Germany’s VEGDOG is the first pet food manufacturer to specialise in 100% plant-based and gluten-free complete dog food. The idea behind the brand comes from company founder Tessa Zaune-Figlar and is based on a personal experience as a dog owner. After a one-year development phase, VEGDOG celebrated its market launch in 2016 and presented the brand’s first innovative wet food products.
VEGDOG was established in 2016, what is the idea for VEGDOG’s foundation as a 100% plant-based complete dog food?
Tessa Zaune-Figlar, founder and CEO: My Shephard-mix Nelson suffered from a severe food allergy, therefore, our veterinarian suggested cutting all animal components from his diet. Nelson, on a vegan diet? Honestly, I was sceptical at first, but to help Nelson, I was willing to try everything. I received vegan recipes from expert veterinarians that would fulfil my dog’s nutritional needs and in no time, he was free from all symptoms.
“dogs need protein and the right nutrients… not meat, which can all be provided on a plant-based diet”
After years of searching for the right treatment for his issues, this came close to a small miracle. Nevertheless, home-cooking gradually became quite time-consuming. And after extensive research, I concluded that there is no vegan dog food that meets all nutritional requirements of a dog’s diet. Hence, I decided to develop a complete plant-based dog food together with the help of expert veterinarians. Now, I know that dogs need protein and the right nutrients… not meat, which can all be provided on a plant-based diet. This is VEGDOG’s story.
Since the foundation of VEGDOG, how did the company grow and evolve? Which milestones were reached?
Tessa Zaune-Figlar: In 2015, I started with three kinds of wet food that were launched in 2016. Then in 2017, co-founder Valerie Henssen joined the company and in 2018 we presented VEGDOG on the TV show “Die Höhle der Löwen” (German version of the TV show “Shark Tank” and “Dragons’ Den”). As a result, the Wöhrl family (one of the investors of the TV show) joined the company as well. Following the broadcasting of our performance, we launched our dry food as well as our first snack. Later in 2020, the family Wöhrl and VEGDOG separated on good terms just to win Katjesgreenfood as the next investor shortly after. Since then, we have been launching several other snacks as well as a sustainable innovation this summer: wet food in Tetra Pak packaging. Also in 2020, we managed to reach the one million turnover mark for the first time!
Here at VEGDOG, we never sit still which resulted in many exciting business years. We can be very proud of this very successful development of VEGDOG. For the future, our goal is to stay on the road of innovation to become the European market leader for vegan dog food in 2023/2024. We can say for sure that we are on the right track for this with our fast-growing team full of motivated and creative employees that share our mission and vision with all their hearts – the mission and vision to revolutionise the dog food market while supporting animals and the environment.
Which plant-based alternatives comprise your current product range and which components are being used for them?
Valerie Henssen, co-founder and CEO: We offer a wide range of products of vegan dog food. Within our complete food section, we offer our dry food GREEN CRUNCH as well as four kinds of wet food. Two of them are suited for adult dogs (one of them in the innovative packaging Tetra Pak), one for senior dogs and one for sensible dogs. For owners that prefer to cook dog food themselves, we offer our mineral powder ALL-IN-VELUXE that provides all essential nutrients for dogs. Last but not least, our snacks!
The DENTALS are the ideal treat to support your dog’s dental care while our VEGGIES immune and skincare are great for rewarding your dog. Our absolute jackpots though are our BEEVYS and JERKEYS. These snacks are covered in beech wood aroma and convince even the last sceptical muzzle. It is our priority to use high-quality ingredients for all our products. After all, we are our most critical customer as most of our employees have dogs themselves. We use high-quality alternative protein sources like lupines, peas, or lentils as well as healthy fruit and vegetables. Superfoods like chia or linseeds together with our mineral powder complete our recipes. Additionally, we care about the sustainable factor of our ingredients, hence we mostly use regional products.
Which advantages provide plant-based dog food in comparison to conventional products?
Carla Steffen, VEGDOG’s veterinarian: The two main reasons behind a vegan diet for dogs are ethical aspects and the pet’s health. Many people want to reduce their meat consumption and hence switch to a vegan diet. As nowadays it is also possible for a dog to be healthy on a vegan diet, many dog owners choose to switch to support general animal welfare. Furthermore, plant-based dog food entails a strong reduction in a dog’s CO2 paw print. According to a Swiss study about the life cycle assessment of dogs, our four-legged friends’ yearly impact on the environment equals a car ride of 3,700 km. One of the biggest shares of this is covered by meat-containing food. If a dog owner chooses our dry food GREEN CRUNCH, they can save an amount of CO2 that equals a car ride of 225km.
As mentioned before, the second advantage is the health motive. The number of dogs that suffer from food allergies is increasing resulting in more owners looking for alternative protein sources. Naturally, vegan dog food is free from all kinds of animal-based allergens which are the main source of adverse food reactions in dogs. Hence, plant-based food is usually highly suitable for sensitive dogs.
Recently, you launched two new vegan snacks. Can we expect further innovative products soon?
Valerie Henssen: At VEGDOG, we never sit still and constantly work on new product innovations. Just a few weeks after we had introduced the snacks BEEVYS and JERKEYS we added another wet food for adult dogs to our product range that comes in Tetra Pak packaging. This is an absolute innovation as up until then there was no such food on the market. Tetra Pak is significantly more sustainable compared to its packaging alternatives. Its practical form, the materials used for production and its recycling rate make Tetra Pak 5x more climate-friendly than conventional packaging. We are very proud of our innovation and the feedback we have been receiving since then. We are currently developing further products, however, they’ll still be kept secret for a while.
What are your distribution channels for your products?
Tessa Zaune-Figlar: We offer all products on our online shop www.vegdog.de where people can profit from a convenient subscription offer for a smaller price and automated orders. Additionally, website visitors can use our retailer search to find physical stores nearby. We are particularly happy about the increasing number of retail and drugstores that add our products to their shelves. For example, you can find our DENTALS in all dm stores as well as our complete product range in selected REWE subsidiaries.
Do you think the market for plant-based animal food will change during the next years?
Valerie Henssen: In the past, vegan dog food was a true rarity. This is the reason why there were no scores of market performances of that sector besides the regular food industry (20-fold growth during the past 10 years). Owners who wanted to feed their dogs a vegan diet usually had no other chance than to cook themselves and search intensively for plant-based snacks. Today, however, you can find vegan alternatives in every pet shop. Even more, we can access industry scores that prove that vegan dog food has passed the times of being a niche sector (one-fourth of dog owners would consider a vegan diet for their dogs). Besides the fully vegan companies, there is a growing offer among conventional brands that add plant-based alternatives to their product range.
Something must change: the conditions of mass livestock farming accompanied by the suffering cannot be accepted anymore. by introducing one veggie day a week or switching to vegan snacks, owners can support animal welfare. Times have passed in which dogs are being compared to wolves. On the contrary, more and more people acknowledge the discrepancies between wild wolves and the dogs that live in our homes.
“Something must change: the conditions of mass livestock farming accompanied by the suffering cannot be accepted anymore”
During the time of domestication, dogs mostly lived on a plant-based diet deriving from food scraps as meat was a rare and valuable good. This enables the dog of today to digest starch which makes the dog – like us humans – an omnivore. Dogs have adapted to a life with humans and hence show clear differences to wolves.
Eventually, this part of education is so important for us to convince people that it is indeed possible for dogs to thrive on a vegan diet while adding an enormous share to animal welfare and environmental protection. In line with our increasing number of customers, we know that people have become more aware of these issues. Hence, vegan dog food will find its place in the heart of society.