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Bret Furio believes that if you want to build a successful company, you have to be good to your people, your consumers and the planet. He spent more than 20 years in the consumer packaged goods sector at companies like Zarbee’s Naturals, Philips and Gillette, before joining Canidae Pet Food Company as CEO. Today, he leads more than 150 people and says he is on a mission to make a difference in the world. Known for manufacturing and distributing quality pet food and treats, Furio says Canidae’s leaders ensure that every decision they make supports what they call a cycle of goodness: Is this good for our pets? Is this good for our people? Is this good for our planet?
When Covid hit, these questions inspired Furio’s team to donate more than half a million pounds of kibble to the San Antonio Food Bank, ensuring that needy pet parents were able to feed their fur babies during a truly unprecedented time. Meanwhile, the Canidae team remained committed to providing goodness for pets, delivering upon their mission to develop, and launch, environmentally friendly pet food. Canidae is introducing its Sustain product line just in time for Earth Day 2021. Furio sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss innovative ways Canidae is creating sustainable products and shared what small companies can do to implement more sustainable practices.
Start by telling us a little bit about Canidae.
Bret Furio: Canidae was founded in 1996 by two business partners with their own farm-and-feed shop. They had a nice, loyal customer base and offered a number of popular product lines from national brands, but ultimately they were not impressed with the quality of the food that was being offered in the market. And they thought, “Hey, I think we can make a better product.”
So they started making their own pet food. 25 years later, we are embarking on a journey to figure out how we do this in a more sustainable way. We’re in the early stages of that journey, and it all comes down to what we call the cycle of goodness: How do we do best for the pets, the pet parents and the planet
Let’s talk about your products. How are they sustainable?
I don’t know if you know this, but more than 500 million bags of pet food make their way into landfills every single year. Our bags are made from over 40% recycled materials, the most environment-friendly bag out there today. Secondly, our new Sustain product is being sourced entirely with sustainable protein. So it’s wild-caught. It’s cage-free chicken. And the vegetables, it’s all from regenerative farms, which are really focused on figuring out how to farm with less damage to the soil and to the planet.
And how does your company support farmers?
We’ve partnered with a number of innovative, independent farmers, and we believe in their practices, a lot of which has to do with regenerative farming, even going so far as to use robotics. Regenerative farming is much better for the soil and these farmers are producing food that’s more nutritious. So it’s a win-win-win. We’re supporting farmers that we really believe in. They, in return, are able to provide us with a great product for our food. And the pet obviously wins in the end, getting more nutrition in each bag.
You say, “Goodness is your business.” What do you mean by that?
At the end of the day, employees make companies go. What we’ve really tried to do is invest in our employees, with respect to the training and support that we’re giving them. Especially through Covid, that support is more important than ever before. They’re isolated, they’re stressed, they’re anxious. How do we really support them physically, mentally and emotionally from afar? We do Zoom workout classes. We’ve done cooking classes together, we try to find ways to keep people connected and make sure that they remember that they joined the company because of our mission, to make sure that they feel good, even though we’re not all together every single day, like we would have been under normal times.
I think that’s paid huge dividends. If you think about Sustain, which we’re launching this month, that was only possible because employees were really engaged. They believed in the mission and made that happen, even though they’re all working remotely. And that cycle of goodness starts internally.
With Earth Day around the corner, what can you share about your new initiative?
We’re partnering with a number of passionate and creative ambassadors for our brand. Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt is a huge, huge pet lover and is one of the many incredible people we’ve teamed up with. But the bigger idea is to really challenge everyone to do something small in their own daily lives to make the planet better. If you think about the genesis of Earth Day, the whole point is understanding that the earth is a finite resource.
We’re all here sharing this planet together. Fundamentally, we have a social responsibility to take care of the resources where we live. And what we’re asking consumers to do is opt in, not just by buying our product, but by looking at what small changes you can do at home that would allow you to do your own part for a larger good. Fundamentally, when you think about any big movement, it doesn’t happen because one company or one person does one thing. It happens because lots of people opt in and then say, “Together, we can make a big difference.”
Why do you think other companies are not taking this approach?
When you look at the companies that have disrupted big categories, it’s often a smaller company that really gets the ball rolling, because they have a mission in mind and are still flexible in a way that larger companies often aren’t. For a huge company to change their processes costs time, resources, and money. I think the big brands have recognized that they like the way things are. They like their bottom lines, and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But when smaller companies can make small inroads and big companies start to see that customers want these changes, then they will get on board. That’s when it truly becomes a movement, and that’s good for everyone involved.
Studies show more consumers are looking to buy products from sustainable sources. How can small businesses implement sustainable practices?
The most important thing to understand is that it’s a journey, and no gesture is too small. If everyone does one or two small acts of kindness or goodness, and we string them together, that becomes a really big difference. My advice to other small companies is that if you have a mission, if you have something in mind that you think needs fixing, you can change the world a little bit at a time. You don’t need to change the world with a bang. Sometimes a steady drumbeat will get people to play along, and before you know it, you’re all there together.