As consumers think more about what they are putting in their bodies, they are also thinking about what they are feeding their pets. Driven by the global pandemic and everyone being at home with their pets, sales topped $100 billion in 2020 in this sector.
Austin-based Maev, developing human-grade raw dog food, is poised to take a share of the raw food category, announcing today it raised $9 million in a round of funding led by Springdale Ventures. The company previously raised undisclosed rounds backed by VMG Partners, Bolt and Willow Growth.
The idea for the direct-to-consumer pet care brand was sparked in 2018 by CEO Katie Spies and Christine Busaba. Prior to starting the company, Spies started her career as an engineer, stacking up three degrees. She worked at a startup as a product development manager, but ultimately left that behind to find a different calling. It was during that time that she became a dog walker and realized what was needed in the dog food space.
Though they officially started the company in 2019, Busaba and Spies didn’t launch their first product, the raw dog food, until 2020. The pandemic initially affected Maev’s ability to get started. The company had four employees and had to shift its launch plans and even push back its funding round, she said. It ended up working out, and today, it has added supplemental vitamin bars and bone broth topper to its product pipeline.
The food products were created alongside a team of veterinary nutritionists and clinically tested to address nutritional gaps for a healthier dog. The frozen food is made with real meats, vegetables and fruits and unlike competitor brands that have to be thawed, Maev’s products are ready-to-eat out of the freezer, Spies said.
“We started with three products, but we are building the future of pet care,” she added. “This grocery aisle had little innovation. There are some great products, but pet parents have accepted that healthier products mean being harder to use. We aim to make products easier and great for your dog.”
Maev sells its food as a subscription product, with costs averaging about $2 per meal. Over the past year, the company acquired about 2,000 customers and has 16 employees and 11 open jobs. During that time, the company has been growing both its revenue and customer bases, investing in supply chain and solidifying its innovation.
Now with the new capital in hand, Spies plans to “put a foot on the gas” to push its 20% month over month growth to 25%. In the next year, the company will be selling its products in an omnichannel capacity with a focus on customer retention. It is already seeing 92% of customers stick around after their first box, a statistic Spies explained is not seen frequently in other pet food brands, where the industry average is 60%.
She expects to invest the new capital in its headquarters move to Austin, brand awareness and hiring across marketing and supply chain. One of the company’s biggest customer requests is a chicken product, and plans are in the works to have one available in three months. Spies expects that addition to outsell its current beef product.
With 95 million dogs in the U.S. Spies notes the company has plenty of room to grow. There are 112 fresh pet food companies with new entrants shaking up the market over the past few years, she said. Maev is one of the latest to attract venture-backed funding, joining Alpha Paw and Jinx in announcing new raises in the past two months.
Meanwhile, pet food incumbents are also putting a paw print in the healthier food space: Freshpet launched its Spring & Sprout vegetarian dog food in September and Hill’s Pet Nutrition announced a partnership with Bond Pet Foods last month to create meat proteins via fermentation for pet food applications.
“It’s been really interesting to watch the market evolve,” Spies said. “Today, it is great that more dog owners are educated on some of the problems with standard kibble and are skeptical about what they are feeding their dogs. However, when you boil down all of the decisions you make about your dog, this is the most important one for health and longevity.”
That attention to detail and care for pets is what attracted many of Maev’s investors to jump on board.
“We are highly particular and prescriptive in considering brands to bring into the VMG portfolio, making our investments sparse, yet strategic in those companies that have what it takes to become iconic brands,” said Carle Stenmark, partner at VMG Partners, in a written statement. “We were immediately drawn to Maev by its incredibly engaged and vocal customer base, as well as our alignment with Katie, who we believe is a world-class founder setting the standard for the next-generation of pet care.”
“Innovation in our space doesn’t just mean new products in different formats or packaging; instead, it’s looking at the consumer’s life and finding ways to exceed their expectations and enhance their daily routines, which includes their loved ones and furry friends,” added Dan Graham, co-founder and general partner of Springdale Ventures. “Outside of being a fantastic product at the leading edge of the better-for-you pet food movement, Katie’s passion and determination for changing the lives of pets and their owners is a journey on which we’re excited to be, especially as our first investment into the pet space, with more to come.”