April 20, 2022

Bright Planet Pet (Season 4 Episode 16)

Katherine Ellison, founder of Bright Planet Pet took her sales experience from the Pet Food Industry and turned it into Bright Planet Pet which makes plant-based, vegan dog treats, that taste just like meat!

As they describe on their website they use sustainable ingredients to lower your dog’s carbon pawprint but really, their treats create up to 90% less carbon emissions and use up to 68% less water than a comparable meat-based treat! In addition,  every time you buy a bag, they make a donation to plant one tree.

As we “humanize” our pets we want them to eat like us and “Better Burg’r and Better Chicken” plant-based treats are waiting for your pet.

Help Katherine meet her sales goal at Petco by shopping there before the end of April.

Support the show (https://paypal.me/StephanieKHansen?locale.x=en_US)

Bright Planet Pet Podcast Transcript 

Stephanie Hansen 0:01
We have been having such a blast with the makers of Minnesota dinners that we’ve been having at the Lexington we’ve decided to change up the format a bit and have a spring cocktail party. That way more people will be able to experience all of the great makers that we get to talk to we’re going to be having prize brewing V gray distilling, wild state cider, dash fire, cricket, water, spirits, bread blocks, whiskey, love Joy’s Bloody Mary mix, du Nord craft spirits Edina roastery J. Carver distilling, sweet Haven tonic Tattersall, share of shrubs, muddle and mint, and popcorn salad girl Patty, spice nuts, the salsa collaborative and tea arena spices all there at the Lexington during this cocktail party so that you can taste all of the unique Minnesota made products that we have to offer. We’ll be doing sample sizes of cocktails and sample sizes of canned cocktails. And we’ve got some great bites for you there. We’re going to be at the Lexington you can get tickets there $40 A person and it’s at the lex mn.com to order and we will have all of the makers with us that night, all of the floors of the Lexington will be open. So you’ll be having a multi dimensional experience at each of the different floors. And be moving through the space trying lots of new makers, products and old makers products that you know and love. It’s the makers of Minnesota cocktail party, hurry and get your tickets because when they’re gone, they’re gone. But we anticipate that this is going to be a sellout. We are really looking forward to hosting you. The cocktail party is going to be April 26. That’s a Tuesday night and we will have doors open at six o’clock and we will host you until nine. It’s the makers of Minnesota spring cocktail party. I’ll be there. All of the makers that I’ve mentioned will be there and we can’t wait to meet you.

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota Podcast. I’m Stephanie Hansen. And this is the podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things in the state of Minnesota. And we are here with Katherine Ellison. And she is with bright planet pet. And you may have pets or you may be thinking about pet food because I certainly am. I don’t know I have a dog that’s 18. So I’m constantly trying to like get her excited about different things to eat. And if you are in your grocery stores or pet food stores, you’ll see like there’s fresh pet food, there’s dry pet food, there’s canned pet food, and Katherine, you’re doing something that’s really cool. That I think is based on maybe some of your health preferences. So tell us a little bit about bright planet pet.

Katherine Ellison 2:48
Yeah, so I break planet pet we make 100% plant based traits that taste and smell like real meat.

Stephanie Hansen 2:56
So it’s so funny to think about tasting and smelling like real meat. But then making it be a plant based product. Is it made with like pea protein or what’s in it?

Katherine Ellison 3:08
Yeah, so our formula, the base of our formula is chickpea flour, brown rice, sweet potato, and yeast. And so it’s a really healthy, all natural, sustainable base of ingredients. And then we use 100% plant based flavors to give it our signature meaty taste and smell.

Stephanie Hansen 3:27
So obviously pets like meat, right? That’s what’s the gravit that gravitates for them. But what is it that made you decided that this was like a hole in the marketplace from a business standpoint?

Katherine Ellison 3:39
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I have worked in the pet industry for 14 years, I’ve worked in veterinary clinics. And for the past 10 years, I’ve been working in sales in the pet industry, selling everything from private label, litter box liners, up to private label food and treats. So I’ve worked for a lot of pet food and treat manufacturers. And so I saw a couple years ago, an opportunity to create a plant based treat that tasted and smelled like real meat and was based on the human food counterpoint of like a beyond burger or an Impossible Burger. And so in the pet industry, we see human food trends come in to the pet food industry and about three to five years. And so based on my knowledge of the trends and my expertise and in selling and product development, I just knew that a product like this was going to be something that was going to show up in the marketplace. And when I had the opportunity to actually start bright planet. I was surprised that no one had created a treat like this yet so I set out to create the first ever treat that really emulated meat for dogs but was all plant based.

