Flush with $68 million fresh funding, pet food company JustFoodForDogs will expand its retail footprint faster than you can say, “No, not on the new carpet!”
“Previously, we talked about having 500 locations in the next four years. Now we can do that faster, with a broader expansion of our concept,” CEO Carey Tischler said in an interview Thursday. “We are at over 200 locations now and we will open well over 100 more locations this year alone.”
His confidence had to be buoyed by yesterday’s news that U.S. pet spending hit a record-breaking high of $95.7 billion in 2019. About $37 billion of that was shelled out for pet food and treats alone, a 7% increase over 2018, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
Steve King, CEO of APPA, said consumers are more educated than ever about ingredients that go into pet food and more willing to pay for quality and minimally processed products—a sweet spot for JustFoodForDogs, which uses fresh, whole ingredients that are USDA-certified for human consumption.
“That aligns with what our teams experience talking to pet parents every day,” Tischler says. “They are looking for better nutrition for their pets, the same thing they are looking for, for themselves.”
JustFoodForDogs landed $68 million in Series C funding in a round led by L Catterton late last year. Earlier, the consumer-focused private equity group made an undisclosed growth investment in 2017. That was just two years after Tischler left his job at L Catterton to take the helm of JustFoodForDogs based in Irvine, California.
Tischler says the new capital will fuel accelerated expansion of JustFoodForDogs’ brick-and-mortar footprint nationwide, including its kitchens that serve as “showrooms” where consumers watch meal prep amid gleaming high-end stainless steel and colorful displays of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. Tischler calls the kitchens, such as the one that opened last year inside Petco’s flagship New York City store, a “point of discovery” for the brand.
Trained pet nutritionists are on-site to advise consumers how to “detox” their pets as they transition from commercial products to fresh food.
In April, JustFoodForDogs will open a $2 million, 21,000-square-foot kitchen in New Castle, Delaware, Tischler says. “Our expansion across the country requires an East Coast facility to support the demand of our customers.”
The large size format is modeled after its first “master” kitchen in Irvine, California, where 30,000 pounds of pet food is prepared daily for local pet owners, online customers as well as those shopping JustFoodForDogs’ standalone pantries and shop-in-shop locations inside Petco and Pet Food Express stores. The company also sells food and nutritional supplements via veterinary clinics.
JustFoodForDogs also operates smaller format kitchens with openings coming this summer in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago and the Upper East Side in New York. Later this year, new kitchens are scheduled to open in Dallas and Austin, Texas, he says.
The infusion of capital will also drive new hires—bolstering the management team and continuing to build out the force of pet nutritionists beyond the 200 on staff today. Funding will also support research that validates the long-term health benefits of feeding pets fresh, whole-foods, Tischler says. JustFoodForDogs announced in January it would allocate $1 million to fund research and pet food trials guided by an advisory board of 12 veterinarians.
“It’s incredibly exciting. That’s a boring superlative, I know,” Tischler says. “But testing is happening far faster and this funding is another tool to accelerate that movement.”