With adversity comes innovation; this is proving especially true in the pet industry. During the pandemic of 2020/21, many companies including those in the pet industry were forced to pivot, alternating how they delivered products or even how they produced them.
Other companies, however, pivoted into the pet space recognizing an opportunity as we brought new pets into our homes, or spent quality time with the furry ones who stand by us – and we too, should stand by them.
Turns out, pet industry entrepreneurs are extremely innovative, maybe even inspirational. Here are four companies who’ve recently pounced ‘all paws in’ straight into the pet space carving out a niche of their own:
Celeste Watches: Custom Pet Portraits
“I remember reading a New York Times article,” Celeste from Celeste Watches says. “There was a photo of a guy hugging his dog and I thought, that’s how we’re going to get through this. Clinging to our pets.” So, she offered her watch design service to friends and family via social media, waiving the design and set up fee.
Specifically, she invited friends to send her a photo of their pet and she’d create a custom watch with her signature colourful portrait design inlaid into a mother-of-pearl watch face. “It took off,” she says. She received more requests than she anticipated – suddenly, she had a niche product: custom-designed pet portrait watches.
Celeste Watches has existed for ten years, hand-assembling watches in the USA using Swiss timepieces and scratch-resistant glass, and featuring Celeste’s designs on the face. The regular line is of course still available, ranging in price from $99 to $169 US.
Celeste was at SuperZoo, an annual pet industry trade show in Las Vegas promoting her custom pet line – so far dogs are the most popular. Still, her graphic style favours cats (in my opinion), and even a few horses appear in her repertoire. Custom watch designs start at $225 US – the watches are waterproof, so perfect for traveling (and taking a likeness of your pet with you).
Simply Naked: Fish Based Pet Food
For 70 years, the family who owns and operates Simply Naked pet food have been fishermen. Based in Boston, the company has been providing quality seafood products for people for decades. In doing so, they remove the heads, tails, and often skins that don’t appeal to customers. However, these by-products have equal nutritional value as the more people-palatable fleshy parts.
Marketing manager at North Coast Seafoods, Christian L’Heureux, rejects the ‘by-product’ label preferring instead to call it upcycling the fish parts that don’t get used by people into premium dog and cat dry kibble. “We noticed these parts were selling at a premium to pet product manufacturers, and I thought here we are sitting on the raw ingredients. Why don’t we formulate a pet food line using parts of the fish we are catching ourselves?”
Three years ago, Simply Naked began formulating two simple fish-based lines – one for cats and one for dogs. Officially launched last year at SuperZoo, an annual pet industry trade show, Simply Naked has produced one production run of both fish-based (a single protein) cat and dog food, and so far the biggest challenge has been scaling production to meet demand.
“We know fish is good for us and we should eat more,” L’Heureux says. “The same is true for our pets.” The company has other products in the works including dried fish skins and dog food toppers – all from fish netted off the bow of their family fleets. Simple Naked is made in the USA and is available at select independent retailers across the U.S.
Operation Good Boy: From Combat to Kibble
Operation Good Boy is a pet product company launched during the pandemic but inspired by another military-inspired brand: Black Rifle Coffee (affiliate link). According to Operation Good Boy owner Tom Aiello, “We got the idea to launch Operation Good Boy after seeing the success of other veteran-owned and operated companies. But we had two important mandates: to employ veterans and support military working dog rescues across the U.S.”
Aiello says, there are many small shelters run by a small number of dedicated people – people who believe military working dogs have the right to a safe and comfortable retirement after service. Some handlers keep the dogs, but other dogs have joint and leg issues from years of high-stress work from bomb sniffing to jumping out of planes and even anxiety issues similar to veteran PTSD. These dogs need extra help.
A portion of all sales of Operation Good Boy supplements, dog treats, and camo military-style dog toys (affiliate link) are allocated for helping retired working dogs. Based in Texas, currently, three U.S. military veterans work full-time for Operations Good Boy, including Dr. Tim Loonam, a former Airborne Ranger veterinarian who developed the formula for the supplements.
Operation Good Boy has three lines of supplements, including one for hip and joint issues. But the featured product is TRE ready-to-eat treats in a black tear-open pouch similar to the ready-to-eat meals that accompanied soldiers onto the battlefield. Launched on Veteran’s Day last year, Operation Good Boy is available in independent retailers across the U.S. and soon in Walmart locations.
BetterBone: From Kids Toys to Dog Chews
BetterBone might look like some of its nylon dog chew competitors, but it’s not. BetterBone (affiliate link) is made from natural, food-grade material – a wood flour and sugarcane oil mixture – that’s compacted into a plastic-like shape. However, the product is non-toxic and doesn’t split or splinter but will flake because it’s soft enough to not break teeth, according to Chisholm Weaver, Co-founder of BetterBone and Blue Standard Inc.
While BetterBone is new to the market, Blue Standard Inc., the company behind the technology is not. For 25 years, the company has been manufacturing products from recycled material, including children’s toys in Europe using the same technology and manufacturing methods.
It was during the pandemic, of course, that BetterBone owners thought, ‘It’s safe for children to put this product in their mouths, why not dogs?’ Then BetterBone was born.
The product is sustainably sourced and manufactured in Croatia. To date, there are two types of BetterBone: ‘Classic’ for teething puppies and light to medium chewers, and ‘Tough’ for aggressive super chewers. BetterBone is intended to be a substitute for nylon and rawhide.
Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for decades and a travel writer for the last two. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America and travels almost weekly with her canine companion, Victoria. All written content is original, written by a person, and based on experience and research.