How do you break into the multi-billion-dollar pet food industry? Easy – you don’t. Instead, you start your own market.
Story by Cynthia Reynolds Photography by Michal Tomaszewski / Pinpoint National
If you listen to Kristin Matthews and Peter Zakarow talk for more than ve minutes, you will likely be convinced that 2016 will go down as the year the multi-billion-dollar pet food industry met its match.
True disruptors, Matthews and Zakarow – the duo behind Tom&Sawyer, which launched one year ago and was a finalist in the Most Disruptive Start-Up category for this year’s Canada Post E-com- merce Innovation Awards – have created far more than just healthy food for pets. They have created a completely new market segment they call pet meals; and they believe it’s ripe for massive growth.
“We’ve seen over 600% sales growth, completely on the passion of the people in the pet world,” says Zakarow, adding that the growth has been driven almost entirely by word of mouth.
In 2014, the couple brought home Sawyer, a Yorkie-Poo who refused to eat any traditional dog food. Out of necessity, they began looking for healthier pet food options. But it wasn’t until they started incorporating their own fresh food from their fridge that they found success. “As we figured out how to make him happy with food that resembled what we ate, our a-ha moment came when we started talking to friends and found they shared similar problems,” says Matthews, adding that today millennials are among the biggest drivers of this new market. “We came to realize there is such market demand, and there was nothing supplying it.”
Drawing from her forensic accounting background, Matthews researched everything she could about pet health, pet food and the industry. Then the couple planned for how they could commercialize and scale a pet food business based on transparency and real, fresh ingredients.
“Most pet food companies say they use real ingredients, but the pet food industry is unregulated,” says Zakarow. “We want more people to question why their pet food is found in the cleaning supply aisle of the grocery store.”
Calling all pet parents
Opting for an omni-channel model, the duo opened a physical location in Toronto. The location is home to their open-concept kitchen where professional chefs make their dog and cat meals and treats with the same ingredients people use to cook their own food, including chicken breast, lean ground sirloin beef and sweet potato, all of which have been tested across breeds. (Who knew small dogs would turn up their noses at large cultivated blueberries, preferring the smaller wild varieties instead?)
The location also doubles as one of the city’s rare dog-friendly destinations where customers can enjoy a latte with fellow pet parents, as they call them, while actually seeing meals being made.
“We have a growing number of customers whose pets are sick and whose vet bills are increasing,” says Zakarow. “They are drawn to Tom&Sawyer because our pet meals are improving the health of their pets.”
To bring their healthy food concept across the country, they worked with Canada Post to launch an e-commerce channel for shipping products anywhere in Canada within three business days.
“We’ve learned a lot about when to schedule on-demand pickups and the ideal times to get our products to the Gateway plant [in Toronto] in order to reduce shipping times,” says Matthews, adding that they use special thermal boxes to keep the products frozen over the shipping process.
“We’ve really appreciated our partnership with Canada Post,” she says. “They know that the demand for fresh food delivery is growing – it’s become a real priority for their team.”
One of the only players in the pet meals market, Tom&Sawyer is ready to drive its growth. The owners are gearing up to expand across Canada and the U.S., and they will be launching healthy DIY meal kits complete with recipe cards and essential supplements so consumers can recreate meals in their homes. After a year of word-of-mouth marketing, they have nalized their sales and marketing plan.
“We want to be the market leader in providing wholesome and trusted food for healthy dogs and cats. There’s no one out there truly like us,” says Zakarow. “We’re blazing our own trail.”
Delivering the Online World Fall 2017 | canadapost.ca