Pioneering Plant-Based Pet Nutrition and Sustainable Dog Food


Pioneering Plant-Based Pet Nutrition and Sustainable Dog Food

Pioneering Plant-Based Pet Nutrition and Sustainable Dog Food

with CAROLINE BUCK (Co-Founder of Petaluma)

[Pet food] is a really interesting, wacky industry. -Caroline Buck


Hey, caroline, so great to have you.Caroline Buck: 9:02

Thank you so much for having me on.Ella Magers: 9:04

Yeah, it was so interesting. So I am in a new relationship and I just went to visit him and his family in Austin and come to find out his mother. I had not mentioned you or Petaluma, but his mother is exploring vegan or plant-based dog food for their German Shepherd and she had just ordered and got in and got in Petaluma. That’s amazing, yeah, and he’s loving it.Caroline Buck: 9:32

Guinness is the dog my gosh. That’s incredible.Ella Magers: 9:35

Yeah, he’s a little older and you have a senior formula.Caroline Buck: 9:38

I do. Yeah, we have an adult and a senior one. That just launched.Ella Magers: 9:42

Yes, well, she got that and they are loving it. I know I was like no way I’m about to interview Caroline on the show oh my gosh. It was so, so interesting, Wow such a pleasant one.Caroline Buck: 9:53

I think I wouldn’t be so starstruck if that ever happened. That has not happened to me in the wild, where, like someone doesn’t know about me and Petaluma, and then I see Petaluma in their house, like I would be shell shocked. Like we’re still still tiny and young enough that that would be. Oh my gosh, that’s so cool, thank you so much for doing that.Ella Magers: 10:09

Yeah, I thought you’d enjoy that, but I do want to start somewhere kind of a little different, which is the place I’m enjoying starting lately. So my first question to you is, beyond the bio and all the accomplishments and accolades, who is Caroline Buck?Caroline Buck: 10:26

You know, I don’t know why it’s so hard to answer questions like this, because I don’t know, especially when you’re, as you know, like when you’re doing entrepreneurial things, it feels like you’re talking about yourself all the time, even when you’re talking about other people, like I feel like I should have a very like ready to go answer. But I think, like, at my core, I’m a very curious person. I think I’ve always been like curious, bordering on like nosy, like I want to know why things are how they are, which I think has propelled me in a lot of different directions in life. That definitely led me to veganism of like why am I doing things a certain way? Why do I have these like patterns? And it’s definitely I think it’s been a slow journey to do something entrepreneurial, but I think ultimately that like curiosity of like but why not? But why not this, why not this and definitely led me into the world of marketing. I think I’m a pretty like inquisitive person and like need to know why things are very curious about how people think about things, and then I would not have been able to authentically call myself this until like six or seven years ago, but I’m definitely a huge animal person. I was a dog person and, like you know, cat and rabbit and horse person, but couldn’t authentically probably call myself an animal ever until switching my diet around. But I’ve always been very like, in tune with the emotions of whatever animals in the house. They’ve always been a huge comfort to me and I love taking care of animals. I currently have two dogs and like a handful of backyard chickens that I’ve skipped up in the weeks today, but it’s a very funny experience. If anyone has ever adopted a chicken, the whole thing is just very funny.Ella Magers: 11:55

Well, I really want to hear this story actually.Caroline Buck: 11:57

So we went to I live in the Bay Area. There’s a very nice shelter in Marin County, as you might imagine. That’s like very well kept little shelter. And we came in wanting chickens and they asked they’re like oh wait, wait, wait, you’re not going to eat these, right? No, we’re not going to eat these chickens. And we came in to maybe get one or two and we just took all of them. And we just took all of them and just put them into a dog carrier and brought them home and just the whole thing was so funny. If you’ve adopted a dog where you feel like you’re getting like the Spanish Inquisition into, like the keeping and carrying up this dog and how much square footage of yard they have and your commitment to this dog, and then a chicken, they were like just double checking this chicken sign going to Popeyes and then just like sending you on your way with extras at the door. It was just very funny. Wow. So definitely always been an animal person. And then I think the other thing that has maybe propelled me more in the area of like trying to be more considered about the environment and climate is I’ve always been an outdoorsy person. I’ve been a runner for a long, most of my life, and I think living in California, it’s been something we’ve had to confront more often, and in Florida too, we’re just, we’re feeling it and yeah.Ella Magers: 13:06

I don’t know.Caroline Buck: 13:06

I think that that combination of things has kind of led me to where I am without me really realizing it, and I think that’s the only thing that I can do If I could spend my days in the company of animals outside that’s my happiest sweet spot, for sure.Ella Magers: 13:19

Well, now I think the question is because you’ve mentioned this right away, with the animals and the cognitive dissonance and when that changed and how that changed. I think we have to go there now because yeah, you know, I think it’s.Caroline Buck: 13:32

