Episode 13 – Innovating Pet Food Sustainability with HOPE Pet Food


Kasey Dunn, co-founder of HOPE Pet Food, tells us about her vision to make higher quality and sustainable pet food.

About HOPE Pet Food and Co-Founder Kasey Dunn

HOPE Pet Food produces dietary food and treats that are made of insects, yeast, algae and plants. Insects have higher concentrates of protein, are less likely to be allergenic to animals, and are a greener source since they are less resource-demanding. HOPE takes nutrients seriously while ensuring your pets love them as well!

As an entrepreneur and the “parent” of three cats and three dogs, Kasey figured out the limitations of traditional meat-based pet foods and their non-sustainable ingredients. With the belief to branch a better lifestyle into her pet ownership, Kasey began to seek a new type of pet food to eliminate those defects. Kasey is working with a core team of an engineer, a nutrition specialist, a marketing specialist, and her dog Jasper (an avid taste tester) to develop high-quality pet foods.

Learn more about HOPE Pet Food on their website.

About Host Patrick McGuire

Patrick is a creative entrepreneur, team leader, and Altitude Accelerator board member who has focused on the sales and success of companies including: HR tech, fintech, sports tech, Software-as-a-Service, cannabis (CBD / THC), nutrition, health and wellness, fitness corporations, and business of all sizes with a love for helping business grow and scale from $500k to north of $50m. With an entrepreneurial mindset focused on team-building, his ethical leadership delivers win-win solutions for his companies and clients.

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Patrick McGuire (00:00)
Hey, it’s Patrick. Before we start, at the time of this recording, we went through a bit of a name rebranding from RIC Centre to Altitude Accelerator. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy the following interview. Welcome to the Startups Transform Podcast. I’m Patrick McGuire, your host board member and advisor at Altitude Accelerator, where we help startups scale to new heights. We chat with phenomenal tech business leaders who climb their way to success within their industry. Our guests delve deep into the lessons they’ve learned along the way so that you can get a head start on your next big idea.

Patrick McGuire (00:44)
Hey there, friends. This is Patrick McGuire with Startups Transformed. I am super pumped about this conversation. This is an entrepreneur, one of many ladies here as entrepreneurs who started up something that well, it’s needed. And it’s for what I would call my best friend, the four legged type, the ones that gets your heart instantly. So first of all, I just want to say thank you very much, Kasey, for joining us and coming on the podcast.

Kasey Dunn (01:09)
Thank you so much for having me, Patrick, looking forward to the conversation.

Patrick McGuire (01:12)
Excellent. We’ll just have a little fun with this. Of course, Kasey and I are both dog lovers. You may hear them go off in the background at her place, and that’s a good thing because we are talking about HOPE pet foods. Pet food evolved like this is a totally different story. This is not just your random. Yeah, we’ll put a whole bunch of stuff in a bag, and hopefully they eat it kind of stuff. Kasey, tell me a little more about the alternative protein, dog food and treats that you guys have developed.

Kasey Dunn (01:38)
Well, HOPE pet food. We are really on a mission to kind of reimagine the way that we’re feeding our pets. And we’re doing that through a lens of sustainability and kindness. We’re really trying to look at the ingredients that we’re using in our pet foods right now. And Rethink, how can we still maintain the highest possible level of nutrition for, like you said, our best friends. We want them to be fit and healthy and have all the nutrients they need to thrive. But at the same time, we need to feed them in a way that we can actually sustain on this planet because our pet population is growing rapidly and we have a lot of mouths to feed between people and pets.

Kasey Dunn (02:12)
And that number is just going to keep growing. So we are looking at how do we keep providing all those nutrients in a way that our planet can handle without overextending and using more resources than we have?

Patrick McGuire (02:25)
Excellent. All right. So, Casey, let’s get down to it. We go beyond plants and provide a meat free alternative that’s better for your pet and planet. Tell me what it is. It’s science-backed. It’s new. It’s different, but it’s actually an old school thing. So what is it what is HOPE pet foods.

Kasey Dunn (02:44)
So our formulas use a blend of alternative proteins. We’re not just one ingredient. We use all kind of a wide blend to make sure that all the nutrients are there. But we are pulling our protein from some pretty novel, unique sources, such as insects. So insects are kind of the show. That’s what everybody wants to talk about. Putting bugs in your pet food. Insects are a primary part of our formula. They’re chock full of protein and amino acids, and they have all these great nutrients that pets and humans need.

Kasey Dunn (03:14)
So we’re definitely looking and more and more into that insect space. And for humans, even we can see that this is something that’s starting to become necessary. As we’re looking at, how do we feed our growing population? So we’ve got insects, algae and yeast, which are a couple other kind of underrecognized ingredients that pack a ton of protein and a ton of nutrients. And they’re kind of going unappreciated right now. We think that really the debate has been in this, like plant versus meat space for a long time where people talk about, oh, we need meat for our protein.

Kasey Dunn (03:46)
And then maybe you’ve got the vegetarian or the vegan argument about, well, we can go plant based, but nobody’s really talking about these other ingredients that are all over the tree of life. There’s not just the meat and plant equation. There are also all these other spaces that have really gone underutilised, we think, and they’re all out there in nature, just waiting for us to reimagine how we use them.