Stephanie Hansen 4:55
Okay when we talk about plant based treats, is The reason that we want to give these to our pets because it’s more sustainable for the environment, because the pets don’t know that we’re tricking them, right? You know, they’re just gonna eat whatever. But my idea is I’m thinking, you know, the planet is in a dire predicament, and that this will be a more sustainable option long term is that because it’s I think I read once that, you know, for the same amount of pea based protein or plant based protein, it was like to do that same amount for meat based protein, it was like 70%, more energy, more power, more everything.

Katherine Ellison 5:35
Right. Yeah, you’re exactly right. So the reason we wanted to create a product that was plant based was to address how we feed our pets and the impact on climate change. And so because we feed our pets, so much meat, if our American dogs and cats were a country, they would actually ranked fifth in terms of meat consumption. And so by

Stephanie Hansen 5:58
having a wait a second, I’m just like, I’m just sitting here for one second digesting that, because that’s astounding. Yeah, that means like, our animals are, obviously in the United States being fed way better than the rest of the world. Basically, it’s what you’re saying.

Katherine Ellison 6:16
Yeah, and, and we have this notion of the fact that our pets need to eat meat, because that’s what we’ve been told is healthy for them. And that’s what’s been available. But now we’re learning more that especially dogs can thrive on plant based diets. And so we have a big opportunity to reduce the amount of eat meat that our pets are eating, and consequently, help the planet.

Stephanie Hansen 6:40
Wow. And can I ask and I don’t mean this to be a jest. But I feel like some of the most incredible entrepreneurs that I’m seeing, that are really working in these plant based spaces are under 30 years old, that might

Katherine Ellison 6:54
be people think I’m much younger than I actually am. I am closer to 40 than I am to 30. I’m 38. But people do usually think I’m pretty young. So are you looking for youthful? Yeah, I think it’s a good, you know, it’s an okay thing for people to think I’m a little bit younger than I am. But I actually do have a really wide array of experience and expertise in this category that allows me to bring to market a treat like this and run our company and really create a large company that can change the way we feed our pets.

Stephanie Hansen 7:32
I have no question about that. I think what’s interesting to me, in looking at generational trends here and looking at, like, the way that people consume meat, or consume plant proteins, is it feel like people like 50 Plus, you know, we kind of eat some plants, and we know that, like, we’re supposed to eat plants, but we don’t really feel like our life depends on it. And then I think you get people, you know, in the younger set, it’s like, it’s not even really a choice for them. It is like feeling of life and death that if we do not take care of the planet, that this is going to be a real problem down the road, because we’re going to extinct ourselves. And I believe that that’s true, I really do. I just don’t have that same connection to it. I think that younger people do. So that’s I guess why I asked.

Katherine Ellison 8:24
Yeah, I think that’s a really valid point. So when I started bright planet, part of the idea came around, you know, what types of treats are millennial and Gen Z pet parents gonna be looking for. And so we do know that those generations are more open to paying more for sustainable options or looking for sustainable options. And they really feel that their dollars can have an impact. And so through their purchases, they want to make conscious decisions. And so when I set out to create this, I did have the younger generations in mind, because they’re looking for products like ours, and products that they connect to both with the sustainability message, as well as, you know, just overall, our values of the company

Stephanie Hansen 9:10
feels to like there’s a generational shift a little bit in how people parent their pets, like in the day, you know, we went to work for eight hours a day, and our pet stayed at home. And we didn’t think twice about it really. And if they were naughty, we tried to buy him different treats and we’d put them in baby gate rooms or whatever. But like now, I think because we’ve got this whole generation of the last three years that people have just been working from home. So we have all these pets that have been adopted that have never been alone. And we really see that our pets can be more than just waiting for us at home. Really people feel like their pets are their companions and you see them in tap rooms and people bring their pets into grocery stores. It’s really a kind of a different relationship with your pet.

