Family-run canine cooking operation is a howling success
By John Chandler – Contributing writer
Visitors to Portland Pet Food Company’s offices, snugly situated beneath the Hawthorne Bridge, are advised to have dog photos at the ready. In every phase of the operational tour, phones materialize out of thin air so employees can coo over pet pics of playful pups.
Founder Katie McCarron is among those surveying the digital pack, which likely includes her own dogs Tuxedo, Hopkin, and the poodle that started it all, Rosie.
It was Rosie’s inability to eat regular pet food in 2014, that motivated the McCarron family, led by Katie, to start cooking and researching nutrition necessities.
“Quality Control is really the essence of the company,” McCarron explains. “When we first formed the company in 2014, we worked with the Oregon Food Innovation Center, and we developed procedures that are still in place.”
These include frequent testing for E. coli, listeria and other potential maladies. Further, employees are trained in accordance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, a piece of Obama-era legislation aimed at proactively preventing contamination events.
“It’s required for working with human-grade food, and PPFC has a human-grade bakery that is also certified as a pet food manufacturer,” McCarron says.
What she discovered during her research was that key ingredients in most dog food came from rendered animals that are cooked at a very high temperature to kill off bacteria.
Unfortunately, this process also kills off most of the nutritional value. So McCarron decided to source her own recipes somewhat differently — with Human Grade ingredients, rather than the typical Feed Grade used throughout the industry.
“Human Grade food ingredients are any ingredients that would go into the Human Food chain and be sold in grocery stores and found in your own pantry,” McCarron clarifies.
The meals, including big sellers Pork & Potato and Chicken & Rice, are soft and shelf-stable for two years, with no artificial ingredients. And they currently occupy a very singular niche — human food for dogs.
Naturally, this gives Portland Pet Food products, a higher price tag, but McCarron says that dog owners are following food industry trends, and they want better ingredients for their canine companions.
“Most consumers now are looking for a very pure label,” McCarron insists.
“Just like in human food, people are starting to look at the labels and demand more purity. We use whole food ingredients — and now the pet food industry is following that trend.”
McCarron points out that PPFC products have fewer ingredients, unlike most brands that utilize preservatives and additives that cause the number of ingredients to soar.
“My rule of thumb is, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, don’t feed it to your dog,” she advises.
Healthy food, healthy sales
Better and more pronounceable ingredients have led to robust sales figures across the board for PPFC’s treats and topper meals, most notably a 500 percent increase in sales compared to 2018.
In the past two years the number of stores carrying PPFC products has grown from less than 75 to more than 800 nationally.
McCarron and her team anticipate continued growth that should place that number at over 1,200 in the first quarter of 2020.
She adds casually that Internet sales have enjoyed comparable success in the past year, having increased over 500 percent in the past year on Amazon, Shopify, and their own website.
McCarron sells her products online in bundles of four, purposely pricing them slightly higher so as not to compete with brick-and-mortar operations.
“And we have a 60 percent repurchase rate,” she adds. “Most of our marketing consists of just getting the food out to more people.”
Taking the high-end road
Due to a very organic evolution, one that boasts no additives and fillers, the Portland Pet Food Co. menu of treats and meals are more likely to be found in natural grocers, independent pet shops, and even at Kimpton hotel gift shops, rather than at PetCo or Chewy.com.
The company got a substantial boost in April, when they signed on with East Coast grocery chain Wegmans, bringing in another 99 retailers, joining the likes of Zupan’s, Whole Foods, Sur La Table, New Seasons and Nordstrom.
Natural grocers and pet specialty stores have proven to be the most beneficial channels for accelerating growth, McCarron says, because they are two sources that can coexist together.
A local product buyer backs this claim. Denise Breyley, Whole Foods Local Coordinator/Forager was an early fan of Portland Pet Food Co.
“I work with our local suppliers throughout the Pacific Northwest Region, and I met Kate at a couple of events showcasing local products through the Food Innovation Center in Portland,” she recalls.”
Always on the lookout for new, innovative products that meet high quality standards, Breyley found much to admire about the plucky pet food startup.
“The brand has a very compelling story, a strong mission, and a commitment to quality,” Breyley says.
She adds that the food is made with ingredients that are BPA-free and shelf-stable, and that the grab-and-go pouch merchandises well and is easy to use.
Breyley also acknowledges the value of a “committed and passionate founder who is a strong partner in helping to build sales.”
“And our dog taste testers loved the products,” Breyley concludes.
Cut The crap
Portland Pet Food Company cannot sell or market their products as “dog food” because they use Human Grade ingredients and fiercely avoid supplements and grain fillers that aren’t any good for Fido’s nutritional needs.
“They pass right through the dog,” McCarron declares. “They get nothing out of it.”
Quality ingredients lead to another benefit, one that will predictably cause silent rejoicing among dog owners far and wide.
“Good side effect for both owner and dog. Less filler, means less poop,” she states simply.
It’s just one more factor that has PPFC taking in the sweet smell of success.
Copied from original article that ran in Portland Business Journal. Published September 6th 2019.