If spending is any gauge of affection, it is safe to conclude that Americans truly love their pets. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American households on average spend about $500 apiece on pet care. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), Americans spent $23.04 billion on pet food, $14.39 billion on supplies/OTC medicine, $15.73 billion on vet care, $2.19 billion on live animal purchases and $5.24 billion on pet services like grooming and boarding.
The bigger the pet, the bigger the spend. A small dog costs about $1,314 in the first year, according to the ASPCA, while a medium-size dog will run closer to $1,580. A large dog will cost about $1,843 in its first year with an owner.
And the amount Americans are spending on pets seems to be growing — particularly when it comes to when pets are eating. The “premium” pet food market as of 2001 accounted for about $5.7 billion in annual revenue out of $12.9 billion in total pet food sales, according Cummings Veterinary Medical School at Tufts University. That was about 44 percent of the revenue in the market. As of 2015, premium foods accounted for $14.5 billion of the $23.7 billion in total pet food sales — or about 61 percent of sales.
But are Americans getting their money’s worth with all that premium dog food? That, Cummings noted, is a rather up-in-the-air question, mostly because there is no clear definition of what “premium” dog food is, what it must include or not include, and what, if any, health benefits it needs to be able to demonstrate. Lots of brands include exotic-sounding ingredients, the report notes, not in such small amounts that they likely have no nutritional impact.
“Many of the differences between these categories of foods are based on emotion, not nutrition or scientific evidence,” Veterinarian Caitlin Hynes wrote.
And while most might despair at the knowledge that it is almost impossible to know with certainty if that expensive dog food is actually worth the cost, Ollie Co-Founder Gabby Slome responded by creating her own premium dog food firm online to offer preservative-free, fresh and homemade dog food.
It is also food that some owners might seriously consider tasting.
When it launched in 20016, Ollie started with two protein bases, chicken and beef, later expanding to include lamb and turkey as well. Other ingredients combined with the food include butternut squash, rutabaga, chickpeas, potato, cranberries, kale and strawberries. The chicken and beef are reportedly sourced from human-grade farms in the U.S., while the lamb comes care of a free-range farm in Australia. All foods are also small-batch cooked at a low temperature in a facility certified for the preparation of human food. All meal recipes were reportedly formulated with the aid of a veterinary nutritionist.
Because Ollie’s food is packaged fresh and doesn’t use preservatives, the firm doesn’t just specialize in making dog foods, it also specializes in running cold-chain, or temperature-controlled operations out of its three distribution centers in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Reno, Oklahoma; and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. According to Slome, the locations of those three distribution centers make it possible for the firm to hit any location in the continental U.S. within two days for ground shipping.
When the company first first started out two years ago, it sold exclusively through its own site MyOllie.com. Once on site, consumers create a profile for their dogs including information like age, breed, weight and activity level. From that quick survey, Ollie recommends a main protein from one of its four options, and allows the user to choose one of three meal plan options. Price depends on dog size since meals are portioned by calorie count.
Ollie also expanded beyond its home site a bit over the summer, via a partnership with Jet.com that will see some of Ollie’s meals and snacks for sale on the eCommerce platform.
“As we’re looking to continue to expand and grow, we wanted to test out wholesale to drive awareness,” Slome said. “We felt that Jet was very aligned with us in wanting to create great customer experiences. They are very careful about the brands they select to work with, and we felt like they would do a great job at helping protect our brand.”
Because Jet.com does not have cold-chain operations nationwide, the availability of Ollie meals will be somewhat limited through the platform. Ollie’s fresh-food chicken and beef recipes will be in the New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston and New Jersey regions where two-day cold shipping can be guaranteed. The brand’s single-ingredient snacks in beef, chicken, turkey and sweet potato flavors will be for sale in any market Jet.com reaches, as the snacks don’t require the cold-chain shipping.
Will Ollie break through? Feeding a dog on the Ollie plan can be costly, with owners paying $50 a week for food instead of $50 a month for a bag of premium dog food. But veterinary bills are also expensive — and if Ollie can live up to its billing of being better for dogs in the long term, it might just live up to the high bill it brings along with it.