Behind the Scenes with DoGood Dog Food

Steve Hutchins and his partner made it their mission to create freshly prepared, nutritionally balanced plant-based organic dog food (with a Michelin-star chef!) to disrupt the meat-based dog food industry.

Lisa goes behind the scenes to talk to Steve about their business journey.

 

Your journey to starting DoGood began when you rescued a dog from a food market in Cambodia. How did that lead to you wanting to develop vegan dog food?

Living in Cambodia for a few years really opened our eyes to what we were consuming, and how that varies in different cultures.  In Cambodia, the locals eat dog meat and this started us questioning that if eating dog meat is so unthinkable to us, then why do we eat other animals? And why do we feed our dogs the meat of other animals too?  We rescued Bella & Watson from a cage at the side of the road being sold for meat, and it was heart-breaking for us to have to walk them past the spit-roasted dog meat stall at the end of our road every day.  This was the start of our personal plant-based journey, and because there was no such thing as commercial dog food in Cambodia, we did a lot of research and learned that dogs were able to thrive on a vegan diet – so we started cooking up plant-based meals for them too!   

When we got back to the UK, we explored the options available to feed our dogs – and we were horrified to learn what went into commercial dog food.  We found out the ingredients lists mention unknowns such as “meat and animal derivatives”, which is code for slaughter-house left-overs including ground down skin, horns, feet, pig bristle, heads of poultry, hatchery waste, day-old chicks and blood, placenta, wool, feathers, hair & hooves! We discovered that ingredients are processed mechanically at high temperatures meaning many nutrients are destroyed in the process, and artificial preservatives are added to provide a long shelf life. We were not convinced this would allow Bella & Watson to remain healthy and thrive.  So, we continued to cook plant-based meals for them and worked with a canine nutrition consultant to ensure these were nutritionally complete & balanced.  

Bella & Watson were clearly thriving when we compared them to other dogs eating supermarket-shelf kibble – they always have SO MUCH ENERGY, lovely soft coats, firm stools which didn’t smell too bad (sorry), and a lovely temperament.  Not only was it good for their health, but also the environment and the lives of other animals – something we felt was overlooked by people when it comes to feeding their companion animals.  And so began our mission to bring our dog food to market and disrupt the meat-based dog food industry, with our aim being to sustainably nourish all of the dogs in the UK – one plant-based bowl at a time!  

 

You worked with a Michelin-star chef to create your recipes! How were you able to convince them to work with you on food for dogs, and did they take you seriously?

DoGood recipes are much more like human food than dog food – we use many of the same ingredients and processes as a Michelin-star kitchen.  For example, we have zero compromise on the quality of the ingredients, being organic & locally sourced, and prepare these ingredients by hand to make sure they are cooked perfectly for every meal.  The philosophy aligned well with our chef, who gained a Michelin star at a previous restaurant – in that we wanted the food to be the best that it could be.  There were a few raised eyebrows and jokes along the way that this couldn’t possibly be dog food (!), but he was convinced as soon as he took some of the test batch home to feed his own dog and saw the results.  From that moment on he was fully committed to working with us! 

DoGood recipes are much more like human food than dog food - we use many of the same ingredients and processes as a Michelin-star kitchen.

Your dog food is freshly prepared in a kitchen then sent out frozen. Were there any problems finding a commercial kitchen who would produce dog food? 

We’re in a strange position because DoGood is the first of its kind in the UK – plant-based dog food that is cooked by hand in a commercial kitchen, rather than processed mechanically at a factory.  Although all the ingredients are safe for humans, and our recipes don’t contain any of the nasty animal by-products found in other dog foods, it still falls under Animal Feed Legislation as the law hasn’t quite caught up with this yet!  This means we needed to find a kitchen who were willing to register their premises for Animal Feed, something that most were not willing to do due to perception from their other customers!

We experienced a major setback a month before our launch – the kitchen we found to develop the recipes with went out of business (for reasons unrelated to us) – and we had pre-orders to fulfil!  After hundreds of phone calls and lots of convincing, we managed to find a new kitchen to take a chance on us.  It’s turned out well because we are very happy with the results!

There’s been a lot of negative claims that dogs can’t thrive on a vegan diet. How have you handled those claims and what have you been doing to prove them wrong?

We point them to the science.  Many people falsely believe dogs are carnivores, when in fact they are omnivores who have evolved alongside humans over thousands of years to adapt well to a purely plant-based diets.  More and more scientific studies are coming out each year showing that dogs are thriving on plant-based food, providing it is nutritionally complete and balanced, and in fact provides many benefits over meat-based food.  We are trying to point out that a lot of disinformation is being spread in the tabloids and via various institutions funded by the big meat-based pet food companies who stand to lose out if vegan pet food starts becoming more mainstream.

 

The vegan pet care sector is set to boom in the next few years. How are you planning to compete when the big pet food companies start releasing plant-based versions?

90% of all pet food sales in the UK are from just three huge corporations, so it’s inevitable they will not want to lose market share.  Like with the premiumisation trend in dog food over the past few years, we’ve seen these companies buying out smaller brands then then changing the recipes to reduce cost and improve their profits.  This ultimately leads to the quality of the food going down, and customers notice that.
 
We’re an independent business with strong ethics and a mission to nourish our companion animals without harming the planet or other animals – as a result we have zero compromise on the quality of ingredients or the way we deliver our meals.  For example, our trays are made from sugarcane bagasse which would otherwise be burned, our insulated boxes are made with denim upcycled from the fashion industry and our ice packs from plastic recovered from the ocean.  Ultimately it costs us more but we believe that’s the right thing to do.  We don’t think the big corporates have the same philosophy as they are driven by profit.  We believe that our customers will align with us on this mission – something the big corporates don’t offer.
 

What are the future plans for DoGood? Can we expect to see other products added to your line beyond food for dogs?

We just launched at the end of 2021 so we really are at the beginning of our journey with our first 3 recipes – Quinoa & Sweet Potato, Chickpea & Pumpkin, Buckwheat & Squash.  The food is just the start as ultimately we want to create a sustainable future for our pets and planet.  So expect to see further plant-based recipes and treats, plus sustainable accessories such as compostable poo bags and maybe even dog beds and clothing.  All created with our sustainable vegan philosophy front and centre, of course.

We must admit that, looking through your website, your dog food looks good enough for humans to eat! We have to ask if you have ever given it a try?!

It’s funny you say that, because during recipe development one of the other chefs in the building gave it a taste thinking it was human food – and liked it!  We have of course tried it ourselves and it’s delicious!  Far too often we look at our own evening meals and realise our dogs are eating better than we are.

Learn more about DoGood Dog Food at their website: www.wearedogood.co.uk

Lisa Fox says:

DoGood is a great example of using your passion for veganism and animals to disrupt a non-vegan industry. And you don’t have to use a standard business model – instead of being processed by machine, Steve’s dog food is hand prepared and created by a Michelin-star chef.

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