Louis Tan has always had dogs in his life and grew in an era where scraps, chicken bones and a lot of rice were fed to the dogs.
During his time in the US, he discovered two things—(1) human food for dogs is incredibly unhealthy since the human digestive systems are significantly different and (2) dogs are allergic to certain kind of ingredients in pet food.
He looked into the pet food industry and found the extremely low quality of foods that were being produced.
“Any decent quality pet food had to be imported from the US, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK,” said Louis. “After you factor in the shipping, tax and distributor costs, you end up paying hundreds for what is actually worth tens of dollars.”
Early last year, he had Philip Torring and Julius on board and established PledgeCare that makes better pet food locally and support local businesses and communities. They came from different industries with no experience in the pet industry or manufacturing.
“I want PledgeCare that enables pet owners to have a more active pet by solving its allergies and dietary problems,” he added. “I hope to educate pet owners about the extremely low-quality pet food and the impact it has on their pet’s quality of life.”
They invested about RM250,000 and their efforts into the business.
To date, they have processed more than 2.5 tonnes of wet food since launch and on their way to doing over 250kg per week.
Getting pet food right
Louis explained that the pet industry has experienced overwhelming growth during recent years, with Southeast Asia hovering at around USD1 billion.
The majority of the market is owned by a handful of large conglomerates. However, pet food is produced with extremely low oversight and regulations as they adhere to livestock feed policies.
For years, there have been many online articles and videos calling out big companies who use misleading advertising on their website, and are less than open about the ingredients of their products and where they are sourcing the contents of their pet food from.
“We have many pet owners coming to us thinking their pet was allergic to chicken but actually they were allergic to carbohydrates, preservatives, fillers or antibiotics in the mass-produced kibbles,” he addressed.
“There is so much that can be changed for the better in this industry. Our growth validates that a lot of issues simply aren’t being addressed by the big market players.”Louis Tan
Philip admitted that he was one of many dog owners who never really understood exactly what they had been feeding or what was going in the industry.
“I thought if it’s on the shelves of a pet store it must be good for them to eat,” he added. “Now I know how far that actually is from the truth.”
Taking local fresh ingredients seriously
Over 95% of all dry pet food in the market is made in a process called extrusion that is highly efficient in creating large quantities of pet food. However, these products are severely lacking in quality as it does not use fresh ingredients and is filled with carbohydrate fillers.
PledgeCare’s pet food is made of 100% human-grade local ingredients. This is to ensure the quality standard for these products while breaking free from scrutiny that currently surrounds in the industry.
The ingredients includes 80% fresh meat (has zero fillers), veggies, fruit and greens (in appropriate amounts) that provide nutrition without an overload of carbohydrates.
By cutting transport costs and import fees, it allows the team to invest more in the quality of their ingredients and support local vendors while still maintain a healthy business.
“It enables us to be very selective of the ingredients we use and reach the quality that we envisioned,” Louis added.
For their first recipe, they spent nearly eight full months to build it before launching the product.
“We went through several rounds of external lab-testing on the food to ensure proper nutritional balance for dogs,” Louis explained. “We spent countless weekends at dog-friendly parks in the area passing out samples to interested pet parents so we could get feedback on the food.”
After testing more than 20 different versions, the team slowly traced their way to a finalised product that is loved by even the fussiest eater.
The team also eat the products themselves to let people know that it is safe for humans and their pets to eat.
They use a two-stage drying process that gently evaporates moisture from their products for many hours which preserves heat-sensitive nutrients.
It is a way to show transparency in everything they do for PledgeCare.
“We highlight every single ingredient on the front of the bag because we believe people deserve to know exactly what it is they are feeding their pet with.”Philip Torring
Of course, these do come at a price. A 750g bag of their air-dried chicken (with assorted fruits and vegetables) costs RM67. If you’re used to paying less than RM20 per kg of your dog’s food, it could hurt.
According to their feeding guide, an 11kg dog will need about 134g daily. That adds up to about 4kg a month. That would cost you about RM300 monthly, if you feed them PledgeCare.
However, as many pet owners will testify, they are willing to pay more for their furbabies, especially because of all the horror stories around commercial pet food.
Supporting animals and communities in need
The team was inspired by a TED talk from Dan Pallotta ‘The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong’ that made them start PledgeCare.
“We want to prove that we will be able to generate products that customers want, not just to support charities, and sustain the growth of the non-profit and charity sector.” Louis addressed. “We also want to help people who work at these companies to have a comfortable life.”
Besides making donations to most of the major animal welfare organisations in Malaysia, PledgeCare has been working closely with My PetsHaven. They will be doing a fundraiser with Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB) around July or August to raise funds for vaccination and rabies immunisation to more than 200 dogs.
They also educate the public about stray animals by posting online content with specific initiatives.
Pursuing dreams by overcoming challenges
PledgeCare mainly focuses on scaling their production to meet demand.
“We have ordered industrial equipment, dealt with moisture, heat, dehumidifiers, grinders, mixers, recipe consistency, building a production facility, getting electrocuted (work and health safety), tonnes of rotten food… the list goes on and on,” Louis explained.
But they are able to overcome the challenges thanks to the customers’ encouraging messages.
“Every time we hear a pet owner telling us that they can’t live without our product, it keeps us on our toes and motivates us to keep going.”Louis Tan
The team hopes to test a local production facility to supply resources to the community, non-profits and charities and then expand their business outside Malaysia.
“My dream for PledgeCare is to operate in many cities around the world, supplying high-quality pet food to its residents, and using its proceeds to sustain non-profits and charities in those communities,” he hoped.
They are planning to expand their business to other major cities like Johor Bahru, Penang and Singapore within the next quarter.
- Find out more about PledgeCare’s initiatives in providing high-quality pet food and supporting charitable causes at the official website, Facebook and Instagram.
Feature Image Credit: PledgeCare