The cognitive dissonance, especially with pets, is something that I try to like remind myself of when I’m with animals. I feel like it’s the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen. That’s the most like realization that I had all the time, because I hope that it makes me more empathetic to people who have not yet made some of these changes. But yeah, for me, my husband and I, who are co-founders together, we made like a really abrupt shift to veganism. Like we’d been cutting back and cutting back for years, like you know, again the vinches, and then just decided, like 1 January 1st, to just stop. I don’t recommend that for people just didn’t turn back after that point and it was just this very odd experience of like buying all of my groceries for the week and then going to the pet store and buying like a 20 pound bag of meat. It just I think because it’s such a processed food, it’s almost like a household cleaner or something where you’re just like not really thinking of it as a food product or at least I wasn’t thinking of it as a food product. I had not really thought about whether there was or alternatives, I hadn’t thought that deeply about it, but it kind of sparked a bit of a chain reaction with our household. This is as if we have the equivalent amount of meat consumption, as if there’s another person in this house who’s eating meat. Like it’s just very strange to have this like kind of abrupt ethical shift but not have it applied to this dog. That was like very stark, I think once we had changed our diet and I think maybe the abrupt nature with which we switched to adopting a vegan lifestyle probably contributed to that feeling so stark. And then at the same time my husband, garrett, was working at Mars Pet Care. Mars is, very quietly, the largest pet food manufacturer in the US, so most people know them as like the candy bar company, but they also have the largest veterinary clinics in the US, so they’re a huge player in the pet world. And so he was being steeped in the world of animal nutrition and veterinarians and his experiences with them, that plant-based diets and alternative diets are very, very possible and very feasible and commercially produced. And it was kind of this interesting mixture of things that was like okay, we need to address this, like extreme cognitive dissonance of feeding animals to our animal and like this is possible and this is interesting and I’m not sure why that marketing message hadn’t reached me previously, so that was kind of how it all kind of came together around the same time. And also I’ve had many experiences prior to being vegan where I took my dog to more rural places and he would interact with farm animals and I felt so weird about it Like it would just linger with me for forever of like these animals have equivalent, if not greater, intelligence than my dog and this is just so strange and I’ve really put this out of my brain for a reason that I need to think about more deeply.Ella Magers: 16:14

Wow, that’s so interesting. All of that is so interesting. Let’s talk about the dog food industry for a moment, and what are the reasons the dog food industry as it is now is so problematic? I mean from every angle.Caroline Buck: 16:30

So there’s. It’s a really interesting, wacky industry. It hasn’t existed for a ton of time, like turn of the century era, and it has served historically as a place to put things that humans don’t want to eat so that has meant all kinds of ingredients and proteins over time but has served as a place for byproducts, for waste, for dead, dying and diseased animals or just for, like animal parts that just are not marketable to humans, like chicken feathers and all kinds of things that get ground up and put into pet food. So it’s served for a long, long time and to this day as a place to just like kind of subsidize the existing animal farming that is set up for human consumption, just to take the things out for whatever reason. They are not marketable or they are not safe for humans. They could put into dog food or cat food. That’s kind of been the status quo for a very long time. In the last 20, maybe 30 years there’s been more of a heavy pushback by consumers against kibble and that has led to the rise of like farmer’s dog and these fresh frozen foods that are marketing human grade ingredients. So maybe there was an argument, although we don’t really see people making it, because it’s pretty unsavory that the byproducts are sustainable. Right, it’s not competing with human food streams. You don’t really see that happening in marketing. I think it’d be a very dangerous game to play because people would get hurt quickly. But like that was one argument, potentially Farmer’s dog and the fresh food brands of the world are now still coming from a factory farm, but it’s a human, competitive piece of meat. So it’s increasing demand for animal agriculture versus like taking a stream. That would have been waste, which is bad. Besides the fact that it’s more just like environmentally taxing, to make a fresh food it requires net like a greater increase in animal production, which is just really distressing. I think like the connection between factory farms and environmental impact is like not really up for debate anymore. I’m sure there are people who are still doing that on the edges of the internet, but it’s not really debatable anymore. They’re huge contributors to human accelerated climate change and increasing demand for those types of places is not good and it is the way that the industry is trending. You know it’s not everybody is doing that, but I think that’s kind of the challenge that we have right now, because it was always low quality but maybe picking up on a waste stream. Now it’s higher quality and creating more demand for animal agriculture. That’s where we hope products like Petaluma can educate the market a bit more that there are alternatives to that process meat that people are worried about and they don’t need to be opting into these new formats. They can choose a different stream of food entirely for their dog. That’s way less harmful.Ella Magers: 19:17

And I mean everything’s marketing right. So all the byproducts, those Burger King versions of dog food. Right, they still market it as healthy food. I mean, how educated or uneducated are people? And what is that piece of the marketing for Petaluma that you’ve got to really add in? You know what I mean? Yeah, To be able to succeed in the market.Caroline Buck: 19:43