Patrick McGuire (04:06)
Absolutely. And I come from a nutrition background, actually, I have launched a couple of different supplement companies, and a friend of mine launched a cricket based protein bar, and it’s delicious. I mean, I won’t lie about it. The idea first was kind of like, I’m not so sure, but once you get into it, it’s kind of a nutty flavour. My understanding is that HOPE treats are nutty. And I know our dogs do and your dogs and other dogs. They love anything nutty, and they’re into it. Is that about right.

Kasey Dunn (04:36)
They are wild for it. So we’ve been working on the recipe and perfecting it for about a year now. And our treats are an oven baked biscuit, as they say in the entrepreneurship world, if the dog won’t eat it, then there’s no point to your business. Right. So we got to make sure that the dogs actually love it. And that has not been a problem. They actually just go wild for the insects. So the food and the treats, they both contain actual insects, ground insects, insect protein.

Kasey Dunn (05:03)
And then they also contain insect oil, which in its kind of original form before it goes into the food kind of looks like a peanut butter or like a sick peanut butter. And, yeah, definitely it’s described as nutty. I’ve eaten it. I fed it to some of my family. They’ve all tasted it and it’s not bad. But the dogs definitely. They love the smell. I think that’s what gets them really going and they’re pretty excited. We’ve shipped out. I’d say about 200 samples now, and it seems pretty unanimous.

Kasey Dunn (05:31)
The dogs are in love.

Patrick McGuire (05:33)
Good for the planet, good for the pets, good for the people. That is awesome. And that being said as a nutritionist, I can say that. Well, let’s be honest. We talk about meat versus plants, but in my former life as a nutritionist, insect proteins were coming around and okay, maybe it’s got a little less meat, but I still put them in that meat category. If you ask me, there is the full array of amino acids, the full amino acids that are essential to life as well as the other ones and those fatty acids, which, hey, we need them more than people admit.

Patrick McGuire (06:04)
And our pets need even more of them. So I love what you’re doing.

Kasey Dunn (06:08)
Yeah. Insects. They’re very dense. They’ve got a higher concentration of protein, so even I find it hard to even wrap my head around. We’re thinking of tiny little insects. How are we going to get that protein in there? But they’ve got nine times the concentration of protein compared to beef. It’s just on a smaller scale. And when you look at how sustainably they can be grown and how little land and water resources they need and also just the kindness factor. People are looking at farming and saying, is this the way that we want to be feeding our population and with insects, they’re really living in kind of their natural habitat and farmed insects, we think are a much kinder option as well.

Patrick McGuire (06:45)
Very cool like that. And hey, let’s hit this one on the head. I mentioned how there’s a whole bunch of ladies involved in this, but you’re a fully Canadian operated Canadian women led business. Is that right?

Kasey Dunn (06:57)
100%. My co-founder and myself, we are a team of women. We met at University of Toronto, and so far, our entire team is women on a mission. So we are proudly Canadian and women owned.

Patrick McGuire (07:13)
Fantastic. I love it. All right. So give me a little bit of the highlights. I like to talk about the company up front and then we just have our casual conversation, but give me a little bit of highlights. Some awards are honorable mentions. The cool stuff that’s happening for HOPE Pet Foods.

Kasey Dunn (07:26)
Yeah. We’ve been really lucky to have quite a lot of recognition. We’ve been working on this for like I said, about a year now in terms of the research and development, we were very lucky to receive a grant from it’s called the Low Family Sustainability Grant, I believe. And we received a lot of money upfront to help with the research and development, been really successful in a few pitch competitions at University of Toronto at Queen’s University. And then now I think insects are just becoming such a hot topic.

Kasey Dunn (07:53)
It’s really something that’s starting to pick up more and more in the media. So we’ve been interviewed by CBC and CNBC talking about how can we use insects for the future? And a big report just came out from I think it was the World Wildlife Foundation about how insects really are going to be a necessity as we go forward and trying to figure out how do we feed our growing population. And so more and more we’re getting kind of the interest from people who are looking at this and say, okay, we know that there are millions of pets, even just in Canada alone.

Kasey Dunn (08:24)
We have millions of cats and dogs and 25% of all of our meat right now is going to feed those cats and dogs. We just can’t keep that up. So we’re in the right place at the right time. People are really looking for a solution to this problem. And big shout outs to University of Toronto and University of Queens, universities that have been our big supporters really funding this research.

Patrick McGuire (08:45)
That is great. I mean, that’s academia beyond academics, they’re continuing to help you guys grow and get the word out. I love that. And I’m curious about who you guys think your primary audience is. I mean, of course, it’s the pets. It’s the dogs and what not, but who’s your primary audience? The buyers these days.

Kasey Dunn (09:02)
We’re been looking at urban, millennials people in kind of our age range, younger pet owners, too.

Patrick McGuire (09:10)
Your age range. I hope them older.

Kasey Dunn (09:17)
We’re a millennial women team. I guess in our age range, people who are really starting to think about the things that they’re buying and trying to think, okay, how do we do better and what small changes can we make in our everyday purchasing habits that’s going to have a big impact. So younger, mostly urban, obviously, pet owners, people who love their pets. The majority of our customers think of their pets as their kids. They see themselves as pet parents and just love having that healthy, active lifestyle and are looking for something that puts nutrition first, of course, and is going to be great for their pet.