Katherine Ellison 9:57
Yeah, now we now we call pet In our ears, a lot of times we call them pet parents. Because the younger generation, some of them are choosing to have pets, maybe before they have children or choosing to have pet and not have children. And so we call it in the industry, the continued humanization of pets. And so they’re members of our family. They’re our babies, they’re our best friends. And we want them to be happy, healthy and live a long time so that they can be part of our lives for as long as they can. And so because of that, yeah, there are shifts in the way we view our pets, how we want to feed them, and things of that nature that, you know, make our product really perfect for customers like that.

Stephanie Hansen 10:42
Yeah. And you’re really leaning into that space. So is it a crowded field? Like how hard is it for you as an independent Minnesota producer to make inroads here?

Katherine Ellison 10:51
Yeah, so. So where we stand today, we don’t have any direct competition with our treats. As far as us having a niche of making plant based treats that emulate meat, certainly in the treat category. And in the pet category, there’s lots of competition, the pet industry has been touted as being recession proof. So there’s a lot of companies wanting to get into the pet industry. But what sets us apart is really kind of our whole story. So obviously, there are, our treats are unique and different. They’re innovative. We’re made in Minnesota, we’re women owned company. And we also have a charitable side to the organization. So every time we sell a bag of treats, we make a donation to plant one tree. And so that whole story that surrounds our company, is really compelling to a lot of people. And so we’ve had great success, getting distribution, because a lot of times when we’re having these conversations with retailers, we can tell our story, they get it, it resonates with them. And we as a company, as bright planet can help a lot of customers meet their own corporate goals, because we are a diverse supplier. And because we are a sustainable supplier,

Stephanie Hansen 12:06
you’re also real smart in sales, I can tell just by talking to you, because you’re thinking about so many of these different opportunities and channels as as sales opportunities, which is really just brilliant. If you were to like you look at your company, and you look at your growth, how long did it take you to plan your strategy for going to market?

Katherine Ellison 12:29
Yeah, so I started the company, right, kind of when the pandemic was hitting us in late spring 2020. And so I worked for all of 2020 to develop our logo, our brand name, our formula or packaging. And then we launched our product actually first or the Kickstarter in February of 2021.

Stephanie Hansen 12:53
So a little bit about that. Because in the day, like that was a really great way to launch a company. And then there was a little bit of the shine taken off of that. And people got a little more skeptical about the work it takes to do a Kickstarter, what was your experience?

Katherine Ellison 13:09
Yeah. So you know, we looked at a Kickstarter campaign as a way for us to essentially take a lot of pre orders for our product. And so it seemed like a good idea. Because once we made production, we would have places for it to go and the manufacturer that we work with to create our treats. They’re a large scale manufacturer. So when we run production we run. Right now we’re running 8000 bags per flavor. And so we weren’t able to kind of start real small, we wanted to start big. And so we wanted to have a product a place for that product to go. And so we decided to do a Kickstarter, we set our goal at $10,000. So kind of a very reasonable goal. I think we were a little naive going into the Kickstarter, because we just thought, hey, we have this great idea, this great product, people are gonna love it. So we didn’t do much pre advertising before the Kickstarter, we did advertising during the Kickstarter, but kind of a very nominal amount, we spent about 25% of our total Kickstarter raise on advertising. And it was it was difficult, it was difficult to get to that goal. Because we didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into. But we really rallied everyone that we knew all of our friends and family like literally if we had met someone we were sending them text we were sending them emails, and so a lot of the Kickstarter was funded by people that we know and so that’s pretty common when it comes to like a smaller scale Kickstarter. We did have people just organically also finding our finding our campaign and supporting us but but it was it was difficult and we just squeaked over the edge. So if I would give Any advice to other entrepreneurs, I might just make sure that they really understand how to be successful at it because it was a little touch and go for us. But at the end of the day, we met our goal. And we were able to ship out almost half of our first production run to our Kickstarter backers.