Yeah, it’s really hard. It’s something that we try to be super thoughtful about, I think, because a vegan, a plant-based diet, is going to have more scrutiny than a conventional diet, which I expect, and I don’t think it’s something we want to shy away from. Yeah, for that reason we really tread softly on the marketing side. We want to describe like our formulation and like the nutritional science and the PhDs who review our food and we want to make people feel super comfortable with how we developed this food and the research that’s behind it. But it’s challenging in an industry where people are saying this is healthier, this is with no substantiation or better skin coat and nails, which is like the most common trope, with like no evidence to suggest that those are one indicators of health or to like proven. So it’s a little bit of the Wild West, like people just kind of like shoot from the hip a lot in the pet food industry. It’s not super, super regulated. In a lot of ways it is. I mean, it’s it’s regulated by an association that’s like part of FDA called AFCO, but in a lot of ways people get away with saying all kinds of things on packaging that I think people have just kind of become accustomed to, which is really interesting. So it’s a challenge because in some ways, you want to like let people draw their own conclusions from what you have, but it does make it more challenging. For me as a marketer it is more challenging and more of a puzzle to solve of. It’s not going to be like a one sentence blurb conversion on Instagram. It’s going to be. You know, we see people, before they make a purchase on our website, are spending minutes and minutes and minutes reading six or seven articles, coming back to our website four or five times Like. We don’t expect people to like it’d be cool if they did but we don’t expect people like quick convert, like yes, this is the thing I think. There’s a lot of self education. It’s a high education product for people who’ve never heard of it before. To like really get comfortable, which is a very different kind of like framework than conventional dog food, which generally doesn’t have a lot of ingredients and they’re just like it’s chicken and rice and you know, trust us, because we’re Purina is kind of all they have to do. So it’s interesting. Things are definitely changing, though, I think, with the rise of especially younger generations who consider their dog like on the same levels like a human child the quality, the sourcing, the transparency. It’s on like another level now, because dogs are family members and they’ve gained a lot of status in the household, I think too, since our parents generation.Ella Magers: 22:12

Yeah, I can totally see that Now. Do you remember when you and your husband decided to go all in on this business idea and I mean that this is a big deal to dedicate your life, your resources, all of this to this company? Do you remember like what kind of pushed you over the edge and how you came up with the name? Those are my two.Caroline Buck: 22:35

Yeah, absolutely. You know, I can’t remember like the specific moment. We had been talking about it forever. We both wanted to do something with like an animal welfare or climate impact. Head food was something that we felt more comfortable in because of Garrett’s specific like work background. He was just spending a lot of time in the pet industry, but we knew it would be really hard. So I think that was like took us a little bit of time just to get comfortable with the idea that this is not. This is going to take us. We have to be in it for the long haul, to be kind of prepared for that, to know that this is not going to be something that happens overnight in terms of converting people to it. And that’s okay because if you think, if you have that mindset going into it, you just make different choices along the way. But you know, I think in some ways we were like naturally interested in becoming entrepreneurs because we both wanted to work on a project together. We have very different skills and then some ways, not a natural entrepreneur because we’re not really high risk taking people outside of this shared venture together. I think it took us a long time just to get comfortable with the idea of striking it out on our own. I think ultimately, what tipped the skills was just feeling a lot of urgency, like I think, seeing so many of our friends and just like the market moving up market and buying more animal proteins, and feeling like that needed to have like an equal and opposite reaction and that we could tell a really interesting story. I think we just both started to feel like a sense of urgency, of like there should be more products like this. I’m not sure who’s going to do it. If we can kind of like weather the marketing storm, if we can kind of like steal ourselves to like build a really interesting brand that can do something different, then we should just go ahead and do it. But it was definitely not like a quick decision at all. Yeah, I think maybe some of our naivete helped us initially, because we were really thoughtful about how we created the company early on. I think it would be harder to make some of those choices now. And then the name. So for people who aren’t familiar with the name, it’s a place it’s in Sonoma County which is like wine country in Northern California, but it’s also very agricultural. So if you’ve been to Petaluma, which is like 45 minutes away from San Francisco. It is famous for chicken farming. It’s kind of a cute little Victorian town so it feels like you stepped back like 100 years maybe and it’s known for like farm to table. It’s a weekend place but it’s also kind of a working agricultural area so that’s kind of like what’s in the air when you’re there. So it’s kind of a little bit of a nod to like know where your food comes from. And also we had an experience staying in Petaluma on like a farm’s day where the woman, the really wonderful woman who owned the farm, had a bunch of animals on her property and our dog just assimilated into like a herd of goats for the weekend while we were there and it was just another tick in the favor of like would it be a crazy idea to just call the company Petaluma? It has the word pet in it. It conjures up like a farm, but like kind of a mythical farm, like if this isn’t really who comes from. This is like the front of a dairy bottle version of where your food comes from. So I think it was like more of an inside joke to us but also had like a little bit of meaning to us as like a place where people think their food comes from and you know it’s kind of like that myth of an American farm, but it’s also a beautiful place and is local. So it’s funny meeting people on the East Coast. They like fully think it’s a made up word or that’s just some kind of funky combination of words. And then people in California are like why don’t you get away with calling it Petaluma? To which I usually say like how did Patagonia get with calling it Patagonia? Turns out you can call your company whatever you want within reason.Ella Magers: 26:08

