- New generation of plant-based brands are driving innovation across the wellness industry and disrupting a market previously slow to embrace change
- Celebrities and influencers are backing London startup The Pack, as it closes a pre-seed investment round for a range of plant-based dog food
- Cultured meat startup Because Animals produces the world’s first fetal bovine serum-free cultured meat for cats
LONDON, United Kingdom — Pet food accounts for a quarter of the environmental impact of meat production globally. It’s an industry that has long been resistant to change, but a new wave of plant-based brands are starting to disrupt the sector and draw capital from climate-conscious investors.
Last month, The Pack closed an undisclosed pre-seed investment round for a new range of plant-based dog food, drawing high profile support from former England and Manchester United footballer Chris Smalling, UK vegan celebrity chef duo Henry Firth and Ian Theasby and Veganuary Co-Founder Matthew Glover’s fund Veg Capital.
It follows Colorado’s Bond Pet Foods and Philadelphia’s Because Animals, which recently developed biotech solutions to produce animal-free pet food using cell-based technology, and San Francisco-based vegan dog food brand V-planet, which launched in Japan at the end of 2020 to increase its presence to 10 countries globally.
Yet while V-planet, which uses non-GMO ingredients such as pea, ground oats, brown rice and potato protein, has slowly grown since it was founded in 2005, The Pack’s Co-Founder Damien Clarkson believes consumer – and investor – demand in environmentally-friendly pet food has shifted and the sector is ready for explosive growth.
Making impactful change
The Pack is a joint venture from Clarkson and Judy Nadel, co-hosts of The Plant Based Business podcast, along with tech entrepreneur and vegan investor Michiel van Deursen.
Set to launch early this year, the London-based startup will offer three different flavoured ambient plant-based wet foods for dogs, as created by food scientists, pet food technologists, and pet nutritionists.
Since 2016 Clarkson and Nadel have also run Vevolution, an events and media company to support plant-based innovators focussed on creating plant-powered solutions for the future.
Yet, while Clarkson has witnessed the plant-based food industry become transformed by challenger brands creating products that are better for the planet, he says pet food has long been slow to embrace change.
“Pet food has long sat near the bottom in terms of innovation in Europe [in the plant-based space],” Clarkson tells Welltodo. “There are some great heritage pet food brands in Europe but existing brands have only been speaking to a niche audience.”
He continues, “Creating pet food is a very scientific process and a huge challenge as there is lots of work to be done to show people that pets can thrive on a plant-based diet.”
This is a task Clarkson says The Pack is excited to take on. “We’ve seen what positive inclusive messaging and community building can achieve in the plant-based world and we are all about getting tails wagging not fingers.”
In order to make impactful change, The Pack is looking to appeal to a mainstream audience and reach all pet owners. And, according to Clarkson, established meat-based pet food brands are starting to take notice.
“This is about championing plants,” he says. “The established pet food industry is sitting up and taking notice of alt-protein startups as more and more consumers look to buy products for their beloved pets that align with their own personal values.”
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The next sectors to undergo a plant-based makeover
Since launching Vevolution in 2016, Clarkson has watched plant-based brands disrupt almost every category across food and beverage, and he says a similar transformation is taking place in the beauty and materials space.
“This area is set for huge growth,” Clarkson explains. “I’m excited about companies like Bolt Threads, that are literally growing the next generation of plant-based materials, and designers like Votch who have been innovating for years and now the general public and investors are starting to take notice.”
While he expects the green revolution to continue apace, with investment funds increasingly measuring the social and environmental impact of their portfolios as key performance metrics, Clarkson firmly believes the pet industry is one of the most exciting spaces to be in right now.
“Pet parents are crying out for more great choices and companies like us at The Pack, Wild Earth, Bond Pet Foods and Bramble are using science to create highly nutritious and tasty products that dogs love,” he says.
Ingredient innovation by companies such as Geltor and Jellatech, that are creating animal-free collagen and gelatin, will continue to draw investment into the plant-based pet food sector, says Clarkson.
He’s also confident that greater consumer awareness of the health benefits of plant-based pet food will trigger a surge in popularity from pet owners, just like it has with human food.
“Pets are going to eat more plants, that is for sure,” says Clarkson. “We see the same changes that unfolded with human food taking place in the pet industry. For example, the understanding that on a plant-based diet you don’t only survive but thrive.
“The same will happen for pets. Dogs are omnivores and will thrive if they eat more plants.”
Rather than cannibalising the meat-based pet food market, Clarkson predicts we’ll see the rise of the “flexi-dogian”, with more pet owners choosing to integrate plant-based products into their animal’s diet.
“Many conscious pet parents are making the choice to feed plant-based food for their dog’s health and because they see the impact animal agriculture is having on the climate crisis,” Clarkson adds.
“Change is coming and it is going to mean one giant leap forward for dogkind.”