Kasey Dunn (09:52)
But in buying it, that they can feel good about it and they can know that their purchase is going towards something good.

Patrick McGuire (09:58)
That is fantastic. And, hey, look, we joke about the age thing. I’m a little older, of course. But the reality is you’ve got my attention, too. And you’ve got the demographics of the 40s 50s, even older, anyone who loves their pet is going to be into looking for something healthier. And anyone who loves the environment looks for something more sustainable. And, of course, economy comes into play and things of that nature. So what you’re doing is wonderful. And I think it covers everybody. But you’re right, those millennials, maybe they love their animals more or they have different disposable income.

Patrick McGuire (10:27)
I don’t know. But absolutely. I’m excited about what you’re doing. So tell us something that happened early on in either your life or the business. I want to lean more towards what you guys are doing. Your girls are doing that’s just change the way you do business or it’s impacted the way you run your life today.

Kasey Dunn (10:45)
Well, for me, individually, I guess animal rescue has always been a really big part of my life. So fostering and adopting cats and dogs has been something I’ve done for a long time. I ran a cat and dog rescue, so I’ve always really obviously loved animals. I’m an animal lover. But the more I started getting involved in rescuing animals and helping animals and doing that kind of thing, the more I started looking for alternatives in terms of my diet as well. And I mean, I never dreamt that there would be another way to feed my cats and dogs.

Kasey Dunn (11:17)
That didn’t occur to me any lifestyle changes I made would be mine alone. So if I wanted to eat less meat or cut meat out entirely or go vegetarian, that was all me and my lifestyle. And then when I met Sophia Vanilla, she’s my co-founder at HOPE Pet Foods, and she is an engineer. She studied at the University of Toronto, and she was looking at sustainability and looking at alternative proteins and how we can use alternative proteins and how they have just as much, if not greater nutritional value to humans and to pets and to anybody.

Kasey Dunn (11:48)
And it really made me realize I had never considered the lifestyle that my pets contribute to. I have three cats and three dogs, so I live in a bit of a Zoo, and when you think about it, I can change my diet. But I’m still feeding a house full of animals. And I had never thought in any way about what impact they were having on the world, everything from their toys. They come with a lot of stuff. You don’t really think about it, but they come with a pretty big paw print as we call it.

Kasey Dunn (12:18)
And so it was really the first time I thought, okay, what if I look at my pet ownership as an aspect of my lifestyle, as I’m trying to be greener and trying to be more sustainable and trying to eliminate, maybe buying meat products and things like that? How does that branch into my pet ownership? And it’s totally transformed the way I think about it and the way I think about my pets as well.

Patrick McGuire (12:40)
Isn’t that amazing how our pets can change our lives and change the way that we think about not just ourselves but the entire freaking world? You got me. Yeah, that’s it. I mean. Sophia, your partner. She was working in Netherlands or working abroad. Tell me what inspired the startup at that point, beyond just you wanting to do something better for your pet’s diet. How did you guys come together and make that work out.

Kasey Dunn (13:06)
Yeah, it’s a pretty cool story. So, Sophia, she’s been all over the place. She’s been an academic her whole life. I always say she’s the brains behind our operation. But she was working in the Netherlands where she saw really more I think they’re a bit more advanced in this search for how we can reimagine our diets and how we can use alternatives. And so she had really seen insects being used there and algae, I think, as well, and had started getting interested in these alternatives. And then when she came back to Canada and she was doing her research and she was trying to think of how to apply what she had learned and maybe a unique way or new way.

Kasey Dunn (13:39)
I was actually teaching entrepreneurship at the time. So I worked at University of Toronto, and she joined a program that I was leading. So I was actually the instructor. She was looking at feeding fish or feeding animals in agriculture. And over the course of the semester, as she worked on the business, she started seeing this real opportunity that no one had tried yet, which is our domesticated pets. We’ve been really feeding our pets the same thing for a really long time. And there have been all these changes in the human diet recently.

Kasey Dunn (14:10)
We know more and more people are trying to eat less meat. They’re going flexitarian. They’re trying to eat whole fresh foods. But really, the pet diet hasn’t changed a whole lot. So when we started looking at that opportunity and realized the magnitude of it, like we’re talking about millions of cats and dogs, and we’re talking about 25% of all the meat period just feeding the cats and dogs, she realized that she wanted to try creating a pet food. And that was just so in line with everything I care about.

Kasey Dunn (14:36)
Like I said, huge animal lover, huge animal advocates. Personally, I don’t eat meat. And I just saw this as such an opportunity to have an impact. So, yeah, we came together and I joined our team.

Patrick McGuire (14:48)
That is awesome. Personally, I’m a meat eater. I used to say I was sort of like, your ultimate eat everything right. And the reality is there are some things that don’t agree with me, like pork just doesn’t digest very well with me. So we, as a family, have chosen not to eat pork. And oddly enough, I would look for the same thing in foods for my Duke. And there was never any pork in any of the foods we ever got. Whether that was right or wrong for him, I don’t know, because he didn’t tell me.