Right, right, oh, that’s so great. Okay, so you made the choice to move forward with this company for the reasons you’ve suggested, and what are the steps for actually creating that formula and how did you go about figuring that out?Caroline Buck: 26:24

Yeah, that was the longest piece. It was something we really. We did a lot of upfront just testing and surveying of people to hear what. What are plant ingredients that you think your dog likes? What are plant ingredients that you know to be healthy? What flavors does your dog like? There’s some of that, just like consumer testing, which led us, interestingly, to peanut butter. Peanut butter is one of the main flavors in our food. Most people know that their dog loves peanut butter. Most dogs love peanut butter. It’s a plant protein Most people. I think if you put like peanut butter in your smoothie, you’re not like I had a vegan smoothie today. You’re like, no, I had a peanut butter smoothie. So I think that was an interesting place for us. It’s just kind of get a sense of like, what are? Just, we have dogs that will literally eat every vegetable under the sun. So if we were to survey a few hundred people, I’d be curious to understand, like the flavors that people are looking for. But on the science side it’s really interesting. You can form with, just like the various combinations of proteins and whole grains and legumes and healthy fats, like you can build really interesting nutritional profiles that if you were to submit, you know a sample of Petaluma and a sample of maybe another baked food that has a similar like, let’s say, macro profile to a lab. I don’t know that they could really distinguish them. They’d have similar percentages of protein, of fat, of carbohydrates, and that was our goal in formulation. So we worked with one lead veterinarian formulator who’s worked in commercial dog food manufacturing for decades, and then we also consulted with PhDs in animal nutrition, which is interesting because it’s so different from human nutrition. Like, it’s a very, very small number of them in the US. It’s a challenging degree to get. So we consulted with them too, just to ensure, you know, we want to get feedback from all sides to ensure this diet is accounting for having really high digestibility, which is a concern that sometimes people have with plant, as you know, plant-based diets to ensure all the amino acids are there. You know synthetic vegan vitamins are included to just ensure that that’s all available to the dog through diet. So it took us a really long time to both cross our T’s and dot our I’s on the science and formulation side to make sure that we had a profile that we felt really good about, and then we ultimately decided to bake our food, which was kind of has been kind of the biggest hurdle, I think, in our business so far. There are not very many bakeries in the US that make pet food. There’s a lot that make treats. So it’s becoming a more popular format, because Kipple kind of has this negative wrap. It’s really not deserved on the plant-based side Like. The problem with Kipple, in my opinion, has everything to do with processed meats. But it is a format that’s really nice from our perspective because you don’t add any flavoring, you’re not spraying on like a scent or palatine, that’s what it’s called. It just comes out of the oven smelling like the ingredients you put into it. And I think we made a choice early on to include as much organic as we could and we wanted that to be visible to the customer. Like you open the bag. We wanted to be able to see pieces of the ingredients and smell the peanut butter and kind of have the experience of the food be food. So it took us a few years to kind of like get that all really dialed in where dogs loved it. Veterinarians were excited about the nutritional profile and we had like a partner who could bake dog food at scale, which is now becoming fairly popular. But around the time we were doing it there’s maybe two in the US that could crank it out, so it’s been for people who had jobs in the tech world prior to this. It’s a very physical, demanding product to make. This was very sad. It’s time to get the first bag in our hands and open it and feed it to our dogs. It’s very slow to make a product. A physical product took a long time and I think, rightfully so. Right, and I think there’s a very quick way to do this unless you have tons and tons and tons of capital and people to get it done.Ella Magers: 30:21

Yeah, I’m kind of laughing a little bit because so Quinn’s mother, who had bought, yeah, for Guinness, she’s like, smell it. She wanted me to smell it because she really appreciated that she could smell, yes, and so what you’re saying is so resonating. And then she said I even tasted it just to see it. She was like and that’s? I mean, it seems like that’s how it should be right, like we should be able to share. We share our food with the dogs. Yeah, if the dog’s food is shareable with us, then that’s quality stuff. Yeah.Caroline Buck: 30:55