Stephanie Hansen 15:18
Yeah, it’s something that I think it’s hard for people to ask for help. It’s hard, hard for people to ask for money. And you think this Kickstarter piece is like a different way of doing that. But at the end of the day, you end up literally like living, sleeping, eating and breathing, this idea that you have to fund this otherwise, you know, it’s a lot of work that went towards not being very fruitful. So I’m impressed that you were able to make that happen. And it was smarter you to think about like that. That would be the first run of the product. Essentially, that was really something. I hadn’t thought about it in that way. And it makes total sense. So you get your Kickstarter, then did you like go and beat the streets and start knocking on doors of pet stores? And

Katherine Ellison 16:05
yep, exactly. Yeah. So my background is, is in sales, primarily calling on like large retail chains like Petco PetSmart, target customers of that size. And so I knew that for bright planet to be successful. While we had many different options on how we would go to market that my expertise was more in selling to larger customers. And with my network, I started posting on LinkedIn all the time posting all of our Kickstarter updates on LinkedIn. And as soon as we had samples, I started sending out samples. So the first customer that we secured was pet value. And so pet value is a pet specialty retailer in Canada, they have a total of 600 stores across Canada. And I got that first introduction to the treat buyer from a former buyer that I had worked with, and I had sold them toys in the past. And so it definitely helped that I that I had experience in the industry and had some great connections. So pet value first agreed to take the product, which was a huge win for us. then secondarily, we showed the product to Petco and Petco wanted to test the product in their stores. And so once I had those two customers secured, I really knew Wow, well, I think we have something here like I think this is going to happen. And at that time, I was still working full time and doing bright planet on the side. And so as soon as we had those commitments from those two big customers, I, my husband and I decided that it was time for me to focus full time on bright planet. And so I’ve been working full time on bright planet for about 10 months now.

Stephanie Hansen 17:48
And how does that feel? Because you as a salesperson, maybe you were more spent more time alone than other people in other industries would but you know, now you’re at home or in an office, wherever you are, but you’re basically having to bounce ideas off of yourself. And you don’t have that same community that you did, right? Has that been an easy transition for you or heart?

Katherine Ellison 18:11
Yeah, so in for the past five years of my career I had been working at home. So it was pretty easy for me to just get into that, get into that mindset. And that that work schedule. My co founder and husband Dave was very influential in a lot of those decisions that we made early on, we talk about right planet all the time, I was just telling someone the other day that, you know, we tried to go out to a nice dinner, have a date, and all we do is talk about business. But that’s that what happens when you own a business and you’re fully invested in it and you want to make it succeed. So I also, you know, talk to a lot of people I used to work with, about what we were doing. So I tapped into my network to have people help me with our formulation. Help us with our logo, help us with our graphic design and things like that. So in the early stages, a lot of it was just me and Dave, but now we do have a small team and we’re expanding our team. And I spend a lot of time on Zoom calls. So I feel very connected. What how did

Stephanie Hansen 19:17
the Pepco sampling opportunity go? Did they end up ordering

Katherine Ellison 19:21
so actually, we are still in the middle of our test right now. So our test started in March and it runs through the end of this month. So the end of April. And of course this month is Earth Month and so it’s important month for us at bright planet. So we are in 450 Petco stores across the country. We have two more weeks to hopefully sell out all of our tests product. And if any of your listeners want to go into a store and buy product, we have a store locator on our website. We do have a number of locations around the Twin Cities. And so we’re hoping that by the end of our test, we get good news that they would like to pick plus up into a permanent possession.

Stephanie Hansen 20:02
Are you able to like? Yeah, so your is it? Does it help to sample I mean, because you’re sampling pets, but you’re also sampling the people. So it’s that’s got to be kind of funny.

Katherine Ellison 20:16
Yeah, sampling especially in store is a little difficult. Just because we are a small company, we don’t have a lot of, we don’t have like a field team that can go into the store and do samples, what we do do is we do a lot of promotions, to try to get people to pick up the product, we do use, like additional signage and displays when possible to bring more attention and more explanation to the product. Because it is kind of a completely new concept that we need to educate consumers on.

Stephanie Hansen 20:46
Yeah, we, I have a term for that we kind of call it missionary work, where you are breaking a new category or you’re in a new field. And it really does make starting a business when you’re doing that missionary work a lot harder because you’re spending, you know, 30 to 40% of your time on the education piece of it. Well, there’s also a lot of times where that’s really where the passion lies for people in creating something that’s brand new. Are you someone that likes that piece of it?

