Natasha Sidhu loves her dogs. Having been an animal person for years, she got tired of buying her four-legged friends treats that had ingredients she couldn’t pronounce or were made with animal byproducts that didn’t scream “healthy.” So, she harnessed her entrepreneurial spirit and decided to make her own. Thus, Wagging Companions was born.
Wagging Companions is Canada’s plant-based and human-grade dog food company, based in Toronto, ON, Canada. After seeing her dogs’ bowls sit full of processed store-bought food, Natasha noticed her furry friends wanted the food her family was cooking at home. Although the dogs were very happy after getting table food, Natasha knew that canines have different dietary needs than humans.
“One of the main causes of dogs’ ill health is their diet. People don’t intentionally give their dogs the food they think will hurt them, but we need to be more aware of what we’re feeding them if we want to prolong their health.”
After getting laid off from her job due to the pandemic, Natasha found herself at home wondering about her next move. “I was working in IT, but lost my job due to COVID. I was actively looking for jobs, and making treats for my dog who LOVES food and won’t even look at store bought treats anymore.”
She started sharing the treats with family and friends. Natasha continued, “I was making a lot…I was just making big batches and giving them away. It was something to do and a lot of people started saying I should sell them on the side while still looking for a job.”
Natasha said it got bigger than even she anticipated. In the span of two months, she was making recipes and taking them to labs to get them tested.
Building a dog treat brand in the middle of a pandemic isn’t easy
After taking a leap of faith, Natasha has been moving on a rocket ship with Wagging Companions, “When I started looking into the market, I wasn’t able to sell unless they were tested at a lab with a certified guaranteed analysis. At that time, since the product was so small, the testing didn’t seem that expensive, and if I was going to continue feeding this to my dog, I might as well just get them tested anyways.”
After sending her treats in to make sure they hit the mark, Natasha was confident that it was worth investing her time into building her new brand, “I took ingredients that made sense and just threw everything together. And if the consistency worked, it worked. I was lucky that I kind of got the recipes right the first, maybe second shot. They came together so perfectly.”
After finalizing recipes, Natasha went all in as she’d planned, “Unintentionally I stopped looking for a job in my field. I invested in building a legit website and put all my focus into building my company.”
The journey of Wagging Companions’ brand identity is still growing, still developing, and Natasha doesn’t see it as just a dog food company. It’s a holistic brand that changes the lives of animals around the world for the better.
“I’ve been a pet lover all my life. Once I got this going, I started researching and a lot of things came to the surface. For the last few years, my dream has been to eventually open dog shelters in developing parts of the world to help provide medical and basic care to animals in need. A plant-based dog food company seems like the perfect opportunity to step in that direction. As we slowly scale higher, we thought it would be impactful right now to take a portion of our profits and give them to organizations around Canada, India and Egypt to help dogs in need.”
Success, one bag of treats at a time
Natasha continued, “We started donating resources to organizations within Canada, and then also started contributing to two organizations in developing countries: India and Egypt, which seems to be where it’s needed the most. We donate 5% of our profits towards shelters and rescue organizations.”
After seeing the impact she was making, Natasha decided to keep donating on an even larger scale, to achieve things like building shelters and rescuing dogs. “I would need an exponential amount of funding to do that. This is the perfect line of work to achieve that goal. I want to make sure dogs everywhere have a nutritious meal, a warm place to sleep, and access to medical care. This company was never about generating revenue for my personal gain. It’s always been a way to give back to the world and make a difference in the lives of helpless animals.”
With her brand on the path, Natasha made more moves toward seeing the brand become legitimate. She put in personal investment, and began working with a digital marketing agency who helped shape the design of the brand, both in packaging and online.
From brown paper bags to store-ready packaging
And since then, she’s learned a lot about running the company and what it takes to market it correctly. “I took inspiration from a human snack business who were using these brown paper bags that were sustainable and recyclable. I had our product labels made and stuck them on the bags, and that was our first product packaging.”
Then one day Natasha received a message from Guardian’s Best, a non-profit rescue organization. “They told me about an outdoor market they were doing at a dog park. At this point, we were still only selling to friends and family. I agreed to do the event, and they told me I needed to bring a few branded supplies”
Being at the event was an eye-opener. “That was the first time I was out there, speaking about my products. We sold out of everything. I’d only brought 30-40 bags, but more people wanted to try them. So, I had to direct everyone to the website. After that, we hit all the small business-friendly events.”
But, when it was time to level up the brand again, Natasha considered her dog treat packaging. Could she make it better? What seemingly small things could she do to amplify her treats in the market?
“At the beginning of the pandemic, when a lot of people had started businesses, sustainable brown paper bags were trending. However, we had connected with another local dog food company as we saw that they’d changed their packaging. This company changed its packaging, posted it on Instagram, and tagged ePac. It really stood out to me and I reached out to ePac.”
According to Natasha, their process at the time was a mess. “I was getting bags from one supplier, and I was getting labels printed from another supplier. Then I’d physically stick on the labels to the bags, which would take me hours.”
The process was something she wasn’t anticipating. But it turned out to be a game-changer. “I found a new designer to amplify our labels. We already loved our old labels, but wanted a little more pizazz. I sent over our old designs and they helped me make everything look better while still keeping our original idea. It was perfect, right off the bat. I don’t even think we made any changes.”
Wagging Companions in 2022 and beyond
Despite the brand’s success and the new packaging being precisely what she’d wanted, there was still more demand and work. “We ran out of supplies due to material shortages. During the holidays, we sold out of our last stock and went on a little bit of a break. Then people started messaging us through social media and asking, `Why is everything out of stock,’ and things haven’t slowed down since.”
When it comes to how ePac is the perfect partner for Wagging Companions, Natasha is thoughtful. She sees the brand keeping its strong reputation moving forward, thanks to focusing on the details, ensuring customers get what they paid for.
“The pouches are vacuum sealed, and then once consumers open it, they can reseal the packages, because our products do have to be refrigerated because they have no added chemicals or preservatives. We ship all packages with insulated shipping boxes. We add two gel packs and a temp guard. It’s insulated, and then it stays at the optimal temperature during transit. It’s perfect. We package and then ship the next day. We are made to order – we want everything to arrive fresh for our pupstomers.”
Wagging Companions has a long future if the boss lady has anything to say about it. Her vision for the brand extends long past her home in Canada. “In an ideal world, we’ll release our dog food in 2022. We’d also like to start shipping to the States. We remain dedicated to selling healthy dog food that’s plant-based, and good for dogs of all ages. Once we can build that, we’d love to open our shelter and help provide medical care.”
Natasha added, “We never wanted to use plastic in our packaging because we want everything sustainable. However, due to our perishable products, a small amount of plastic in our packaging is unavoidable. To compensate, we work with an organization called rePurpose Global, whose sole mission is to remove ocean-bound plastic from the environment. Additionally, we work with One Tree Planted to plant three trees for every order placed.”
If there’s anything you can learn from Wagging Companions is that the company is dedicated to the cause of helping make a difference, both big and small. And we’re glad to be a part of their journey.