To provide customizable meal plans for dogs, eCommerce innovators are offering freshly cooked meals delivered to consumers through the subscription business model. Pet Plate, in one case, is a service based on the profile of each dog. “We develop a meal plan that fits to that dog’s age, weight, breed, lifestyle,” Pet Plate CEO Gertrude Allen told PYMNTS in an interview. Based on whether the dog is active or sedentary as well as overweight or underweight, the company will adjust the number of calories that the dog will receive in every meal. In addition to meals, the company also offers a topper plan that lets owners mix the company’s products into the food that they already feed their pets.
Shipping frequency of the company’s meals varies, with the weight of the dog serving as the biggest driver of that determination. Small dogs might get a box every month, while larger dogs might receive a box every week. Varieties run the gamut from “chompin’ chicken” to “barkin’ beef.” “The product is fresh cooked but it’s flash frozen,” Allen said. The meals arrives at the doorstep frozen to stay preserved — and can be stored in a fridge for seven days or in the freezer for up to 18 months. To sign up for a plan, consumers visit the company’s website and can learn about its products and services through the home page.
Consumers enter the company’s conversion funnel by clicking “start now” or “see plans or pricing.” From there, they are taken into a flow that asks various questions about their dog (such as breed or birthdate, according to the website). Allen said there are “multiple factors.” The site will then find the appropriate number of calories for a dog through an algorithm on the back end, and will suggest a plan based on how much food a dog requires. While the offering is a subscription, Allen said consumers have “complete flexibility to skip, pause or cancel.” Customers pay by credit card, and Allen also pointed out that the company has a money-back guarantee if a dog isn’t satisfied with the food on the first try.
When it comes to the company’s product selections, it offers four proteins; Allen says beef and chicken are probably the most popular, with turkey and lamb following. The company also plans to roll out new meals — one additional protein such as a wild game, and a seafood such as a salmon or a tilapia. It also plans to launch treats that will pair with meals and be available on the plans to add to the boxes. The food is human-grade and made in a USDA facility, and Allen says it is high quality, nutritious and safe for dogs. For logistics, the company ships to every state in the continental U.S. and has three distribution centers, in New Jersey, Illinois and Utah.
While there are other players in the pet food delivery market, Allen says the company is standing out by humanizing the entire experience through the names of the meals and the quality that comes from having everything made in a facility that prepares food for people (as opposed to pets). In the past, she noted, the production of food for pets and humans was separate. In another point of differentiation, Allen pointed out that the company’s containers are microwaveable and portable, which means consumers can take them to work or the park.
The company, Allen says, makes the food as if it was for humans but balances it by putting in the right supplements — human-grade vitamins and minerals — to make a complete and healthy formula for the dog. (By contrast, if owners feed their pets kitchen food or table scraps their pets might not be receiving all the nutrients they need.) The company worked with a board-certified clinical nutritionist, Dr. Renee Streeter, on its formulas. (According to Pet Plate, Streeter is one of only a few hundred board-certified vet nutritionists in the country.)
Allen breaks the company’s target market into two buckets, starting with millennials. She notes that this age group is treating their dogs like their first children and pampering them — “making sure that the dog has everything that it needs.” Also, if they are healthy eaters shopping at Whole Foods Market, chances are they are conscious of what their dogs are eating and want them to have a product of the same quality. In another bucket are the customers who are empty-nesters — people whose children have left home. They want to replace companionship, so they invest in a dog that Allen says will kind of be their new child. She also noted that there are people in between those age groups.
Allen pointed out that the direct-to-consumer (DTC) model allows for small companies that are innovating to quickly get their product to market. They don’t have to go through many intermediaries. “It’s much more in our control,” Allen said, adding that the company can have a direct relationship with the consumer. The company can also receive feedback on a rolling basis and get the product out quickly by directly marketing it. Beyond Pet Plate, companies such as Grocery Pup are also selling fresh-prepared human-grade food for dogs through eCommerce, and The Farmer’s Dog also offers freshly cooked foods for dogs based on a plan.
With the help of a direct-to-consumer channel and a differentiated offering, then, companies such as Pet Plate, Grocery Pup and The Farmer’s Dog are aiming to make it easier for consumers to order nutritious meals for their pets.