Patrick McGuire (15:18)
And then, of course, chicken and a lot of chicken product inside of some of the pet foods is perhaps denatured genetically modified tampered, whatever you want to call it. And we actually found out that he had a serious allergy to chicken. We were just shocked because we were buying a really high quality dog food. And we didn’t want to switch him because we got him as a rescue. And we didn’t want to switch him from what he was eating some sort of Kibble type dry food to a full, raw organic food because I know my history nutrition wise.

Patrick McGuire (15:50)
You lose those digestive enzymes. It’s not the same. So I didn’t want to shock them. And years later, we have issues. Well, unfortunately, it gets very hard, like you said, to find those things. So we’re always looking for beef, bison, Buffalo, fish, even ostrich and duck. Right. And those are things we looked for and even the duck I steered away from because of the chicken sort of relationship. But it’s so true. We have to find a way to treat our best friends, animals, cats, dogs and others better.

Patrick McGuire (16:19)
We have to feed them better. And I love that. You remind yourself, remind all people, listen to us. You were looking for a solution for yourself. You adjusted your diet that treats you better, and then you’re like, oh, wait. Hey, why don’t we take care of our pets a little better, too? And I think you guys are going to do something amazing. And I think the world is going to wake up to that.

Kasey Dunn (16:37)
Well, and that allergy piece that you mentioned is huge because we see anecdotally and talking to veterinarians, we know that allergies are increasing. Dogs are showing more and more sensitivities to, especially chicken is one of the number one culprits. And then when you start going beyond chicken and you’re looking like you said, for beef or other novel ingredients, those are such high demand, resource intensive meats to create. So, for example, beef takes way more water, way more land, way more resources than chicken. Chicken is a much more sustainable option.

Kasey Dunn (17:09)
But many of our cats and dogs end up developing allergies to chicken. And then you’re searching for these novel ingredients. And the nice thing about insect protein as well is that it is hypoallergenic. So it is a novel protein. Most dogs will not experience allergies to it. And because it is so novel, it’s really new to most dogs. They won’t have tried it before. So that is another really big bonus that we think is going to help a lot of dogs out there that are suffering from allergies and pet parents like you, who you’re searching desperately for something new.

Kasey Dunn (17:38)
We’ve talked to people who have to go. They’re looking for kangaroo. They’re looking for, like you said, ostrich, like, all these really novel proteins that are really expensive to find something that will work for their dog. So we think that especially in those cases with allergies this is going to be a real game changer.

Patrick McGuire (17:54)
Absolutely. So I’m going to spin a little bit a little more about what you guys are doing. I mean, have you guys had to go through any pivots at this point in time?

Kasey Dunn (18:02)
Yeah. COVID was pretty pretty dramatic. For us as I’m sure it was for everybody. So we are a science based company. Everything we’re doing is really backed by being in the lab and really understanding the ingredients that we’re using. And so we did hit a bit of a snag when the labs were all closed due to COVID, we were supposed to be doing pilot testing and all this stuff. It did get pushed back. Our original intention was to release our full and complete diet first and then release our treats later.

Kasey Dunn (18:31)
But because of the labs being closed, we experienced some delays in getting that full diet completed. So we have released our treats first, which is just a bit easier to bring to market because it’s not a complete and balanced diet. It’s a snack or it’s a treat. It doesn’t have to go through the same level of nutritional testing. We don’t have the same level of rigor to prove. For most dogs, they eat the same food day in and day out. So you have to make sure it has every nutrient and it is really going to provide everything they need.

Kasey Dunn (18:58)
With, treats, it’s a little bit easier because it’s more of a snack or a reward. It’s not necessarily nutritionally complete. So our treats are now ready to go. We’ve been sending them out and getting lots of positive feedback, but the food has been a little delayed, so we’re hoping in the next couple of months to have the full diet available as well, but definitely COVID was a bit of a game changer and pushed us back a few months from where we wanted to be.

Patrick McGuire (19:21)
That happens. But, hey, verbally listening. No matter what time it is, no matter what you’re going through, the challenges you’re going to face, you don’t know. Sometimes you cannot control them. And Kasey Dunn, the team were able to pivot a little bit. They didn’t change their plans. They didn’t change their product, they didn’t change the direction of what they were doing. They just made an adjustment to the initial plan. That roadmap, it’s pretty much straight, but it’s got a little blip on the radar. A little bump, if you will, and they’re still going to market.

Patrick McGuire (19:50)
They just went to market with something that they already had planned for sooner. So, Kasey, I love that you guys did that. It’s really important to keep that focus and drive forward. So today, obviously, product is shipping. How does it ship? What do we do? Do we find it in stores? I know you got a little bit of a story there. And how could somebody find you guys?

Kasey Dunn (20:11)
Well, I wanted to say that was really well said. Absolutely. Patrick, you have that roadmap and you think you know where you’re going to go. And of course, there are these flips that you have to adjust for. For us, it was just really important. We wanted to start getting the product out there because we wanted to get that feedback. We wanted to make sure that the dogs loved the product. We had tested it on a small scale, but we wanted to make sure that people really liked the product.

