The Farmer’s Dog wants to fill the bowls of canines everywhere with fresh food made especially for them. Based in New York City, the startup plans to expand its dog food delivery service after closing a $8.1 million Series A round led by Shasta Ventures. Returning investors Forerunner Ventures, Collaborative Fund, and SV Angel also participated.
This brings the total The Farmer’s Dog has raised so far to $10.1 million. Founded in 2015 by Brett Podolsky and Jonathan Regev, the company claims to have delivered over one million meals already and is the latest subscription-based startup backed by Shasta Ventures, whose success stories include Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker.
Pet food is a big business—global retail sales were about $70 billion in 2015 ($24 billion in the U.S. alone), according to GfK market research, and have grown steadily despite the slow economy. In fact, the pet care industry is considered relatively recession-proof because people are willing to continue spending money on their furry companions even if they have to cut expenses elsewhere.
The idea for The Farmer’s Dog was formed after Podolsky began feeding his dog, a Rottweiler named Jada, home cooked meals on her vet’s recommendation. Jada suffered from chronic stomach issues since she was a puppy and Podolsky had already tried many types of commercial pet food to help her, but he says she wasn’t cured until he started making all her food.
“It got us looking into the pet food industry. We noticed that while all of the marketing revolved around healthy buzzwords like ‘real’ and ‘natural,’ the products inside the bag were generally the same highly processed mystery food left on the shelf for a year or two,” Podolsky and Regev told TechCrunch in an email.
“We thought if we could create a subscription for each dog—then why wouldn’t we? They eat the same thing everyday—we could make the food fresh, skip the middlemen, and deliver a product that’s truly healthy, affordable, and simply not available in traditional retail channels.”
Since dogs are usually happy to eat the same thing, unlike their more finicky human family members, The Farmer’s Dog is able to send multiple weeks worth of food at a time, instead of just a few meals, and save on delivery costs.
“Our system is very unique in that it optimizes the amount we send depending on the cost to ship and the dog’s needs,” said Regev. “This way our cost to deliver is far less than what we’d be paying to a distributor or retailer, and we can invest those savings back into product quality.”
The founders bootstrapped the company for a year while cooking dog food in a small commercial kitchen in Brooklyn. The company’s meal plans currently start at $11 per week and are customized based on each dog’s age, breed, size, activity level, and health needs. Before delivery, The Farmer’s Dog divides food into individual servings based on each animal’s caloric needs, since the recommended portions on many commercial pet food packages are often too big.
Podolsky and Regev say their products are sourced and produced to human-grade standards, using USDA and FDA-inspected ingredients that are prepared in facilities with safety standards usually reserved for human food.
“The commercial pet food industry is plagued with recalls, so quality is something we take seriously,” they said. “We only use human-grade ingredients and facilities, and have traceability to know where each ingredient ends up. We manufacture food on demand so nothing ever sits in a store or deep freezer for months, which reduces any chance of foodborne diseases.”
In order to scale up, the startup relies on a proprietary algorithm to customize meal plans while keeping costs down. It also collects data and tracks improvements from customers whose dogs have similar profiles to improve its products. The Farmer’s Dog’s new funding will be used to develop new products, hire more people for its customer support and tech teams, and grow the startup’s production capacity.