Paula Savarese and Dawn Ward, two Naples entrepreneurs, developed kale-based dog treats now available in more than 2,500 stores in the U.S. and Canada, including Petco's new Unleashed stores. They're now working on a deal to sell their Dogs Love Kale treats in the United Kingdom's second-largest pet retail chain, Pets Corner.
“It was crazy how this came about,” says Ward, who owned a personal fitness business in Manhattan. “It was a fluke.”
It all started when Savarese, who previously owned and operated a photo laboratory on Long Island, made a kale snack for herself and Ward to enjoy a couple of years ago. “The dogs were watching us crunch,” Savarese recalls.
So Savarese tossed a couple kale snacks to KC and Mossimo and watched as they devoured them. The treats were such a hit with her Maltese dogs that Savarese and Ward started baking kale-based dog treats in their own kitchen in Long Island and selling them at a local pet store.
Immediately, the kale treats were a hit with pet owners, particularly people with healthy eating habits who were buying kale for themselves. A leafy green vegetable, kale has become so popular with health-conscious people that even McDonald's is testing it in some of its fast-food restaurants.
Healthy eating has spread to pets, too. “People are learning that you can't give your pet just anything to eat,” says Savarese, who has had her own dogs tested for food allergies.
Their timing was perfect: the kale-based dog treats were unique and more stores started ordering them as interest in kale continued to grow. “Then we rented a commercial kitchen,” Savarese says.
Savarese credits social media site LinkedIn for the increase in business. “LinkedIn for me was fantastic,” she says. “I met a lot of retailers and buyers on LinkedIn.”
But the women were soon overwhelmed with orders as pet stores clamored for their treats, which include six flavors such as Peanutty, Punkin' and Apple Crisp. They could only make 100 bags a day. “One day we were so busy we couldn't eat,” says Ward, who confides that she snacked on a few of the natural treats during those busy times.
Then, in November 2013, the two women got a call from Bark Box, a subscription-based monthly gift box for pet owners. “They ordered 30,000 bags from us,” Savarese says.
With just three months to figure out how to produce 30,000 bags of Dogs Love Kale treats, the women rushed to find a manufacturer. They contracted with a commercial bakery in Tennessee that bakes the treats, packs them and ships them. (For competitive reasons, Savarese and Ward decline to name the manufacturer.)
The success led to more orders from Bark Box. “They ordered another 50,000 bags from us at the end of last year,” says Savarese, who moved to Naples with Ward in search of warmer weather last year.
So far, Savarese and Ward estimate they've sold 130,000 bags of Dogs Love Kale. “That's a lot of happy dogs,” Savarese laughs.
You can buy the treats online at DogsLoveKale.com for $6.99 a bag, but Savarese says she isn't promoting it because she doesn't want to compete with retailers. However, they have recently started selling through Amazon.com.
In 2014, Savarese says sales totaled $330,000. This year, she expects sales to more than double. “Now, if we can pay the house bills with it,” Savarese chuckles.
The two women reinvest the sales proceeds in the business to grow it, including most recently hiring a national sales company called The Pet Firm, advertising in trade publications such as Pet Business and setting up booths at pet industry trade shows. “This weekend we were working on three new flavors,” Ward says.
With the backing of an undisclosed investor, Savarese and Ward have invested $100,000 in the business and they're looking for another $100,000. “We have one investor and we're looking for another investor to share the wealth,” Savarese says.