Kasey Dunn (20:30)
Dogs really like the product. And so we made that pivot so that we could get to market faster and start actually learning from our customers, which I think was the right decision. But because of that, we’ve had to also alter our go to market strategy a little bit. So if people are interested in checking out the treats, they can go to our website where they can buy directly from the website. And we do ship out direct to your home. We will be offering two modes for that.

Kasey Dunn (20:52)
You can try one bag or you can do a subscription. Subscription will come out a little bit lower of cost, just helps us with the shipping and being able to get it out to everybody’s homes. Shipping in Canada is challenging. We’re a huge nation, and we’re all spread out, and it’s not the easiest way. So because the treats are a smaller format, we also decided to get into some retailers. So right now we’re focused on mostly waste free or bulk kind of stores where we can actually sell the product without any packaging, which is really in alignment with what we’re doing, keeping our impact as low as possible.

Kasey Dunn (21:28)
There’s a few waste free retailers in Toronto that are now carrying the product, and we also will be sharing all that information on our website. So if you’re in the GTA, you can check out our website and see where you can go in and maybe just try a couple in a bulk format. Just grab a couple, see if your dog likes them before ordering online.

Patrick McGuire (21:44)
Yeah. And I would say, just remind everyone hopepetfood. ca, so check out the website, find out where the retailers are. And the thing that I really like that you guys put out there is that nine times the omegas of wild salmon. That’s a huge claim. And specifically for your black soldier fly protein we’re talking about here. It’s more gentle on the stomach, and the inner lining is crazy. More iron than spinach, two times the protein of beef and more calcium than milk. This is crazy. Like we should be dipping into our pet food and eating some of your whole pet food.

Kasey Dunn (22:22)
Definitely. I think people need to we need to be trying the insides. Like you said a friend with cricket. I follow a few of those on Instagram cricket bars and stuff like that. These are truly super ingredients that we have not tapped into yet. I think our Western culture, we’ve got this bit of a Ick factor going on, but once you get over that, there is just so much nutrition to be had, and it’s more sustainable. I mean, when you talk about having more Omega than salmon, salmon doesn’t generate Omega, they actually get it from their diet.

Kasey Dunn (22:51)
So when we’re eating fish, we’re eating kind of up the food chain. And if you go down to that algae, which is where the fish are getting it from, you get far more concentration with far less impact and far less resource demand. So we’re really just looking at how do we go all across, not just looking at the traditional beef and chicken and fish, but how do we look at what they’re eating even and find ingredients that can do better for our pets and do better for the planet.

Patrick McGuire (23:15)
And you know what, folks, if you get on the website, you can check out some of the team. We got Jasper, the main model.

Kasey Dunn (23:22)
Yeah, she’s an important member.

Patrick McGuire (23:24)
We got Sophia, we got Kasey, we got Alex, pet food nutrition specialist, and we’ve got Bethany. She’s taking care of the marketing. So if you’ve got questions and things like that, check out the team, get in touch with them. I think those are things that are important to know who’s involved and who’s behind things. We’re not just hiding behind a box or a web page. It’s actually real people, real pets. And I mean, heck, Jasper, enough said done. He’s smiling on the website.

Kasey Dunn (23:48)
He is a good boy. He’s a very good boy. And absolutely, we have a really awesome team. And Alex, who’s our pet nutrition specialist. She has her Masters from the University of Guelph, which is, of course, the epitome of not just nutrition, but pet nutrition. And she is a wealth of knowledge. I have learned so much about pet nutrition. It has definitely changed my whole worldview working on this project, but we really depend on the experts and the science and lead with that for sure.

Patrick McGuire (24:14)
I like that your team is science backed or even science led. I think that’s really important for any company is if you’re going to get into this category, you better have a little bit of knowledge and science behind you. It can’t just be marketing and packaging, which it was in the 80, 90s, even early 2000s. Now everything has to have some empirical data, quantifiable results as well as qualifiable results. It’s not just put in a box and it sells. So I’m really proud of what’s happening, what you guys are doing.

Patrick McGuire (24:40)
And I’m excited that you guys are thinking outside the box. But things aren’t always perfect. Tell me about something that may have been, I don’t know, bad decision, questionable decision or a situation that was just sketchy that you guys had to overcome.

Kasey Dunn (24:59)
A situation that was sketchy. Oh, my goodness. I think for us. And I think for any entrepreneur, and I teach entrepreneurs. So I see this again and again. I think it’s funny being on this side of it because I teach entrepreneurs, and it seems so obvious when you’re on the outside, it’s all just make this decision, obviously. But then when you’re on the inside, it’s so much more challenging. And I think one of the main things that we’ve gone full circle around on is really understanding. First of all, who is the customer who would be interested in this product and trying to separate the business a bit from myself?

Kasey Dunn (25:33)
I mean, I personally eat a plant-based diet, but this is not just a product for plant-based people, and not everybody who is plant-based would want to eat insects, anyways. I think one of the early mistakes we made was trying to figure out how to use language around this concept because I think even you had said at one point that you kind of think of insects as meat, but what is meat? We’ve had these philosophical debates about what is meat and where does meat end and something else begin?