It’s so funny you say that too, because we’ve had people who will be like oh, this one, you know, I just tried your senior formula and it has like more yellow in it and what I was. Like there’s more turmeric, turmeric, curcumin and turmeric in it and they’re like oh, that’s cool that it’s not like I was. Like there’s no coloring in this, it’s just coming from the ingredients itself. So like it’s just to your point, like it’s a food, all of the ingredients she could certainly eat. You know it may not taste as good to go, but yeah, it’s very interesting. Like I wouldn’t dare eat a piece of kibble from whatever I was feeding my dog years ago.Ella Magers: 31:30

Like yeah, I mean I’ll look back. Many people would no, no, Okay. And then when you’re creating it and I’m sure doing some market research, who is your target audience? I mean, the number of actual vegans in the United States is pretty freaking small. Like yeah, how did you know? Or you tell me, like, are more people interested in this than just vegans, and how? Are you doing that?Caroline Buck: 31:53

Yeah, and I have the same concern. When we started, interestingly, there was some survey data out of, I think, the University of Guelph in Canada that showed that like a third of pet owners were interested in a meat free diet if they felt confident in how it was made, which was shocking to me. That seemed really really high relative to how few vegetarians and vegans there are Today. About like 70% of our customers have, like, this is the first plant based food that they’ve tried for their dog, or they’re switching from a meat based food to. The vast majority of people are coming to us from a conventional meat product, which is interesting, and about half of our customers tell us or report in our surveys that they are vegetarians or vegan themselves. So it’s about half, which is still surprising to me. I think it’s interesting. Usually the people who are not vegetarians or vegans themselves that have found Petaluma are looking for the absence of something like we kind of chatted about earlier, like they don’t want processed meat in their food. So they’re kind of like finding us through process of elimination, or they’re compelled by climate and they haven’t made the dietary change themselves yet, or they’re cutting back. I think there’s a lot of some, at least from some of the people I’ve spoken with like there’s a lot of like emotions and shame and feelings tied up in food, so sometimes people will like be slower. I’m making a big guess here, but just based on conversations I’ve had with folks like it might take them a long time to get there with themselves, or they might take a while to break habits or make a big shift, or it feels really hard, whereas changing your dog’s diet is relatively easy and is one of those trade-offs you can make. That’s not insignificant. So it’s been really interesting to see that in general, most of our customers are not coming from another meat alternative and for the most part they are not vegetarians or vegans themselves, which I expect to like I hope continues over time, because it gives me a lot of optimism that maybe they’ll make some changes elsewhere too.Ella Magers: 33:56

Yeah, absolutely, when you brought the first batch home for your dogs. First, I want to hear about your dogs, who they are, their names and all that and were you like holding your breath, like like what was that? Like like hoping they’re gonna like it, what if they didn’t?Caroline Buck: 34:12

Well, you know what’s funny? I mean, I have the worst taste testers of all time, like they are so enthusiastic for truly all food. So I had some point. I need to convince Garrett to let me get another dog who’s like very picky, because they’re horrible, like they are not useful. I have to like bring it around to like friends and friends and friends be like I need to do this. So they were like losing their mind about the box coming in the door because it was food. We knew what the food would be like because we’d done so much sampling and testing before we got it. I had never seen our packaging in the flesh until it arrived on our doorstep. So I was the most panicked about like oh my God, are there any typos? Just like. And I was like I need to inspect every inch of this bag and make sure it looks the way that I want it to look when we submitted these designs six months ago. So it was more of like a just you know we are still a very small team and it was super, super gratifying to get it in. But, yeah, I absolutely need another dog in my immediate network that is a picky eater. Very helpful, you got it and tell us about your dogs. I have two dogs. One is 11. I’ve had him for 10 years, the same as Leo. He was described to me as a lab. He’s not. He’s 35 pounds, he’s just like a total mutt from the LA SPCA and has been like the main character of my life the whole time about him. And then I have another dog named Oscar. I got him on Thanksgiving four years ago. I think he’s five now, maybe turning six. He was a stray dog in Mexico. He came to us really in bad shape, I think. Our first dog, Leo like I don’t know what his backstory was, but he really slotted in the comforts of home very quickly. Oscar was a little more of a slow build. He needed kind of an extreme makeover for his hair, his fur and he was very skittish and very scared. He’s really been like a late bloomer. He’s very attached to me. I found him in the shelter. It’s called Family Dog Rescue. They’re in Sonoma. They used to be in San Francisco. I found him because a friend of mine had sent me the link and was like oh my god, this dog looks exactly like Leo and I don’t know what possessed me. But I just sort of immediately went on and adopted this dog. I didn’t really think too much about it, I was just so like. They really are like doppelgangers of each other and they are a bonded pair. They sleep together, they are constantly playing with each other. It’s very sweet. So I’m a huge softy, so I barely need, like a suggestion, to have another animal in the mix. There always seems to be like a foster or a babysat pet around, so I’m a very easy sell. I need to, you know, keep my distance from option areas, but they’re both great, I think, like daily outlets for us especially. I’ve been working from home for a few days where it’s really so nice. As you know, having a dog like really establishes a routine that you never get out of, which is so nice.Ella Magers: 37:00

