made that part of our company philosophy and core beliefs. We see every reorder, every cancellation, every skipped box and all the reasons for it. People are directly, whether it’s through email or actions they’re taking on our website, telling us what they think of what we’re doing.”
Human food trends in a pet food model
Part of PetPlate’s vision involves leaning into the fact that pet food trends, particularly in the premium segment, follow many trends in the human food space.
“We look at the pet food industry as slightly lagging behind the human food industry,” says Webb. “It’s really being driven by the humanization of pets. Right now [for example] I feel like the pet food market is in a natural transitioning into the organic space. I don’t know if that’s to say all pet food will eventually be organic, but I do see fresh cooked and human grade being the next stepping stone for the gradual evolution of pet food — how we think about feeding our pets and how we think about nutrition for them.
“It’s taken a little while for it to translate to our pets, but I think most people have made that journey of slowly making healthier choices for themselves,” he says. “Whether it’s toppers or fully transitioning to human-grade food or organic treats, we’re seeing customers get really excited about that transition. I think it’s nascent, kind of the next evolution of the better-for-you movement. Where we’ll go post — that is going to be up to companies like PetPlate to listen to customers and evolve with their demands.”
Keys to success and the future of PetPlate
Customer communication and growth are the keys to PetPlate’s future plans.
“In this modern world where people have so much information at their fingertips, if you’re not as a company going to be willing to address questions and concerns and get ahead of it, people are going to find their answers elsewhere,” says Webb. “It’s really almost like a business preservation/retention strategy to be able to talk directly to your customers, understand their questions or concerns or excitement and respond directly to that. I think it’s an amazing benefit to the direct-to-consumer (DTC) model.”
Naturally, product line expansions are on the horizon.
“Some of the things we’ll be focusing on this year are expanding our lines of organic treats and supplements, and making sure that we’re introducing human-grade concepts to standard product categories,” says Webb. “Whether it’s dental sticks or bone broths, I think a lot of pet products out there deserve the PetPlate take on it. We’re also going to be looking at how we can expand the human-grade food as a complete diet into other formats that might be more convenient to pet parents outside of the current fresh/frozen model we’ve historically had.”
Whatever PetPlate does, the main goal is to take care of pets and their people.
“At the end of the day we do a lot just to make sure pet parents don’t have to think or worry as hard about their pet’s nutrition and can just have fun with their dogs,” says Webb.
Headquarters: New York, New York, USA
Officers: Gertrude Allen, CEO; Renaldo Webb, founder and chief product officer; Stephen Lamberton, CFO; Jason Sussman, COO; Matt Sherman, senior vice president of the brand; Sarmad Sarghir, senior vice president of growth; George Korsnick, CTO
Website/Social Media: www.petplate.com; @petplate on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok
Notable: Renaldo started by delivering food around New York City on his bicycle before hiring local bike messengers to carry the load. The company now has a sophisticated multipoint distribution network that reaches the majority of America in 24 hours.