Kasey Dunn (26:01)
And are insects? Insects are technically animals. Where are technically animals? But do people think of insects as animals? So how do you talk about something that kind of exists outside of what we normally think of as plants and meat? How do you language that? And when you start saying things like meat free, people automatically kind of rush ahead to vegan or vegetarian. And then if we’re talking about pets, that becomes an uncomfortable conversation where people say, okay, you’re trying to make pets vegan like that seems unethical, or they think it is vegan, and then they realise there are insects in it and then that’s upsetting to them.

Kasey Dunn (26:34)
So it has been very tricky figuring out kind of the perfect way. And I think we’re starting to get closer in the way we talk about it and talking about alternative protein. And I think it’s getting easier because more and more products are also coming out for people. And it’s just becoming a bit more normalised that people are thinking about flexitarian diets or other possibilities, but definitely in the beginning we had some trouble. We were calling it a meat free product and really kind of hammering home this idea.

Kasey Dunn (27:03)
There’s no meat, and we got some hate from both sides. We got some vegan hate. We got some meat eater hate. We got lots of hate. But then we kind of figured out the right niche and the right way to talk about it. And that’s just the learning experience and being okay with failing. And you put that first ad out there that uses the complete wrong language and you get lots of feedback and then you pick it back up, you try something else and you slowly get a bit closer and closer to the right way to talk about it.

Kasey Dunn (27:29)
So I think we’re getting there, but it’s really all over the place with the journey of, you know, you think you figure something out and then you realize you still have a way to go. So we keep working on it. We keep refining it, but definitely in the beginning, that meat free messaging. I don’t think anybody liked us at that point, like the vegans were mad. The meat eaters were mad. Everyone was mad. We just had to work through it.

Patrick McGuire (27:51)
I’m going to call this one out, folks, because let’s be honest, you’re going to have to love the hate. If you’re going to do it, you can’t please everybody. You can’t make everybody happy. But if you define your message clearly and accurately, those that want to love you will love you. And the haters will go away. And Kasey, I can say a friend of mine is crazy successful in the restaurant business. I mean, I won’t even talk about the brands that he’s done because they are so big.

Patrick McGuire (28:19)
Everybody knows it. And I’m not going to try and play this podcast off of that. But I will tell you this. He’s built and sold several franchises, and in fact, he’s done it both in the meat category and the vegan category. And the problem is he didn’t want to get his name and face between either of them because the vegans were sitting in front of his meat based locations, and they were just harassing them. The crazy thing is, the crazy meat eaters were sitting in front of the vegan locations, yelling at those people.

Patrick McGuire (28:49)
And it’s just like he was on both sides for the last decade or so, building another set of franchises in different categories. And he’s recently exited again. So very successful guy, love and respect. And I love hearing his stories. And you’re having the same stories. I think one of the messages we want to remind people that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to be hated. You got to embrace the hate and get your messaging right. It’s okay to screw up a couple of times, and Kasey and the team figured that one out.

Patrick McGuire (29:18)
And luckily, science backs that one for you.

Kasey Dunn (29:22)
Yes. And 100% agree with what you said. You have to just you got to get over the perfectionism and you’re not going to get it right anyway. So you put something out there and you’re going to learn one way or the other. You’re going to learn because your audience is going to teach you and you have to be receptive to whatever they’re going to tell you and just keep being excited to fail, I guess, are excited to get the hate because that’s information. And when everybody is quiet, then you have no idea what’s happening.

Kasey Dunn (29:47)
So better that you’re hearing something and then at least you know where to go.

Patrick McGuire (29:51)
Yeah. I can only imagine sitting in your shoes or sitting around the dinner table or a bar room or a coffee shop and you’re like, so we’re meat free, non vegan. Yeah. Who’s going to buy that?

Kasey Dunn (30:05)
It’s super confusing, because then even we started talking about fish. Technically, fish isn’t meat, but who doesn’t think of it as meat? But we actually have a pretty limited vocabulary, I guess, for the things that we eat. So it’s something we’re going to have to work on.

Patrick McGuire (30:21)
Well, then you can call me a meat head, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t eat insects. And there are days I am a vegan. It’s a bit of everything. So I’m an omnivore if you want to call it that or flexitarian for those that like that story.

Kasey Dunn (30:33)
Yes, flexitarian or reducetarian. These are all the new lingo or saying.

Patrick McGuire (30:38)
Yeah, well, I definitely have to reduce a little bit. I used to be a bodybuilder, so I know about doing that. I just don’t want to do it anymore, but definitely I’ve got a little bit to go. I really should focus on that. And maybe I switch my diet a little bit more thinking of going back. I mean, what was something that was probably the most important thing that led to the success of your team in the company?

Kasey Dunn (31:00)
One of the biggest challenges, but then also one of the things that was really helpful was securing that supply chain. So obviously, we’re manufacturing. We had to get all the pieces together. Once we had formulated and kind of done the research, then it was time to start securing those supply partners. And I think having really great partners is super helpful because you also get all the expertise and the research and development from those suppliers and those partners that you’re working with. And I think that was really helpful to move us forward that we’re working with insects suppliers who are themselves really invested in the idea of obviously getting insects out there and understanding the nutritional benefits and understanding how insects can be used that we haven’t done before.