Yeah, yeah. And when? What’s your routine with your chickens? And did you know what you were doing when you I mean, they just sent you home and were you already familiar with what they needed and like getting a setup for them? And you know how did that all pan out?Caroline Buck: 37:14

Yeah, Like probably true to form for Garrett and I’s personalities, like it was a COVID project that we’re like let’s adopt some hens. Let’s like get some chickens in the mix. We have a little bit of space and he built like the most elaborate chicken coop of all time. Like it does not need to be. It looks like a dollhouse. It does not need to be. It doesn’t need to be as big as it is. They have free room of our little backyard. So we built the coop first and then started to do some research on it and most people that we talked to beyond like predator proofing, like so easy, they’d like to just do their own thing. They like get up with the sun, they go to sleep with the sun and they’re so pleasant. And I don’t know where our hens originated from beyond. Like the shelter but they’re like we’ll hop up on your shoulder. They’re like very friendly, which I’m surprised by. I feel like I expected maybe them not that they needed to be pets, that were pet, but I’m still always surprised. They’re so trusting and very sweet and funny Like. They have funny little like social dynamics and I don’t know it’s a. I think chickens have been a good entry point. I think people who can have them in your backyard if you’re interested. They’re like very easy relatively speaking. I thought they would be much more work than they are, but they’re really self-sufficient little backyard crew and it’s very sweet. Next door neighbors have like a patio that looks onto them and they’re just like watching the chickens all the time. It’s just they’re funny to watch and they’re good entertainment and they’re very quiet. So I’m a walking advertisement for getting big chickens.Ella Magers: 38:45

Well, I’m asking in part because at Hogs and Kisses, our microsanctuary, we are kind of in the talking phase of what’s our next animals. You know we’ve got pigs and rabbits at the moment, so chickens are definitely in the discussion.Caroline Buck: 39:04

So yeah, yeah, I had rabbits growing up, but to me they seem a little bit similar, like in their enclosure and keeping them safe. Very sweet, but yeah, it’s a slippery slope. I feel like it’s easy to have a lot of chickens, which is anytime. I see an adoptable hen I’m like, oh, it’s one more, what’s two more? So easy to find, unfortunately, a lot of chickens for adoption, sadly.Ella Magers: 39:29

So I’m curious. I didn’t ask you about the organic ingredients and how you chose. I know you’re it’s made with over 50% organic ingredients. How did you pick and choose? You know ingredients to choose organic.Caroline Buck: 39:40

Yeah, absolutely so, organic. To me it’s like a constant negotiation we have Because I think to a certain extent even our customers, who will tell us in surveys that they really value the inclusion of organic, they don’t necessarily want to pay any more for organic or there’s like a ceiling on that. So our initial interest in sourcing organic and including as much as we could was originally from a place of wanting to support healthier farming practices. So, for reasons I’m sure like vast majority of your listeners know, like organic farming is better for biodiversity, it’s better for soil health, it’s also a lot better typically for farm workers who are physically applying pesticides, often by hand, which can be dangerous. So we set out to include as much as we could within reason. And then in terms of which ingredients we selected, of course always a question of cost. Sometimes there’s just not a cost competitive organic alternative or it’s really hard to source. But in general we were looking at how the ingredients are processed. So if a food is already gonna be milled or it’s already going to have like a processing step, which is kind of if our focus is a limiting in switchword of pesticides, that is a kind of more sanitized product than, say, like chickpeas which are coming to us fairly unprocessed. So if we buy organic chickpeas for that reason, same with, like flax, a lot of our whole grains, like we’re using whole oats in our food and that’s a great one to buy organic if you can, because coming fairly unprocessed to a baked food it’s mixed in like you would be making cookies, so it’s a good one to reduce exposure to. So it’s kind of a set of like principles guiding the selection and we’re always looking and keeping tabs on how those things shift over time. As demand for organic agriculture goes up, I’m very hopeful that we can get closer and closer to a higher inclusion rate of organic. Interestingly though, we could never, under the current guidelines, be a certified organic food. The USDA who sets the organic program. They don’t allow for some of the synthetic vitamin supplementation in products to be organic label. So we use in our food L-carnitine, just an amino acid. It’s really important to have in your dog’s diet, especially if it’s meat-free and it’s currently not in the current provisions it’s not permitted in dog food. So I think from like a marketing perspective, there’s like I think it would be challenging for us to get to a high enough inclusion rate to be USDA organic, but that’s kind of not like the focus of why we’re doing it. But it’s kind of an interesting aside that, like, really only a meat-based food currently could be certified organic, and it’s something that we want to include as much of as we can, while being mindful of, like, keeping this as affordable as possible, which is always a challenge when you’re in a certain range of ingredients.Ella Magers: 42:33

