Jada, a Rottweiler residing in Williamsburg, had a problem: chronic digestive issues. Processed, dry dog food didn’t agree with her at all. So Jada’s veterinarian advised her owner, Brett Podolsky, that he should make home-cooked meals for Jada, which at first he was game to do. “It broke my heart,” recalls Podolsky, “to know that my baby was essentially living with a stomach ache.”
The labor of love soon became a chore, which in turn gave rise to a business idea. Why not provide wholesome meals by subscription, a bit like Blue Apron, but already prepared and formulated for canines? In 2014, Podolsky, now 28, partnered with his pal Jonathan Regev, 30, to launch The Farmer’s Dog, and started cooking the meals in a kitchen at Industry City. Two years later they started national distribution.
Given the size of the pet-food market, which is estimated to reach nearly $30 billion this year, investors have been enthusiastic. “Our first investor was an early customer,” Podolsky said. “She was able to experience the benefits of fresh food and strongly believed in the need for a better pet-food company.” In May, The Farmer’s Dog raised $8.1 million in Series A funding led by Shasta Ventures, which has backed such startups as Dollar Shave Club and TaskRabbit. That brings the startup company’s total backing to $10.1 million. “We love investing in direct-to-consumer brands that are redefining their industry with a much better consumer experience and an authentic brand voice,” said Nikhil Basu Trivedi, principal with Shasta. “The Farmer’s Dog team is on a mission to make all dogs happier and healthier.”
The company’s mission is to completely rethink how pet food is manufactured and marketed. Typically, pet food is starchy and linked to a variety of health issues. From the Farmer’s Dog, subscribers receive personalized, ready-to-serve meals made with ingredients that humans would recognize, like vegetables and turkey, beef and pork. They’re delivered in vacuum-sealed, pre-portioned pouches through the mail in refrigerated containers. Customers start out by answering an online questionnaire, which feeds the information into programs that determine the ideal meal plan for each dog.
Prices start at around $11 a week but scale up depending on such factors as a dog’s size, lifestyle and age. For example, the cost of feeding a middle-aged, city-dwelling border terrier of about 18 lbs. would be $30 a week, at 350 calories per day, according to the company’s site. Currently, a two-week taste trial is discounted, with one week free.
There’s no multi-tiered system that favors premium food for those who have the means to pay more. Instead, the founders prefer democratic personalization that’s based on the dog’s individual needs. “Our mission is to make fresh, healthy food accessible to as many people that want to feed their pets healthy forms of human food,” Regev said. “We’re very much focused on making that a reality for all dogs.”
The business partners recently shipped their one-millionth meal and have become media pets as well, with a story in Vogue and inclusion in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. BuzzFeed even included the Farmer’s Dog in a review of meal-delivery kits, along with 20 brands designed for humans. Perhaps the founders’ greatest business insight was to understand how much dog owners think of their pets as members of the family. “Our community is made up of supporters who know that dogs are sentient beings with personalities,” said Regev. “They’re more than just some animal you throw in the backyard.”
The company may be a natural outgrowth of the urban farm-to-table movement, much celebrated in the borough. “We decided to set up shop in Brooklyn because this is where we love living and because of the talent pool that’s available here,” Regev told The Bridge. “You have a lot of incredibly talented and smart people in Brooklyn that we can hire to work for our company.” The company’s HQ is still in Williamsburg, he said, “but we relocated our production kitchen to upstate New York to meet the growing demand of our subscriber base.”
Besides expanding their production of meals, the founders plan to broaden their product line. Said Regev: “We’re thinking along the lines of treats for pets or providing oils or supplements for dogs with a particular health issue.”