Why cruelty-free and sustainable pet food is on the rise
As humans continue to grow in love for cruelty-free protein alternatives, Leslie Moyan FCPA anticipates a similar shift in the pet food market.
Leslie Moyan FCPA believes a revolution is underway in the pet food industry. It is fueled by the humanization of our pets and a growing consumer awareness of plant-based diets, sustainably sourced foods and alternative proteins. Moyan hopes to build momentum for this movement in his role as Founder, CEO and CFO of Melbourne-based TBH Pets, which stands for “To Be Honest”.
The accountant, consultant, academic and entrepreneur has a vision to disrupt the pet industry by converting the mindset of consumers into a healthier and more sustainable pet food product through his start-up TBH Farts.
“We believe that animals should not be slaughtered to produce pet food,” says Moyan. “It’s neither sustainable nor ethical.”
Together with co-founder and friend Blair Triplett, Moyan set out to create cruelty-free pet food that was both nutritious and tasty, as well as environmentally friendly.
Moyan and Triplett began their experiments with dog treats, made with wholesome, human-grade, plant-based ingredients. Then they started working with a more unusual ingredient: crickets, which contain nearly four times the protein of beef, are much lower in fat and have a minimal environmental footprint compared to cattle.
The partners conducted hours of product testing on dogs owned by friends, relatives and neighbors, always followed by interviews and feedback from their owners.
They also researched the pet food market and identified their top two brand targets as millennial women and the over 55s.
Moyan, who has held senior financial positions at Citicorp Scrimgeour Vickers and PwC, sees a real opportunity for TBH Pets.
“We’re on the cusp of a number of big trends,” says Moyan.
“Sustainability is one, plants are another. We have other ingredients that are becoming available, including hemp, which is an emerging trend, as is insect protein. The general trend, however, is the increasing humanization of our pets.
The next step for TBH Pets was to move its operation from the kitchen table to a small bakery and then to a larger facility with international HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) food safety certification.
They started with two vegan dog treats – Nutritious Seaweed with Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes and Superior Hemp with Quinoa and Carrot – as well as two cricket-based treats – Organic Cricket with Hemp and Chamomile and Organic Cricket with Roasted Pumpkin and Almonds.
In addition to the usual channels, the premium-priced treats – which sell for AU$12 per 100g – are also being sold in cafes, in the hope that pet owners will not only grab a coffee for themselves, but also a treat for their dog.
As the company slowly gains momentum, the next step for the partners is, rather unexpectedly, to step back.
“Blair and I, as founders, want to replace ourselves as quickly as possible with people more talented and better than us at every job,” Moyan says.
Lots of curve balls
Since the development of the business concept in early 2019, the company founders have had to overcome serious obstacles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the face-to-face meetings with customers so crucial to their product development. They also underestimated how difficult it would be to create an all-natural product with no added fats, sugars or preservatives, but still appealing to animal taste buds. (They hired a chef and a vet to help them.)
Perhaps their biggest stumbling block has been changing the mindset of consumers.
“Most pet ‘parents’ don’t realize that dogs are omnivores,” says Moyan.
“Persuading humans that pets can extract enough nutrients and protein from a plant-based and insect-protein diet is harder than expected, so we’re investing heavily in education about it.”
Big investment, big ambitions
So far, the self-funded business has seen AU$100,000 poured into TBH Pets, but Moyan believes strong partnerships with online retail channels and mid-sized pet store chains will enable the business to make a profit in a few months.
TBH Pets has the ambition to become the leader in holistic pet products. The company is working to expand its line of pet treats and is set to launch a core meal product and a grooming line, as well as plans to move away from pet counseling services . International expansion will first rely on proving value and securing investors.
“Although we know that the pet industry is dominated by very serious players, what we call ‘Big Pet’ players, we believe that the trend towards plant protein production and inspection is a trend so compelling that ‘Big Pet’ will inevitably have to conform at some point,” Moyan says.
“We understand that some companies are already working on this…but we nimble guys can open up little niches and try to start changing people’s behavior and mindsets around plant-based and alternative proteins.”
Although priced at the high end of the market, Moyan is confident in TBH Pets’ consumer base – people who want high-quality, ethically sourced, healthier food for their pets.
“Know your market. The hardest part is listening to negative feedback and not taking it personally. People are usually nice and try to sugarcoat everything, but keep asking them the bad news so you can improve your product.