Yeah, I can only imagine that balance, just doing the best you can, and yeah, with the price point and all that makes sense. Are there any particular questions or kind of objections that you get quite frequently that you are able to explain away? Like I don’t know. I mean, do people say, well, my dog is supposed to eat meat? Like, is that a big one?Caroline Buck: 42:58

or are there other ones? I think there’s a lot of, and it’s interesting because I try to stay in like a zone of empathy around this, because I think it’s like really the cause of this is just food marketing for the last half century. Like I don’t know if people really have like interrogated why they feel this way, but I think for a lot of people they have a knee jerk. Like dogs are carnivores so they require animal protein or diet. This is like abusive to not give them meat. That’s like the most common like knee jerk. It’s usually not people who are like I’m not going to be able to be petaluma customers off of that, but I think what’s interesting to me there’s a really interesting study that came out a few years ago I think it was published in Nature, showing that like dogs ancestors were basically plant-based Like because they evolved, are separated genetically from wolves to live alongside humans. When we started farming, we were mostly eating plants, or plants made up the bulk of many diets in ancient human worlds. Dogs ate our scraps, and so if there was animal protein in the diet of the humans in that area, they probably weren’t giving it to a dog, so they were developed all these really interesting genetic adaptations. It’s why dogs can digest carbohydrates, because they evolved to be able to eat what we ate, which is a really interesting story. It’s not something you can tell like super quickly of like they’re not a carnivore, they’re an omnivore. And also like their ancestors weren’t either. You know, might share a common ancestor with a wolf, but we’re going so far back in time that it’s no longer really relevant to the like pug that you have. So I think that definitely a lot of pushback on like I thought that they were a carnivore and then you have to kind of explain no, and most dog food historically has had very little meat in it, even if that was a presumption. And then I think the other thing we get is like and even sometimes from the vegetarian and vegan world just some misinformation about like plant protein, just that it’s somehow not complete enough as it is, or that you can’t get all the nutrients from plant-based sources, and that there’s something kind of wrong about supplementation and those are kind of harder myths and beliefs to kind of unpack. So I think where we’ve opted to go on that route is we publish a full nutritional profile on our website, like the lab results. So if there was a concern that you weren’t getting certain amino acids or vitamins or minerals in your diet. You can just see what the lab results look like, but I’m sure that’s common across human foods too. There’s just some unpacking to do with plant proteins that people have some hangups around or thinking just feeling nervous about it not having all the nutrition you need, which is definitely, of course, not true. But it’s a little bit harder to untangle than like an origin story myth.Ella Magers: 45:44

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. All right Now. I’ve also heard you say that the word vegan can be both helpful and hurtful when it comes to marketing. Do you use the word vegan in any of your marketing tactics? How does that come into play?Caroline Buck: 46:01

Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten some heat from both sides before and I’m open to this evolving over time, because I think that these things are changing all the time too. We lean more on plant-based, and my rationale is that I think that vegan in the consumer world has come to be associated with looking for the absence of something, so I wanna make sure that this beauty product that I’m buying is vegan. I wanna ensure that this, like coffee creamer, is vegan. I do not want dairy in this or I do not want animal-based ingredients in this, and my concern, I think initially which I think it’s really too soon to say this was an error on my part or if people will nudge this way is I didn’t want to market from the absence of something for dog food, out of concern that it felt like you were focused on removing something rather than focused on adding something which is like maybe like a very slight distinction. But I wanted to talk about the plants. I think one of the things that’s a little bit different from us relative to the other meat alternative diets or meat-free alternatives on the market right now is we’re not using meat analog flavors. We’re not calling things like chicken and rice or something, or a casserole. We’re not using like language to conjure up like a meat analog. We’re really leaning into like sweet potato and pumpkin and peanut butter and flax and chickpeas and we’re trying to advocate for using those foods in your diet. So I think vegan is helpful in that it’s shorthand. So if I was speaking depending on the audience, like if I’m speaking to an audience within PETA or within Veg Out Magazine or a place where people have already kind of gotten past the initial reaction, then vegan is so helpful because it’s just shorthand with a group that’s already understands why you exist. I think with the larger markets I’ve found it’s just even in conversations it’s just like a softer place to explain the plants. So, all that said, I’m always happy to change course on it because I know people have big feelings about it and I hope it’s something that will change over time in that it can be a less polarizing term or a more helpful term to describe something as things shift a little bit.Ella Magers: 48:22

I’m with you. I think that makes a lot of sense. Plant-based just is more inclusive and allows people that are wanting to do more but know that they’re not ready to go quote all the way to make a healthy, sustainable choice for their family, their pet family as well. So, yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. All right, one more question. You are gifted a billboard. You get to do whatever you want with that billboard. What do you do with that billboard and why this?Caroline Buck: 48:53

is so hard. So I love the Oatly billboards around town that are like, usually saying something along the lines of like milk, but for humans I think those are like. I love that they make fun of themselves. It’s very lighthearted. I think I’d want to do something like your great, great, great great grandparents, like your dog’s great, great, great great grandparents, like eight plants, like something. Like your dog is not a wolf.Ella Magers: 49:20

