San Diego women entrepreneurs produce healthful pet food and treats
by By NICOLE SOURS LARSON | San Diego Pets
Published - 04/09/10 - 12:36 PM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lucy Postins, owner of the local pet store The Honest Kitchen, poses with her pups Willow and Taro.  Photo by Ashley DuChene Photography
Lucy Postins, owner of the local pet store The Honest Kitchen, poses with her pups Willow and Taro. Photo by Ashley DuChene Photography
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Lucy and husband Charlie Postins, owners of the local pet store The Honest Kitchen, share a moment with their pups Willow, Taro and Indy.	           PHOTO BY ASHLEY DUCHENE PHOTOGRAPHY
Lucy and husband Charlie Postins, owners of the local pet store The Honest Kitchen, share a moment with their pups Willow, Taro and Indy. PHOTO BY ASHLEY DUCHENE PHOTOGRAPHY
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Debbie Wakabayashi of Salmon Paws is shown with Hudson and Zoey.	
  COURTESY PHOTO
Debbie Wakabayashi of Salmon Paws is shown with Hudson and Zoey. COURTESY PHOTO
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Local businesswomen Lucy Postins of The Honest Kitchen (THK) and Debbie Wakabayashi of Salmon Paws share a passion for their pets’ health and well-being, a practical turn of mind and entrepreneurial instincts.

These shared traits have enabled them to develop their ideas for healthful, holistic pet foods and treats into successful businesses which have thrived in the aftermath of the 2007 pet food recall, despite the recession, as consumers seek higher quality, additive- and chemical-free foods for their dogs and cats.

Both Postins and Wakabayashi were inspired by their own dogs to find healthful alternatives to commercial dog food and treats.

Postins, CEO and chief nutritionist for THK, which produces dehydrated human-grade raw food for both dogs and cats, started her company in 2002 after she began developing raw diet alternatives for her Rhodesian ridgeback, Mosi. The Bird Rock resident had trained in England at the Moreton Morrell College of Agriculture in equine and business studies, and had previously worked with a Southern California pet food manufacturer as an equine and canine nutritionist.

“When I got Mosi I was interested in (making) a raw food diet for him. I wound up with a messy kitchen and looked for an easier way to feed him,” she said.

She explored the concept of a dehydrated raw diet, which she feels is safer than raw food because meats and eggs are heated to about 120 degrees and the fruits and vegetables to under 104 degrees, yet are still considered raw. Postins tested different combinations of ingredients and formulations for Mosi and commissioned a human food commercial kitchen in Los Angeles to make several dehydrated test blends. These original blends, all made from meats, vegetables and fruits graded for human consumption, remain among THK’s core products.

THK uses organic produce when possible and has just switched to using 100 percent sustainably-farmed, free-range poultry from Petaluma Poultry. Postins is proud that they do all their own selection and purchase of fresh ingredients for their pet foods, using no by-products, genetically-modified crops, hormone or antibiotic-fed meats, and no corn, wheat or soy products, often the source of pets’ allergies.

“There’s no excuse that we didn’t know what’s going into (our products),” she said.

What started as a small, home-based business in 2002 with an initial run of 2,000 pounds of one dehydrated raw diet — Verve, sold only on the Internet — grew in 2009 to 1.2 million pounds of six different dehydrated formulas for dogs and one for cats, plus an array of all-natural, human-grade supplements and treats for pets, sold in more than 1,700 resellers in the U.S. and Canada. All products are taste-tested and consumed by THK’s lively canine office staff, plus “retired” feline Harry who works from home.

Despite the recession, the company’s 2009 (cont’d on page 5) (cont’d from page 4) sales grew 29 percent over the previous year. THK continues to bring out new products. Recent additions to the line include Keen, a back-to-basics, more economical dehydrated raw food for “hounds on a budget,” that uses the same high quality, but simpler, less expensive ingredients: Lithe, a therapeutic anti-inflammatory herbal tea for dogs; and Wishes, a dehydrated Icelandic haddock fish treat. An as yet-unnamed haddock-based diet will launch over the summer.

For Postins, ethics, sustainability and environmental responsibility are as important as high quality nutrition. THK does not offer its products in any store selling puppies and kittens from puppy mills or mass breeders.

She stresses that the company began not as a way to make money, but “as a solution to the problem of how to feed good raw food and a healthy diet and get back to basics. It’s really slow food for pets.”

Encinitas resident Debbie Wakabayashi founded Salmon Paws in 2008 after she discovered that her dogs, Zoey and Hudson, went crazy over the wild Alaskan salmon that her brother-in-law, Kai, sent from his Washington state processing plant.

Attempting to find a replacement for Zoey’s favorite Chinese-made chicken jerky treats after their recall, she searched for a salmon jerky treat, but discovered none available. With her brother-in-law, she created a form of oven-baked salmon jerky, using only the center cut of meat from human-grade wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, with no additives or chemical preservatives.

The treats proved so popular with her dogs that she decided to package and sell them in four-ounce bags.

“I was so proud and passionate about my dog treats that I asked my vet, Cardiff Animal Hospital, and pet boutiques in Cardiff, Solana Beach and Encinitas, if they would try the pet treats. Everyone loved them,” she said.

Because of their enthusiasm, she decided to expand and began selling her pet treats online. Her business took off and has continued to expand nationally, through both Internet and pet-store sales.

Adding products, she now offers salmon jerky mixed with organic broccoli, which most dogs love, plus salmon Omega Stix, both plain and with organic wheatgrass, and two-ounce bags of chopped “Kitty Bitts” treats for cats and dogs.

Like Postins, Wakabayashi emphasizes both the high quality and nutritional value of ingredients used to produce their lines. Although her growing business is only two years old, it, too, is benefiting from consumers’ quest to provide improved, known-quality nutrition for their pets.

Her passion for her product, she explained, is reinforced daily by calls and e-mails relating customers’ success stories. She reports that the no-kill Paws of Chicago shelter, an Oprah Winfrey favorite, uses her treats to rescue stray dogs off the streets.

Mary Jansky, co-owner of Noah’s Natural Pet Market in Pacific Beach, is enthusiastic about both The Honest Kitchen and Salmon Paws. Noah’s was THK’s first retailer and continues to sell a high volume of their products. Jansky, a trained nutritionist, feeds her own dogs THK’s grain-free formulas. Her dogs also enjoy Salmon Paws and especially like the salmon-broccoli version. Both lines, she said, “are made with care.”

For more information and product availability, visit www.thehonestkitchen.com and www.salmonpaws.com.
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