Katherine Ellison worked in the pet food and pet wellness industry for 14 years, helping other brands launch products and pet owners care for their furry companions.
So when she was laid off from her job in sales and marketing at a Twin Cities pet food manufacturer last year, she decided to apply her knowledge toward a new venture.
In March, Ellison launched a plant-based dog treat brand called Bright Planet Pet. The brand, which she operates from their Bloomington home with her husband, Dave, has already gained the attention of major retailers.
The U.S. pet food and treat market is growing quickly, generating $42 billion in sales last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Pet Valu, a brick-and-mortar pet specialty retailer in Canada, is selling Bright Planet products in 400 stores and online, Ellison said. Starting in February, Petco will carry the treats in 500 stores as part of a seasonal campaign highlighting sustainably made products, she said.
The brand can be found locally at the Wedge and Linden Hills grocery co-ops, as well as the Brand Builders Market in St. Paul's Keg & Case.
Ellison developed the idea for the product years ago after being inspired by a conversation she had at a trade show. She wanted to create dog treats that appeal to millennial dog owners with pickier preferences for their pets.
Her plan was to create a dog treat based on the Impossible Burger, a plant-based patty with the flavor and texture of meat developed by California-based Impossible Foods.
When unemployment brought unexpected free time, Ellison revisited the idea.
She created a base formula for the treats and refined her recipe with a local food scientist. She then raised $10,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and found a local pet food company, Delano-based Tuffy's Treat Co., to manufacture and package its first 7,000 bags.
Those who backed the company on Kickstarter each received a bag, and Ellison also began selling directly to consumers on her company's website, Amazon.com and Boxed.com.
"We were pretty fortunate to get the recipe right on the first try," she said.
Sales have risen steadily since the launch, Ellison said. By the end of 2022, Ellison anticipates her company will generate $450,000 in revenue and have placement in 2,500 stores in North America.
Earlier this year, Bright Planet Pet reached the semifinals of the Minnesota Cup, a statewide startup competition operated by the University of Minnesota. Though her company did not win the grand prize, it did receive the $10,000 Green and Sustainable Chemistry Prize from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which goes to a business with the best "green and sustainable chemistry-based outcomes."
Bright Planet Pet's products require 68% less water than meat-based treats, Ellison said, and portions of her company's sales support a reforestation project. The $10,000 prize money will be used for transitioning into recyclable packaging and shipping materials.
Ellison is also planning to raise money from private investors to scale the company. Those funds will help with the launch of new products, including a rotisserie-flavored crunchy biscuit treat and plant-based wet and dry dog food, and research and development of plant-based cat food.
"Our goal is to create treats that are affordable and accessible so we can introduce plant-based eating to the every-day dog," she said.