I think we’re not a wolf.Caroline Buck: 49:22

Something to try to just like normalize. This is like it’s not a fad, it’s not something really like woo-woo and strange. Like this is what dogs have been eating for centuries and centuries and that, like commercial diets changed what we fed them? Not really. They are not like carnivorous wolves. I think I’d want to do something like to kind of play on that and to try to like lean into the like I think there’s a lot of. I sometimes joke that I feel like dog food is still like in its like Boy Scout era, like there’s always just like a wolf next to a stream, like catching a salmon or something, but like I don’t know, I’ve never had a dog that can do that, I’ve never seen a dog do that, and I think there’s like a more interesting story going back in time. We don’t have to do like a caveman thing, right. So that’s probably like I probably should come up with something a little bit more cover for the sake of a billboard, but it’s something to play on the fact that, like this dog that you buy a Christmas gift for and take to the vet three times a year and you know would pay thousands of dollars in surgery if they needed it. Like they are not a wolf, something a lot.Ella Magers: 50:29

Yes, I like it. It’s so great. Oh, Caroline, I’m so glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Thank you for bringing these products to the market and tell us where we can learn more, where they can find the food and buy it. Absolutely.Caroline Buck: 50:44

We are mostly online. Our website is feed f-e-e-d, pedalumacom and if you’re in LA or in Erwin stores, otherwise okay we’re on the internet. We can probably get to you pretty quickly, and my email is caroline at feedpedaluma. If anyone ever wants to ask a question, we’re always available.Ella Magers: 51:02

Fantastic. We will put all of those in the show notes. This has been a fascinating conversation. I’m so thankful that you came on with this and I hope to get to meet you soon, and your dogs too.Caroline Buck: 51:13

All right. So thank you so much, so welcome.Ella Magers: 51:20

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Rise and Thrive with me, Ella Majors. I truly hope you found it inspiring and, if you did, please help me spread the word by leaving a rating and review on your favorite podcast player and by sharing the show with your friends. As you probably know by now, my life’s purpose is to use my voice to make this world a more conscious and compassionate place, and your reviews and shares make a huge impact. And last, I’m getting a ton of insanely positive feedback about my short and sweet monthly newsletter called the Way. Part four the Way Out is Through. I give my top five latest badass discoveries, insights and explorations, like vegan products and recipes. I’m obsessed with books and shows I’m loving and workouts that have me fired up. Head on over to my website, EllaMajorscom, to sign up and check out all the other awesome resources I have for you and projects I’m involved with, including Hogs and Kisses Farm Sanctuary, where our mission is to create the best life for farm animals while inspiring compassion for all living beings. Thanks a lot and I’ll see you on the next one.


[Pet food] is a really interesting, wacky industry.

-Caroline Buck


What if your dog’s diet could do more than just keep them healthy but also help save the planet? That’s one of the intriguing questions we’re exploring today with our guest, Caroline Buck, the co-founder and CMO of Petaluma, a company that’s shaking up the pet food industry with sustainable, organic, plant-based options.

Caroline takes us on her journey of founding Petaluma, a company that’s turning the pet food industry on its head with healthy, organic, plant-based options for dogs.

We talk about the challenges they faced marketing a vegan pet food brand in an industry filled with unfounded claims and delve into the fascinating process of selecting organic ingredients for their product.

We chat about how Caroline’s personal transition to a plant-based diet and her passion for animals, combined with her husband’s experience in pet nutrition, shaped this unique venture that’s not just about feeding dogs, but also about saving the planet.

Caroline also shares heartwarming tales of her pet family, which includes two rescue dogs, Leo and Oscar, and the amazing chickens she adopted during the pandemic. These stories form the backbone of her mission to create a better world for animals.

Finally, we get candid about common misconceptions about dog diets, the importance of transparency in pet food ingredients, and the inspirational drive behind the Petaluma brand.

This episode is a treat for animal lovers, eco-conscious pet owners, or anyone interested in the revolutionary world of sustainable pet nutrition. Don’t miss out on this heartwarming, enlightening conversation!


Official Bio: 

Caroline is the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Petaluma. Caroline’s background is predominantly in product marketing, business development, and growth marketing. Most recently, Caroline was VP of Marketing at Mexico-based software services company Wizeline, which she helped scale from 200 people to >1,200 people in just three years. Prior to Wizeline, Caroline was a Product Marketer at Yahoo! in the advertising technology product team. Caroline’s background of leading and building teams, creating differentiated brand positioning, and sales/business development, provides a broad set of tools for growing Petaluma. Caroline graduated from Dartmouth College.



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