Consumers are taking a holistic and proactive approach when it comes to the lives of their pets. To keep pets active, healthy and happy, the rise of pet humanization has led to consumers spending significantly on pets’ food, supplements, toys, accessories, apparel and other related products.
According to a report published by the American Pet Products Association, in 2021, dog, cat and bird owners collectively spent nearly $109.6 billion, with Millennials unsurprisingly leading the way. A similar report conducted by Grand View Research also found the global pet supplements market specifically was valued at $1.9 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow 5.9 percent from 2022 to 2030. Rover reported that pet parents today see expenses related to their pets’ well-being as a part of the mandatory family budget, rather than a discretionary expense.
To meet these needs new businesses have emerged in the past few years including vet-formulated, human-grade, transparent dog food company, Maev. When founder and chief executive officer Katie Spies created Maev it was in response to a huge hole in the market that left her searching for a product that fit her dog’s needs.
“I was frustrated to learn that the products I had been told to trust were causing his and so many other dogs’ issues,” Spies told WWD. “I couldn’t find a dog food sold in stores with clean ingredients and biologically appropriate nutrition (no fillers, clean proteins, moderate fats), and instead had to spend my Saturdays making it myself.”
With two engineering degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, Spies said she wanted to have her dog’s life be as thoughtfully designed as her own. Before founding Maev, Spies was leading product management at The Climate Corporation, a startup founded to help farmers get more out of every acre.
After leaving The Climate Corporation, to focus full time on dog care, Spies shared that her research left her feeling frustrated, learning that in the U.S. more than 80 percent of dogs are sick with 60 percent being overweight, 30 percent suffering from mobility issues and 30 percent struggling with anxiety. More than 25 percent of vet visits are due to coat and skin illness.
“Despite the explosive growth in the pet market, the decision to feed a healthier diet is not an obvious one,” Spies said. “Healthier foods exist but they’re way harder to adopt. They require thawing, scooping, prep work, extra time and they’re more expensive. Even with options that are marketed as ‘healthier,’ it’s not clear whether the food results in better health outcomes. I spent years hearing from other dog owners who shared my story that giving their dogs a healthy life was way harder than it needed to be. It was clear that the pet industry had a massive problem and I wanted to fix it.”
While much of Spies’ career was spent thinking about food systems, she had “never thought twice about what we were feeding our pets.” The “aha” moment was realizing that food and nutrition, unsurprisingly, are directly linked to the majority of chronic health issues dogs and cats face in the U.S.
Maev started as a collective of dog parents who wanted better for their dogs. Those early customers, Spies said, were generous with their time and helped to spread the word about the company to others. During this time, Spies collected honest feedback from target customers and worked with a team of veterinary nutritionists to develop the first formula. Maev then spent three years in beta shipping food that was made in Spies kitchen before growing into a co-op kitchen.
Important for the development of the company, beta testers would take regular calls with Spies and take part in surveys about their dogs’ overall health, use of the product, preferences and other feedback.
“We learned so much by having a direct relationship with our initial customers,” said Spies said. “Early in our beta period, one of the most telling moments was when our beta customers were Instagramming the product on their personal Instagrams. That was a time before we had a brand, beautiful packaging or anything to tag and real consumers were putting our dog food on their personal Instagram pages because they genuinely loved the product.”
Maev quickly got a knack for connecting with dog owners through out-of-home ads for “horoscopes for dogs” and similar accounts. The waitlist and blog readership continued to soar even before the company had any products to launch.
Most of the customers who come to Maev, Spies said, are skeptics — they’ve been wronged and misinformed by other companies in the pet industry and are looking for something better. Millennial owners, she said, apply human standards to the brands they choose for their pets, see their animals as part of the family and see the highest-quality nutrition as a non-negotiable.
Still, while pet food is a non-negotiable, Spies says it is also uniquely a highly considered purchase. It is a choice that has an outsized impact on a pet’s health, longevity, behavior and vet bills. “It’s an investment in the future that our competitors have unfortunately made incredibly opaque.”
To build trust, Maev works to meet the customer where they are by providing education and information without the condescending tone that can come with vet consultations. By design, Maev’s product is transparent showing ingredients obvious to the naked eye, in direct opposition to homogenous brown pellets found in traditional kibble.
“Whether it’s debunking myths, or showing a clean ingredient list without anything hidden, we try to be as transparent as we can,” said Spies. “It’s a non-negotiable that we’re here for our customers when they need us, to ensure the transition to a raw food diet is as smooth as possible and our community feels supported during the transition and beyond. Post-purchase, we engage with customers on average once a month.”
In the future, Spies shared Maev looks forward to continuing to be a consumer brand that looks and feels like the loved and trusted brands customers use for themselves. Maev customers are educated and curious and the company aims to provide content alongside products in an informed yet informational and approachable way.