How to craft a sustainable business model for pet food

During Petfood Forum this spring in Kansas City, Cindy James with Crafty Beasts Brewing will offer insights into creating a purpose-led venture with tips for staying true to your vision.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Cindy James developed Fetch as a sustainable, healthy, hydrating alternative treat pet owners can share with their dogs.
Cindy James developed Fetch as a sustainable, healthy, hydrating alternative treat pet owners can share with their dogs.
Crafty Beasts Brewing Co.

Cindy James, founder and CEO, wanted to meld two compassions together when she started Crafty Beasts Brewing Co.: the health and wellness of pets and sustaining the planet. From the very start, she knew her business was bigger than just creating a product as she forged a vision into its existence.

“When I started brewing dog beer in 2018, I embedded a purpose into our company,” said James. “That purpose was to create a product that would give back by using food waste, byproducts and upcycled ingredients as the foundation for our healthy, hydrating brews.

“Two things matter most to us: the health and wellness of the pets we serve and contributing to as many of the 17 UN Sustainability Goals as possible,” she added.

Crafty Beasts Brewing Co. offers Fetch, a 100% alcohol-free brew that is designed to be a source of essential minerals providing dogs with immune system and joint support as well as promoting digestion and a healthy gut. Fetch is a dog-friendly beverage -- not beer -- made of beef bone broth and other fresh ingredients such as carrot and apple. Fetch and its sister product, Unleashed, were designed to appeal to a dog’s palate. Unleashed is filled with vegetables and fruits like blueberries that can help hydrate and replenish your dog’s electrolytes.

Fetch’s ingredients are sourced from maritime farmers committed to diverting food waste. It can be found in various pet stores as well as dog-friendly taprooms throughout Canada.

Crafty Beasts born out of necessity to a challenge

James said Crafty Beasts was started as a solution to a challenge she encountered in her dog daycare business.

“With very little notice in 2018, I had to move the daycare within the city core,” she explained. “Dated zoning bylaws became a challenge in finding a new home for my business. I did manage to find a location with the caveat that we had to have a retail component to qualify for the zoning permit. Not wanting to divert too far from my primary revenue source and not having much space to allot to retail, I left the North American pet industry market and looked for something innovative in Europe.”   

James said the ideal retail product was something she could easily manage, had good margins and was unique. In her search she found dog beer at Monty’s Dog Bar located on a beach in Croatia. After contacting them via social media and doing some initial research, she got out her Instant Pot, bought some plastic “beer bottles” and created her own label, originally called Hair of the Dog.

“So Crafty Beasts was born out of necessity and as a solution to a problem,” James said.

Creating a pet treat company with purpose

As James experimented with the product and testing, she noted the questions customers were asking and realized having a clean label with healthy ingredients were a top priority.

“The pet parent is a very savvy consumer and is looking for clean labels with wellness included in the products that they serve their pets,” James explained. “Our marketing research has identified our main customer as the Instagram-loving dog mom looking for a unique and healthy product for their pet to enjoy.”  

As James perfected her healthy dog beer recipe, she enrolled in a purpose-led business program that helped her design purpose inside the brand and the product.  

“As a silverpreneur, I knew I wanted to create a legacy business that would make a difference in the world while maintaining a high-quality product for my four-legged clients,” she said. “Food upcycling, or diversion, soon became a focus for the business. The opportunity to take unwanted food waste and create a healthy, hydrating treat for dogs was a clear path to contributing to sustainability.”

As James will note in her presentation on April 30 at Petfood Forum in Kansas City, achieving the company’s purpose is not as easy as it sounds.

“A readily available supply of clean upcycled ingredients that meet our production needs has been a challenge to source,” she said.

Organizations like Upcycled Food Association in the U.S. and companies like Still Good Foods in Canada, however, are making inroads to increasing the supply chain, she said.

“Personally, I think it will take time for new innovations and our industry support to grow and diversify what is available to the pet food industry,” she added.

Sustainable ingredient sourcing challenges

When James starting her home-based business in 2018, she was using two Instant Pots then quickly moved production to a commercial kitchen. During this phase of growth and development, it was easy to obtain diverted foods from local farms and producers.

“I often drove around with beef animal parts in my Fiat or stopped into farms to pick unloved carrots from the fields after harvest,” she recalled. “Food waste was available for the taking.”

As the company grew to brewing in 1,000-liter vats, the challenge to source food waste become more difficult. The “wet” manufacturing process moved to using powders or juiced versions of the upcycled foods it needed to produce the beer. She credits designing purpose into her business for keeping it on track at this point.

“Without having our mission of waste diversion built into the foundation of the business, we could have easily veered off path and sourced ingredients that do not meet our criteria,” James said.

Today, Crafty Beasts is using 60% diverted ingredients on average. “We are moving toward 100%, but we can only move as fast as the supply chain provides,” she said. “We have not found consistent sources. Other than supply chain, we are proud of the sustainability focus and we continue to add better methods in our manufacturing processes as well.”

James said in the next five years she hopes to focus on other beasts, such as cats, and will be exporting in the U.S. and growing the Canadian domestic market into more regions.

“Our eye will be on export into European markets, building relationships and exploring co-packing options,” she said. “We are fortunate that we sell our products into both the pet and craft beer industries.”

James stands by her vision to focus on sustainability as a pillar of Crafty Beasts Brewing.

“With the emergence of global climate change realities and the rise of the conscious consumer, the opportunity to give back as a business is at its peak,” she said. “What was once a ‘nice to have’ is moving toward an obligation to be part of the solution.”

James is proud to offer a sustainable product that allows customers to enjoy a shared experience with their dogs by cracking a beer with them.

“To have a product that not only elicits shared joy but is also a healthy, hydrating alternative treat and a wellness food topper matches our sustainability values with our consumers values,” she said. “That’s a formula that works for business growth and success.”

Cindy James, founder and CEO of Crafty Beasts Brewing Co., will speak at Petfood Forum on Tuesday, April 30, in Kansas City. Her session, Pawsitively purpose-driven: Crafting a visionary business model for pet food will offer insights into creating a purpose-led venture with tips for staying on course with your vision. For more information, visit petfoodforumevents.com.

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