Katherine Ellison 21:14
Yeah, I love talking to people about bright planet, it’s literally my favorite thing. Because once people hear about the product, and then they can try it and see their dog’s reaction it you can see it click in their brain, and they’re like, Wow, my dog, like like, my dog doesn’t know it’s not meat. But I feel great because I’m making this good decision for the planet. And also feeding my dog at the end of the day, just a really healthy, nutritious, actually very low calorie treat. And so yeah, whenever possible, you know, I do I like to talk to customers, tell everyone about bright planet do interviews like this and just spread the word about what we’re doing, especially in Minnesota, because people in Minnesota and in the Midwest love that we make it right here, we make both our packaging and our treats locally. Is supply chain an issue for you. Right now supply chain is not a big issue for us. Because we use all plant based ingredients, we don’t have some of the challenges with protein, like getting the proteins in. And we haven’t run into any major issues. With supply chain, we use all kind of readily available ingredients that are currently used in pet food. But we just package them up into our little treat. So luckily, we haven’t had any but you never know it is a challenging time for a lot of companies right now.

Stephanie Hansen 22:38
Yep. And you just pivot and you do the best you can and try to substitute ingredients if you can. I know some people are looking at that for some of their products when you lay in bed at night. And you’re like worrying or you’re like troubled, what is that trouble, they’re worried that you’re having

Katherine Ellison 22:56
some of my worries or that we need to be moving faster. And because we are the first creator in this category, we know that there is going to be competition, both from probably large brands as well as smaller brands. And so we I think a lot about you know, we need to be first to market fast to market, we need to win that shelf space. And so that’s what we’ve been doing for the past year. And that’s what we’re continuing to push on for the next six months. So we worry about that. Also, as a small company, we worry about cash flow. There’s a lot of expenses, especially now that we’re getting into larger retailers. And we need more staff. So worry a little bit about that. Although we do have the support and financial backing from some wonderful players in the pet industry. So we’re raising money right now so that we can continue to fund our growth. And that takes a lot of time and energy.

Stephanie Hansen 23:59
Yeah, in. I mean, a friend of mine that has had a couple of businesses, he said that he would open more businesses, but he couldn’t stand just the constant hustle for asking for money, because that’s what he needed to keep it going. That’s hard for a lot of people.

Katherine Ellison 24:15
Yeah, and this is, this is new to us. I’ve never fundraisers for a business. And so it’s a big learning curve. And I’ve learned a lot over the past six months. Right now, you know, we’re really just trying to find the right partners because it’s like a marriage whoever you you bring into the business and it’s a lot of work but so far we’ve had really good response and we are looking forward to closing our fundraising by the end of the summer. Well, Katherine,

Stephanie Hansen 24:43
I have good hopes for you high hopes, I guess, the products really neat. You’re really doing a great job of balancing and getting it out into the marketplace. If I was going to give you any advice I would say take a date night with your husband every now and then. My husband and I owned a bit And this together and it was, we sold it and had a good had a good situation, but it was so hard at times, especially when it came to finances, you know, and you make a lot of sacrifices as a couple and there’s just hard.

Katherine Ellison 25:14
Yep, we’ve definitely been there. But so far, it’s been the right decision, and we’re gonna keep, keep grinding on it and keep, you know, bringing our product to more pet parents across the US and Canada. I have

Stephanie Hansen 25:27
no doubt that first mover advantage for you is going to be a giant opportunity that will propel you forward. And looking forward to just seeing how this goes for you guys. I’m really impressed with your story. I think it’s a great product. And thanks for spending time with me on the makers of Minnesota today. I appreciate it. Yeah, thank you, Stephanie. Yeah, and bright planet pet. And we will get this podcast up quickly so that people can still participate in the Earth Day components of it and feed your pets pet protein that tastes like meat. Why not?

Katherine Ellison 26:00
That’s right. They don’t know the difference and they love it. They absolutely go crazy. So buy a bag and just see what your dog thinks.

Stephanie Hansen 26:07
All right, bright planet pet. Thanks, Catherine. Thank you. Bye bye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai