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The ethical age is now

In a discussion with Jo Amit, co-founder of HOWND, they explain the importance of ethically sourced and produced products and suggest why retailers in the sector should switch to this way of production.

Why is it so important to be an ethical firm?

I hope one day soon this won’t even be a question we need to answer in the pet industry. I was interviewed recently at our stand at Crufts by The Telegraph for being the first vegan pet food brand at the show. I hope that next year there will be more of us exhibiting as the category explodes from niche to mainstream.

Founding a company with ethics at its core will soon be the norm, no questions asked. For me, as a consciously ethical vegan, it is about doing no harm (from the ancient concept ‘Ahimsa’ meaning non-violence or absence of injury) in my business and personal life. HOWND was founded on the core principle of doing no harm, and we are certified by Cruelty Free International, the Vegetarian (Vegan) Society and PETA, among other ethical organisations, since 2015.

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To answer your questions about why it is important to be an ethically led company; Business as usual is simply no longer an option. Production of meat for pet food is clearly contributing to the destruction of our planet and a meat only diet, as an example from vets we’ve spoken to, is affecting the health of our dogs, as cases of cancer and obesity are on the rise – which is heartbreaking.

As long as dogs enjoy the taste and are excited to eat their meal then why not add some plant powered goodness to their current food as part of a flexitarian diet to begin with. Even reducing the amount of meat our dogs eat helps reduce the catastrophic environmental impact dogs have.

The pet industry is set for radical change. As vegan pet food gains traction, large corporations are launching plant based products now too, following in the footsteps of smaller, niche brands like HOWND and our counterparts.

I believe that over the next decade we are going to see a seismic shift in pet parent behaviour, as more ethically focused authentic brands emerge onto the market.

People choose to lead a plant based lifestyle due to their ethical beliefs or for health reasons or for both. And we are now seeing the same consumer behaviour mirrored in the purchasing behaviour of pet parents for their companion animals.

Consumers, especially the younger more woke generation, are demonstrating in their purchasing behaviour that the lifestyle they lead or strive for is ethical. This can mean purchasing clothes in second hand shops, acquiring higher quality items with longevity, eating plant based food instead of meat, fish or dairy, and if they are pet parents, then ensuring the purchases they make for their companion animals are certifiably free from cruelty to other animals and have low environmental impact.

We love our animals. They are family, right? Our best friends, our fur kids. We need to ask ourselves, why do we love our pets and care for their welfare, but choose to turn a blind eye to the suffering of other sentient animals, like livestock?

If dogs can now be fed on nutritionally sound plant based diets where they get all the essential nutrients, proteins and calories they need to not only survive but thrive, then people are going to be switching their dogs to these diets: for ethical, environmental, or health reasons or all of the above.

Consumer habits are changing. The provenance of ingredients in pet food is under the microscope. The planet is in perilous danger. Fifty percent of UK dogs are claimed by vets to be obese, and a third are intolerant to proteins derived from meat, fish or dairy.

We are seeing a surge in customers purchasing both our wet and dry Superfood for health reasons. We are hearing about so many dogs suffering from food allergies, and in 2021 alone we, along with four other UK brands launched pet foods that offer commercial, healthy alternatives to meat, fish and dairy proteins.

Do you believe consumers choose to shop with you due to your ethical USP?

The vegan community chose to shop with us because they want to purchase from an authentic vegan brand, as opposed to a meat-based brand that has vegan add-ons. Saying that, we do get a lot of dog parents who want to mix their current food with our Superfood as a healthy flexitarian option. They, together with the wider non vegan and vegan-curious community, return to HOWND because our products do what we claim on pack. Being 100% transparent on our packaging is key to long term loyalty and trust. Using 100% clean plant powered ingredients, we have nothing to hide. On the contrary, we list our ingredients and declarations in the biggest font we can print on pack.

Does Hownd have any other core principles other than being ethical?

We will never put profits ahead of animal welfare (oops that is ethical!)

How was the brand started?

We launched as a Cruelty Free International certified pet care brand in 2013, and rebranded to HOWND in 2015. At the time, we were one of only a couple of companies producing all-natural pet care. The fact we were vegan and developed an award winning vegan paw balm without the use of beeswax gave us the name as the go to vegan cruelty free pet care brand.

Why should more retailers in the sector become more ethical?

Many brands in the sector are actively making more mindful and ethical choices to meet demand from the younger consumer market. The ethical, environmental and health benefits of pet food are more important than ever, as the threat to natural habitats and loss of biodiversity can no longer be ignored. Ethics aside for a minute, some dogs, like people, will naturally do better in terms of overall health on plant based food than they would on a solely meat based diet.

An interesting environmental impact fact: A research study conducted by the University of Edinburgh into the global environmental impact of pet food production, found that an area twice the size of the UK is used to produce dry cat and dog food every year. The results are staggering: annual greenhouse gas emissions were found to be 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. If a country produced the same amount of carbon dioxide, it would be the world’s 60th highest emitter of greenhouse gases. The study also found that the pet food industry emits more greenhouse gases each year than some entire countries, such as Mozambique and the Philippines. Yikes!

How do your products maintain optimum health in dogs?

By providing everything a dog needs to lead a long, happy, healthy life. A balanced spread of high quality proteins and nutrients are vital to optimal dog health, and we have all the legally required amounts of vitamin D3 (algae and not lanolin based), taurine, manganese and methionine, as examples, added for a dog to flourish on a complete plant based diet.

It’s fundamental to acknowledge that the source is not as important as the nutrients themselves. HOWND Superfood is highly digestible with legumes that are correctly prepared by experts and all products are vet approved. It doesn’t matter that the essential amino acids and nutrients are plant based as the body absorbs them just as effectively. Our own bodies don’t differentiate if the proteins come from plants. My rescue mutt of ten months has been on HOWND Superfood since we took her in, and she is full of energy and in tip top health after being undernourished and overbred from a young age.

What sets you aside from your main competitors? In the vegan food space, our coexistence with other like-minded brands is helping to grow a niche category into a mainstream one. Currently we are the only brand to offer complete wet and dry food options for adult dogs, with vegan puppy food currently in development. We launched our pumpkin casserole in March 2021 followed by dry adult food and two more wet flavours in August of that year.

We’ve sold circa 150,000 units of stock to date and predicted to sell double that during 2022. Together with the other brands in the category we have saved hundreds of thousands of C02 emissions not to forget the lives of farm animals.

What do you think the future holds for ethically-based products?

Plant based has hit the mainstream in the human space. It is no longer a trend led by activists. The pet space over the next decade will follow suit, I am certain, as more and more people care about the provenance of their pet’s food as they do their own.

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