Canadian pet food startup embraces non-traditional proteins to achieve sustainability
HOPE Pet Foods, a Canadian pet food and treat startup, entered the industry with the launch of its Berry Buglicious insect-based dog treats in late 2021 and is gearing up for the launch of its first complete-and-balanced dog food.
The Berry Buglicious biscuit dog treats, first launched in October 2021, are oven-baked in small batches with hypoallergenic ingredients, including Enterra’s insect protein from black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), cranberries and maple syrup. The treats are also formulated with barley flour, oats, pumpkin, kelp and apple cider vinegar.
“We love plants and there is no doubt eating more of them and less animal products is better, but plants cannot provide all the nutrients pets need,” said Sofia Bonilla, Ph.D., co-founder and chief executive officer of HOPE Pet Foods. “On the other hand, it is pretty clear that we cannot continue livestock and fish farming as it is today, so why should we settle with meat-based or plant-based products when there is so much more like insect protein or algae oils?”
Aside from insect protein, HOPE Pet Foods has incorporated several other sustainable ingredients into its brand philosophy, including algae, yeast and other plant-based ingredients to deliver protein and other key nutrients for dog and cat nutrition. The company has intentionally avoided traditional meat and fish proteins to deliver on its sustainable mission.
“Part of our nutrition philosophy is that ingredient diversity is critical to achieve a balanced diet, so we make sure that even though we are removing meat and fish ingredients for sustainability reasons that we will continue bringing new ingredients that have been overlooked before, but that contribute to providing superb nutrition for dogs and cats,” Bonilla told Pet Food Processing.
HOPE Pet Foods is preparing to launch its first complete-and-balanced dog diet in the second quarter of 2022. The limited-ingredient, oven-baked diet will feature insect protein, dried yeast, kelp and plants to provide all essential nutrients.
“Including nutritious and sustainable ingredients like black soldier fly larvae protein and dried yeast were an obvious start to the formulation process,” said Alex Camara, pet nutritionist at HOPE Pet Foods. “To achieve the right balance of nutrients, we are combining alternative proteins with grains, pulses and algae to create our complete and balanced formulas. We formulate to meet and exceed AAFCO and FEDIAF nutrient guidelines for dogs and cats, but we also keep up to date with current research being published to ensure we can offer the best to our pets.”
Sustainability is embedded into the business, from ingredient procurement to distribution.
“We are convinced sustainability without sacrifice is not only possible but is the only way forward,” Bonilla said. “We are making progress at each stage of the supply chain, from sourcing ingredients to how our product is delivered to customers. We try as much as possible to source locally; over 95% of our ingredients are locally sourced. We are using recyclable packaging and our logistics partner is building the largest electric vehicle fleet in Canada and is committed to being carbon negative by 2023.”
HOPE Pet Foods has partnered with Enterra, a Canada-based supplier of insect ingredients, to supply BSFL for its existing dog treat and upcoming dog food formula. Bonilla described HOPE Pet Foods’ partnership with Enterra as a “perfect fit.”
“We want to keep our supply chain as local as possible, and not only look for what would make more sense financially but to ensure we promote sustainability in our supply chain,” she said. “The ingredients we source come from companies with aligned values like Enterra. The same applies to our manufacturing, packaging and logistics partners.”
According to the company, HOPE Pet Foods’ products create 70% less greenhouse gas emissions and use 90% less water and land compared to traditional meat-based pet food products.
HOPE Pet Foods is currently owned and operated by a team of six women, leveraging Canadian co-manufacturers to bring its products to market.
Bonilla earned her doctorate in bioprocess engineering with an expertise in proteins from the University of Toronto. HOPE Pet Foods represents her first foray into the pet food and treat market, but she brings a wealth of experience in developing alternative protein solutions to the business.
“When I moved to the Netherlands to explore the potential of alternative proteins from algae, the more I learned about it, the more it became clear that we need to reimagine our food systems to be sustainable,” Bonilla said. “After doing research at the intersection of biology, environment and engineering for 15 years, I felt creating truly sustainable pet food was possible and if no one was doing it, then I should use my scientific background to have a positive impact.”
Coupled with Co-Founder Kasey Dunn, who offers experience on the business and entrepreneurial side of the equation, as well as Camara, the team's in-house pet nutritionist, the company hopes to build the brand with new products and distribution expansions.
“We are proud to be leaders in sustainable insect-based pet food,” Dunn said. “More action needs to take place if we want a better future, and the pandemic is not going to stop us.”
HOPE Pet Foods is currently in the research and development stage for a cat treat made with sustainable ingredients, which will be followed by an alternative protein cat food, Bonilla shared. Aside from focusing its efforts on R&D, the company is looking to expand distribution in Ontario, across Canada and into the United States market.
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