Homegrown Business: Kasey Dunn, Co-Founder of HOPE Pet Food

HOPE Pet Food is a Toronto business that sells sustainably produced pet food. We spoke with Kasey Dunn, Co-Founder, to find out more about them.

HOPE Pet Food

What is your business called and what does it do?

We are HOPE Pet Food! We are saving the planet with nutritious pet food that leaves livestock and fish farming behind. Our founder, Dr. Sofia Bonilla Ph.D. specializes in proteins and bioprocessing. Our formulas are developed by Sofia and HOPE’s pet nutrition specialist Alexandra Camara. Each and every ingredient has been carefully considered, researched and tested. The result: premium formulas for your pet that deliver on nutrition, taste and are sustainably produced!

At HOPE, we voluntarily follow both the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) recommendations and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines. Both associations set minimums and maximums for the nutrients in pet food. We go above and beyond the recommendations when formulating our foods.

What made you want to do this work?

It all began with a realization. Throughout her Ph.D. studies, our founder Sofia Bonilla had started becoming increasingly aware of how unsustainable our food systems are. “Something that for me, is crystal clear: we cannot provide the protein that we need as humans on this planet unless we change drastically how we create that food and that also applies to our pets,” says Sofia.

While working as a postdoc researcher in the Netherlands, she discovered that insects could be the answer to this seemingly colossal problem. While on mat leave, she began looking for resources to start what would eventually become HOPE. The idea of alternative protein sources that offer balanced nutrition lit a spark that was slowly growing into a flame. All of her research was clear: insects are a source of protein that is way more sustainable to produce than other more traditional sources. They’re a staple in the cuisine of many cultures because they actually do taste good! Not to mention they’re nutrient-rich.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

In North America, our pets are consuming over 25% of the meat being produced. That may seem impossible but there are over hundreds of millions of pet dogs and cats in North America alone. That makes almost a billion worldwide! Many pet parents have been making changes in their own diets, reducing their meat consumption and looking for healthier, more sustainable alternatives – but currently meat alternatives are not available for our companion animals. HOPE offers that alternative! Pet owners also worry about the quality of the meat ingredients found in pet food, and many pets experience allergies to traditional proteins. HOPE’s insect-based formula provides a clean, hypoallergenic nutrient-rich protein source.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Our customers are pet parents across Canada who are looking for a nutritious, sustainable alternative for their dog. They may be motivated to change their dog’s diet for a few reasons: many of our customers are eating less meat and searching for sustainable alternatives. HOPE allows them to feed their pet in a way that aligns with their own values and lifestyle. Some of our customers have pets with allergies to traditional proteins like chicken. HOPE provides a hypoallergenic novel protein that helps our itchy scratchy companions.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

We don’t know any jokes about pet food manufacturers (niche industry I suppose!) But as pet lovers and pet owners, here is a joke that makes us laugh.
My husband has developed an allergy to the dog, so I have to rehome him. Do you know anyone looking for a new husband?

How does your business make money? How does it work?

At HOPE Pet Food, we’re on a mission to use science and kindness to make radically better and sustainable pet food with alternative proteins so that all living things can live in harmony with the needs of our planet. Our first line of products is insect-based, using Black Soldier Fly larvae. Insects are a clean, eco-friendly source of protein. They are a superfood, packed with more protein than beef and more omegas than salmon! We love formulating products that are kinder and more sustainable. Our products produce 70% fewer emissions and use 90% less land and water. Our products are available through our e-commerce site.

Where in Toronto can we find you?

We are a Toronto-based team, and source all of our ingredients as locally as possible. Our insect protein comes from a Canadian supplier, and our products are baked in the GTA! We are currently working with local waste-free retailers across the GTA to get our treats into stores for the holiday season.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

How to choose pet food?

When choosing pet food, there are a few factors to consider; your dog’s nutritional needs, nutritional adequacy statements and company transparency, quality ingredients that provide essential nutrients and the company/ team creating the food. When thinking about your dog’s nutritional requirements, their age, life stage, activity level/ weight, and reproductive status all play a key role in what nutrients your dog may need, and which food is best for them. Nutritional adequacy statements are important to look for as they identify that product as being complete and balanced for that life stage and species. Companies will follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and/or the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) nutrition guidelines to create their products and they will follow the guidelines set in place by these officials. Companies that also have good quality control and test their pet foods to ensure each batch of food is nutritionally adequate, is important. When looking at ingredients, a good quality dog food will combine highly digestible ingredients to deliver the right balance of nutrients to your pet. The team creating the food is another thing to consider, and whether there are team members who have pet food formulation knowledge as well as nutrient bioavailability, ingredient interactions and nutrient losses that can occur during processing.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

One of the best things about our work is that we get to meet lots of dogs who are always excited to meet us and taste-test our products. We absolutely love receiving the photos of our happy canine customers enjoying their snacks – our team is comprised of the biggest dog lovers!

It also feels amazing knowing we are working toward addressing climate change – but this is also the worst part. Sometimes the climate crisis can make us feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. When we learned that 25% of all meat in North America is going to feeding our companion animals, we were shocked. That is a massive carbon pawprint! The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing our generation, and we felt driven to do our part. Taking steps to contribute to a greener future and healthier planet brings our team HOPE. In the words of Greta Thunberg, “When we start to act hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope – look for action. Then the hope will come.”

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Toronto business that you love?

The Green Jar is a waste-free shop in Toronto. They share our belief that small changes can have a big impact on the planet. The Green Jar is here to help you embrace eco-friendly living, one small step at a time—whether it’s switching to a stainless steel straw or embracing the #wastefree life with refillery products.