Kasey Dunn (31:41)
So they’ve been an incredible sort of source of information as well as, of course, actually supplying our insects, the manufacturer white label manufacturer we’re working with who helped us perfect the formula to get it ready to actually produce the treats and the food. Having those really solid partners is, I think, very important. And it took the kind of line share of time to get that all put together and to make sure we had something really solid that was going to work. But then it’s kind of a dream situation once you do have that, because you’ve got all these great sources of knowledge and expertise that you can also use and support each other.

Kasey Dunn (32:16)
So I think that formation of partnerships, and now that we’re starting to go to market, we’re just continuing to build more partnerships with retailers and the stores and boutiques that are carrying the product and continuing in that way. So I think that relationship building is super important.

Patrick McGuire (32:30)
Awesome. And I’m going to call it one more set of partners. Those founding partners, you got to have the right relationship. One is a gel. So please, entrepreneurs don’t just think it’s magic in a box. It just happens by accident. Kasey and Sofia really had to make it work. I mean, Kasey was out there scouting all the entrepreneurs while she was teaching the program looking for her next best partner, but it gave a chance for her to learn what Sophia is all about, what drives her, what her science is backing and what future there could be for the two of them in business.

Patrick McGuire (33:01)
And we have to choose our partners wisely, whether it’s a marketing partner, a wholesale partner, a supplier partner, distribution partners, or our actual life spouse partners who are going to support us on this entrepreneurial journey and keep the dogs quiet. By the way, he’s doing a fantastic job right now. I haven’t heard them yet. And our business partners, they’re a big deal.

Kasey Dunn (33:22)
100%. I have had other businesses in the past and other business partners, and I think it’s something that I would have loved to learn a different way, but sometimes we just learn from doing things wrong. And it was really important to me with this venture to make sure that we really did it right. And Sofia and I spent a lot of time making sure we were aligned in our values, aligned in our goals, getting to understand each other. And then that super important piece of that founder’s agreement, making sure that everything was written down and everything was clear and written out and we understood what our partnership consisted of and what that would look like.

Kasey Dunn (33:59)
And those are definitely things like I teach entrepreneurs, and at least I can teach from my past experience. Have that founder’s agreement have those conversations, even if they’re awkward. It’s awkward. It’s awkward negotiating what you think you deserve or how you think that the business should roll out. But getting it all done and out of the way at the beginning. I just think it’s so important because you have to be able to work with this person through ups and downs and trials. And you don’t want to be fighting with your business partner.

Patrick McGuire (34:27)
No, it’s not worth it. I’d rather fight with a bad contractor supply problem than fight with my partner. Just not worth it.

Kasey Dunn (34:34)
You’re going to have enough problems as it is. You don’t want to add your business partner to that.

Patrick McGuire (34:39)
Or fight with COVID, depending on the time of season that we’re living in.

Kasey Dunn (34:41)

Patrick McGuire (34:42)
So going back a little bit, what’s something? One or two or three things that you wish you could have told yourself the pre entrepreneur or the pre HOPE Pet Foods, Kasey.

Kasey Dunn (34:52)
Well, definitely the piece about the partnerships. I got that one right this time, but much younger. Kasey, I wish that I could go back and tell her about properly doing founder’s agreements. I think really, though, the main thing I would love to go back just at the beginning of this journey would be to say, and we’ve already said it, but it’s just so important that that fear of failure just slows you down and just gets in your way, like trying to perfect the website. Just as one simple example before you release the website to the world, it feels like you have to have it so perfect and have all that messaging down.

Kasey Dunn (35:28)
But the second you release it, you just find ten thousand things you need to change and you start refining the message anyway. So just get it out there and get learning. And I think that is such a hard thing for us to overcome because we’re so everything in school and all of our experiences outside of entrepreneurship teach us, try to get it perfect, try to get it right, take the time to do all that in advance and don’t mess up because messing up is embarrassing. But really, it’s true.

Kasey Dunn (35:55)
You have to just get it out there and mess up so that you can do that learning. And I think the faster you get over that feeling of what if it’s not right or is this good enough, or am I ready to put this out there? The faster you can get over that feeling and just embrace the learning that’s going to come, the better it’s going to be. And you just have to get over it.

Patrick McGuire (36:13)
Totally agreed. And I would remind people in that statement Kasey gave us is fail forwards. You know, if you’re going to fail, you might as well move forward or learn from it. Move on next. Who cares? You’ll make it better on the next time or the next opportunity. All right, Kasey, we’re not on here by accident. What’s your connection? How do we get connected? And what’s your story with RIC?

Kasey Dunn (36:33)
Well, we’re a Mississauga based business, so we are operated out of Mississauga, and we’ve been quite involved in the innovation ecosystem, so we’ve been very lucky to get support from all of the different partners, RIC included. We’re really kind of well dialed into all the opportunities in Mississauga, whether it’s the city of Mississauga, University of Toronto, Mississauga Sheridan College, Ric Centre. Really, they all form this cohesive ecosystem together. And that has been huge for us, just in terms of finding advisors, finding funding, knowing where to go for different challenges.

