These days many of us are rethinking the way we eat for the sake of a healthier body and planet. But what about our pets?
To find the answer we interviewed Paul Shenouda, Co-Founder VP of Innovation at Montreal’s Wilder & Harrier. Launched in 2015, Wilder & Harrier sells hypoallergenic and healthy dog treats featuring a unique ingredient readers of this blog are familiar with: insects.
If you’re an animal lover, you won’t want to miss Paul’s insights into what’s shockingly wrong with the pet food industry, why you one day might be a “canicross” athlete, and why are insects are a potential game-changer in pet food. Plus he has a special offer for you at the end!
What is Wilder and Harrier?
Wilder and Harrier wants to be the answer to the question, “What’s the most innovative company in the pet food industry?” We want people to always be surprised and inspired by what we do. And not for the sake of novelty, but for sustainability and the well-being of their pets.
What’s the problem you guys are addressing?
One in two dogs today will succumb to cancer, the highest rate of any mammal on the planet, and the average dog lifespan has gone from 17 years in the 70s to 11 years now.
The biggest cause of this is poor nutrition. Over the past decades, pet food has become industrialized, and with that transparency in the value chain disappeared. This has led to a lot of chemicals, recalls, and even deaths.
Check out this awesome TED Talk from food nutrition blogger Rodney Habib for more.
Sounds similar to the problems with human food! Why is dog food different from human food anyways?
Dogs and humans have co-evolved ever since humans took wolves in to live with them. It’s been well documented that dogs have become habituated with eating whatever humans have left over. So our food was connected.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost that connection. We need to get back to blurring the lines between pet food and human food. The same way you’re putting effort into what you’re eating and wanting to eat fresh things, you should want the same for your dogs.
So the same way we want people to eat insects now, we should want our pets to eat them too?
Yes! Unlike many ingredients being used now in pet food, insect proteins and other alternative proteins we’re working with are fully transparent and sustainable. Since, unlike humans, dogs don’t care about eating insects we decided focus on pet nutrition.
But do dogs naturally eat insects?
Yes! It’s as natural for dogs to eat insects as it is for them to eat beef. There are now studies that show that the bioavailability of nutrients in insects is even higher than in beef.
How about cats?
We’ve read that for wild cats up to 10% of their diet is insects, so cat food is something we might be looking into in the future. Generally cats are more picky with food though, and we wanted to get one product right before exploring other markets, so we’re starting with dogs.
Sounds like a good idea. What about bad ideas? What’s been your biggest mistake?
In the beginning we focused on expansion to new stores before even understanding completely who our end customers were and why they chose to buy our products. That didn’t work, so now our main focus is connecting with end users. We’re putting in crazy amounts of time and effort into educating the staff at the stores about our products and talking with clients to understand what’s resonating with them.
Another mistake was that until November of last year our product was called “Bug Bites”. This caused a lot of confusion with customers. Some even thought the name meant our products had insect repellant in it!
Haha. So how’s business?
Great. We’re hitting all of our sales targets and are selling widely throughout Quebec and Ontario. Ever since we changed our branding to Wilder & Harrier, shifted our focus to the customer, and got involved with communities like canicross, we’ve really been taking off. We were in 80 stores back in November, and are now in around 180.
Wait. Did you just say “Canicross”? What’s that?
You’ve never heard of canicross?
Canicross is crosscountry running with your pet harnessed to your waist. It started as off-season training for sled dogs, but is growing now because—just like how we’re realizing dogs need to eat better just as we do—we’re also realizing they need to move more too. Canicross is really exciting and the sport’s growing more and more every month.
Since Wilder & Harrier and the sport share the mission of promoting sustainable health for pets and owners, we started sponsoring canicross athletes and events. We have big tents at events, branded gear, everything. It’s been big for us and we’ve really enjoyed being involved in this new sport.
Cool! I’m surprised I’d never heard of it. Speaking of surprises, what has surprised you so far?
The number of people who have tried our product and stuck to it because it’s the only protein their dogs can take. For various reasons, their dogs had developed allergies or an inability to digest traditional proteins but have none of those issues with our products. This has surprised scientists and vets too. It has created awareness about the possibility of using different sources of protein and sparked research on the topic.
If alternative proteins are so potentially healthy, why do you only sell treats?
It’s easier for people to try a bag of treats costing $10 to $16 than a bag of food worth $50 to $70. Plus the investment cost for us for making treats is lower too. In the long term, once we have a more established clientele, we definitely want to get into complete food.
What else is next for Wilder and Harrier?
As I mentioned before, we’re looking to be known as THE innovative pet food company. This means that while our first line of products has crickets, we’re investigating other innovative, sustainable, and nutritious ingredients too. Stuff like seaweed, algae, and yeasts, among other things. We’re also excited to experiment with Heilu of course!
Also, we’re definitely going to BC this summer. We’ve had a lot of interest there from distributors and customers. A lot of our online orders are coming from there already. Kelowna, actually, is the most dog-friendly city in Canada. With so many dog lovers and nature lovers, we expect BC will be a huge market for us.
Awesome. A lot of people who’ll read this are in BC and seemingly everyone owns a dog. Any special offers for them?
Totally. If any of your readers are pet owners in Canada and they suspect their pet could be healthier with a more natural and transparent source of protein, have them email me (firstname.lastname@example.org their address and we’ll send them a sample. People can also use the special promo code 20%HEILU to get a discount on our online store!
Thanks! I don’t have a pet, but I’d love to try.
Why not? Wild & Harrier products are 100% food grade.