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Do You Know What Your Dog Eats? A Look At Wild Earth’s Meat-Free Dog Food Mission

An interview with Ryan Bethencourt, Wild Earth CEO

While all dog owners will agree that their furry companion is part of the family, many of us don’t know (or don’t want to know) what exactly we’re feeding them. Sure, the label says chicken and rice, but what else is in there and where did the meat come from?

Wild Earth dog food

Photos courtesy of Wild Earth

Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of Wild Earth, started asking these kinds of questions and was shocked by what he found in the pet food industry. In response, Wild Earth was founded as a sustainable, meat-free alternative — using yeast and fungi-based sources of protein to keep dogs healthy and happy. Aren’t dogs carnivores? What’s the environmental impact of kibble? We put our questions to Ryan Bethencourt, Wild Earth CEO, to learn more about the company’s vision for sustainable pet food.

Why did you found Wild Earth?

As a long-time animal lover, with a background in biotechnology, I one day became curious as to what our pets were actually eating and began to investigate the pet food industry. What I found was quite shocking — not only was the meat that was being sourced for most pet foods non-human-grade, but there had been serious accounts of industry recalls and even euthanasia drugs being found in pet food! I knew there had to be a better way, so I partnered with a team of expert scientists and veterinarians to develop a high-protein, meat-free dog food, not only to better serve our pets, but also our planet.

Can you tell us a bit about the processes and technology Wild Earth is using to create fungi-based protein for dog food?

We have intentionally designed our food with well-studied, wholesome, nutritional, and functional ingredients, focused on providing dogs with clean and sustainable protein sources. Our dog treats are primarily made from Koji, which is already being used in traditional foods like soy sauce, miso soup, and fermented bean paste. Our new dog kibble, which also has koji in it, utilizes yeast protein as the main ingredient, as it’s a superfood that’s packed with protein, B vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. These fungi-based sources provide dogs with all 10 essential amino acids required and grow through a 100% natural and sustainable process. In addition to fungi-based sources, our kibble also utilizes ingredients such as oats, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, blueberries, pumpkin, and spinach.

Koji Development in Bioreactor

In a lifecycle analysis, how do the resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from your products compare to traditional dog food? Could you share some numbers with us?

Koji strains in the lab

A recent UCLA study found that 25-30% of the environmental impact of meat production in the United States — including the impact on land, water, fossil fuels, and phosphate — is attributed to our pets! That’s equivalent to 64 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. By choosing to produce a meat-free product for our pets, we’re completely cutting the ruinous environmental effects of factory farming out of the equation.

We have not done a full lifecycle analysis yet, but the scientific community agrees that protein from plants and fungi are much more sustainable than animal-based proteins due to its direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use, rainforest destruction, and environmental pollution. We are very proud to spearhead the movement for clean protein in the pet food industry.

How much do your products cost in comparison with traditional pet food? 

The evolution of today’s pet parents aligns with our target customer — someone who sees their dog as part of the family and thus is willing to spend a bit more to ensure their dog is receiving a natural, clean diet. Our large bag of kibble (14 pounds) can be purchased for $65 and our small bag (4 pounds) for $25. In addition to being able to purchase online, our products can also be found at independent pet food retailers across the country.

Has there been any backlash to your product, i.e. criticism that dogs are inherently carnivorous? If so, how do you respond?

With any strong stance, there will always be doubt. Popular advertising campaigns have led many consumers to believe that dogs are carnivores, what we know to be a misconception. Scientific studies have found that modern dog’s DNA began to diverge from their wolf ancestors nearly 40,000 years ago. Our goal is to break the myth by conveying that dogs are actually true omnivores, meaning they can survive and thrive off of a plant-based diet.

It’s also interesting to note that wolves can walk as much as 100 miles a day in search of a meal, but for domestic dogs who get a fraction of that exercise, meat-based diets often lead to canine obesity.

Wild Earth dog food

How did you source funding as a startup? Which VCs or companies have invested in Wild Earth? 

As a startup, securing funding of course takes persistence, but it is really about finding the right investors for your brand. Wild Earth closed its first seed funding round of $450K in July of 2018, followed by our big debut on ABC’s Shark Tank where we secured $550K from Mark Cuban, and then later an $11M round. To date, Wild Earth raised a total of $16M with investors that include VegInvest, Felicis Ventures, Mark Cuban, Mars Petcare, Stray Dog Capital, Founders Fund, and Thiel Capital.

Do you see other pet food brands following suit in the coming years?

Just as the meat-alternative space for human food has grown exponentially, with companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, we do anticipate additional pet food brands to follow suit. Wild Earth doesn’t seek to be a fad, more so a solution. We’re here to better serve the health of our planet and our pets, and will continue exploring plant and fungi-based sources in order to do so, regardless of the competition.

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Written By

Erika is a writer and artist based in Berlin. She is passionate about sharing stories of climate change and cleantech initiatives worldwide. Whether it’s transforming the fashion, food, or engineering industries, there’s an opportunity and responsibility for us all to do better. In addition to contributing to CleanTechnica, Erika is the Web and Social Media Editor at LOLA Magazine and writes regularly about art and culture.


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