Increasingly, people are seeking out food that’s free of chemicals, ethically sourced, and good for them. But as humans get more and more conscious about what they put in their body, entrepreneur Minali Chatani noticed people often weren’t able to extend the same approach to their pets. It makes sense that Chatani would notice this: Before leaving in 2018 to co-found Wild One, a design-conscious pet supply line, with a small team, Chatani was the head of brand creative for Sweetgreen, where she got an up-close-and-personal view both of how ethical sourcing is done, and how important it is to consumers.
Now that Wild One’s well-designed harnesses and bowls have been on the market for several months, Chatani is taking the Sweetgreen approach to a new line of Wild One products: pet treats.
The three treat styles, which hit the market on April 18, are all made with just a single ingredient, and contain no fillers or chemicals. Chatani tells Fast Company that while companies like The Farmer’s Dog have made strides lately in delivering fresh pet food made from whole ingredients, the same treatment hasn’t really reached treats, which often comprise a troubling list of ingredients like preservatives, potentially cancer-causing dyes, and toxin-heavy rendered animal fat. “If we don’t want to eat these things ourselves, why are we feeding them to our pets as a reward?” Chatani says. “We wanted to make a treat that humans would feel comfortable giving their dogs.”
Wild One’s chicken tender treats are made from dried strips of chicken sourced from Springer Mountain Farms, a family-owned business that raises poultry cage-free and on natural, antibiotic-free feed. The sweet potato option is just dehydrated slices of tubers grown without GMOs on a small farm in North Carolina. “We put a lot of due diligence into working with farms and suppliers that are fully transparent,” says Kate Onorato, Wild One’s Product Development Lead.
The fish puff treats, though, are the most interesting. They’re made from Asian carp, a species that does not exactly have the best reputation in the U.S. In the 1970s, scientists in Arkansas imported a few species from Asian carp from China to see if they’d be effective keeping the algae growing in local fish ponds under control. They were. But when the funding for the researchers’ work ran out, they released the Asian carp into the Mississippi, where they thrived problematically. The fish are large and hearty, and since they entered the Mississippi, they’ve out-competed other species for resources to the extent that they now make up 90% of the biomass in the river. Fishermen on the Mississippi resent the species for restricting the supply of other fish in the river. The fish also have an unusual bone structure that makes it difficult for them to be processed into filets, should they be caught and sold.
But Asian carp is nutritious, and high in omega-3s and protein. And because its populations grow and regenerate so quickly, it can be caught at high volumes without damaging the environment. In 2010, Louisiana-based academics Lanchi Luu and John Crilly recognized the potential of Asian carp to both regenerate economies along the Mississippi and deliver a highly regenerative fish protein source to consumers. They started a company, FIn Gourmet (FIn, here, is short for “fish innovation”) that connects Asian carp with diverse buyers; they’re slowly bringing the stigmatized fish onto prestigious menus like that of the James Beard House in New York City, though awareness around the fish’s potential is still very much in the beginning stages.
Now, FIn Gourmet is supplying Wild One with the fish for dog treats. “Because people aren’t eating it, we decided to team up with FIn Gourmet to make it into a dog treat and do our part in spreading awareness of the issue, as well as trying to increase demand,” Chatani says.
At between $18 and $22 per bag, the Wild One treats (which have a shelf life of around one year) certainly run more expensive than standard dog treats, but the premium comes from the quality of the ingredients and working with small, independent suppliers that don’t lean on bulk production for revenue. And if there’s any doubt among pet owners as to the quality of the treats they’re about to feed their dogs, there’s a simple way to quell them: They can eat the treats themselves.