Kasey Dunn (37:07)
As they came up, we’ve really benefited from being a part of that ecosystem.

Patrick McGuire (37:12)
Love it. And that’s a big thing. Is it’s the ecosystem. A lot of people think that if I’m doing one startup accelerator or incubator or I’m getting funding from this place, I can’t talk to somebody else and it’s just a foolish thing. What I’ve noticed growing in this, at least what I would call the silicone Halton of Canada is that the ecosystem is growing and they are working together and they’re referring to each other. Hey, we’re not the strength here. Call these guys, call these guys go over here.

Patrick McGuire (37:37)
I’ve got a friend over there. It’s a wonderful situation that’s going on. And I love what’s happening in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, as I would say for the research innovation commercialization centres that are all over Ontario. It’s great. We just have to use the RIC Centre as our term before we head off here. I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time and you’ve been gracious to give it, but how do people get in touch with you and the company?

Kasey Dunn (38:01)
Yes, I currently am at Humber College, where I’m the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship. So if anybody is interested just in reaching out to me about entrepreneurship stuff, they can always find me there. But in terms of hope, follow us on social media, follow us on Instagram. It’s @HOPE Pet Food. We try to put lots of educational content out there as well. So if you’re interested in learning about pet nutrition, honestly, it’s a huge space. There’s so much noise out there. You see a lot of ads and a lot of marketing and it gets really confusing.

Kasey Dunn (38:26)
I find people I talk to just feel overwhelmed. Everybody wants the best for their pet. I don’t think there’s anybody out there who’s like, oh, I want to feed garbage to my pet, but it’s just so hard to navigate it because you hear all these different competing messages and it’s a really noisy space. If you follow us there, you’ll see a lot of educational content. Our Pet Nutritionist does a blog to help expand on some of these topics we’ve been talking about and things like DCM and different conditions that are affecting dogs, different trends that are happening and learning more about nutrition.

Kasey Dunn (38:56)
So definitely checking us out on Instagram is an easy way to kind of stay in touch and follow, but definitely go to our website. We’ve got a great FAQ on there as well. With all the different questions that anybody has ever sent to us, we always try to answer them and put the answer out there in case anyone else has a similar question. So you can check out that FAQ and the blogs on there. And then if you want to try some treats, we actually have free samples available right now.

Kasey Dunn (39:19)
So if you go to our website, you can order a free sample. And if your dog loves them, which they will, you can always come back and grab a bag.

Patrick McGuire (39:26)
Absolutely. I might have to get them just for me.

Kasey Dunn (39:29)
I mean, my husband has tasted the dog biscuit. I have not tasted the biscuit personally, but my husband says it’s okay, and maybe it’ll make his fur a little shinier. We’ll see.

Patrick McGuire (39:38)
Nice, very nice. All right, folks. And don’t forget, there’s a Canadian women led company, so it’s easy to remember HOPE Pet Food. And when you cheque them out on the Instagram and social media at HOPE Pet Food, you can’t screw that one up, folks. It’s pretty straightforward. Kasey, last thing I would say is if you got the chance to do this all over and I already know the answer, I’m pretty sure I know it. You teach the damn course. So if you got the chance to do this all over again to be an entrepreneur.

Patrick McGuire (40:07)
Would you do it ?

Kasey Dunn (40:10)
100% Absolutely. I cannot get enough of trying to make an impact and trying to actually see the things we talk about all the time. We should we should. We should. I think entrepreneurs are the ones who do so 1000%. I will always be out there trying to do it.

Patrick McGuire (40:25)
And I agree with you. I myself. I’m a disease entrepreneur. It’s in my DNA, whether that’s a good or bad DNA structure. I don’t know my brother. He teaches business and marketing. I do business and marketing, so I’m along the lines and you, girl, you do it both. You do teach and learn and do it and execute business and marketing. So I love your entrepreneurship spirit. I’ve really had a great time on this conversation, and I look forward to making sure that we help more people feed their pets with a sustainable healthier, stronger, vibrant nutrition product or alternative proteins.

Patrick McGuire (40:58)
In this case, I’m so excited for what you guys are doing. Kasey big. Thank you. Thank you so much for spending time with us today on the podcast.

Kasey Dunn (41:06)
Well, thank you so much. And thank you to anybody who’s listening. And if you have any questions at all, we’re happy to answer. So throw those nutrition questions our way. And, Patrick, I think you need to order a sample so that you can give them a try.

Patrick McGuire (41:19)
Absolutely. We’ll get that set up. Thank you very much, Kasey. And for everybody listening, don’t forget to be an entrepreneur. You can fail forward. You can make mistakes. You can pivot or take little bumps on the roadmap, but keep your path straight and narrow. Stay focused. Kasey told us all these wonderful things. And on behalf of Startups Transform, I’m Patrick McGuire saying, thank you very much and enjoy your entrepreneurial journey. Thank you for joining us on Startups Transform podcast. You can subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.

Patrick McGuire (41:50)
If you enjoyed the conversation, a rating or review goes a long way, recommend the show to a friend. Find us Altitudeaccelerator.ca. Com where we can help you begin your startup journey with access to our workshops, advisors, and mentorship opportunities. Be sure to tune in for our next episode. Bye.


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