Jo Amit, co-founder of HOWND, talks to pbwnews
1. How did you and fellow co-founder Mark Hirschel come up with the idea of HOWND?
Our love of dogs and passion for innovation inspired us to set up HOWND. We saw a gap in the market for an all-natural cruelty-free pet care brand, and created Butch & Bess in 2013, rebranding to HOWND two years later. Our first ranges of vegan and cruelty-free certified alcohol- and paraben-free shampoos, fragrances and wipes quickly caught the attention of the pet trade and press. Today, HOWND is loved and trusted by thousands of pet parents, dog groomers and retailers in the UK and overseas because we continue to innovate premium products in health, wellness and hygiene, while maintaining the authenticity and ethos of our brand.
2. What did you do before launching HOWND?
Mark Hirschel, who is commercial director, has more than 20 years of senior commercial experience in fashion and pet retail. I’m the product and brand director, and my experience spans across branding and marketing.
3. Do you have any advice for someone starting out in this sector?
My advice to any start up: if you have a great product that people continue to purchase, you need to get equally creative with your financing as you scale up. Build a solid team of talent that complements your skill set. Starting a new business and creating products from scratch, no matter how passionate you are, is always a gamble.
4. Did you always want HOWND to be an ethical lifestyle brand?
I have inadvertently become the company’s resident animal welfare activist. When we first launched the business, I approached Cruelty Free International to ascertain what was involved in ensuring that none of our raw ingredients from suppliers would be tested on animals. We have been aligned with this wonderful organisation since the beginning, and undergo strict auditing throughout our entire supply chain. Thankfully, a plant-based future is becoming more than a trend in the UK, and is smashing through mainstream society. With the rise of the ethical shopper, the human ‘clean’ movement is now a strong driver in pet parents’ purchase decisions.
5. What was your first product and is it still selling today?
I was reminded of one of our first products by a customer a few days ago, who had found an old bottle of ‘Stinkerbelle.’ Now called Yup You Stink! this was our very first shampoo and has remained our bestseller over the years. Butch Leather was our first cologne, and is still going strong today too.
6. What made you launch ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’?
We came up with the initiative in 2014 after the landlord of a new office space we leased wouldn’t let us bring our dogs into the office. After quite a bit of begging and pleading, he reluctantly agreed, and we starting thinking of all the other companies that also couldn’t bring dogs to the office. At the time we were already raising money for an animal rescue charity and decided this was the perfect time to bring the two together and create Bring Your Dog To Work Day. We are now into our eighth year and have had hundreds of businesses and individuals take part and help raise much needed funds for local animal charities. The event has now become a big day in the calendar with TV stations, national newspapers, and a range of celebrities taking part.
7. Why did you decide to move into the highly competitive pet food sector?
This was a natural progression for the business. We launched our award-winning plant based Hemp Wellness treats in 2017 and, in 2019 (post-investment), we started to develop a nutritionally complete plant-based food for dogs. Although the pet food sector is extremely competitive, this is mainly for animal-based foods whereas we are offering something very different and in a sector which is only starting to push forward.
8. Did you need outside help to come up with a recipe for a vegan food?
I knew which ingredients we wanted to include in our recipes that together would be tasty, healthy, easily digestible and an alternative for dogs who suffer from meat or fish protein allergies. We have a vet nutritionist as well as a pet food nutritionist on board to ensure that HOWND Superfood is palatable and is nutritionally complete and balanced in accordance with FEDIAF guidelines.
9. Were you worried by recent negative newspaper headlines warning dog owners could face hefty fines for putting their pets on a veggie diet?
This was an attempt at fake news by meat lobbyists. There was a warning of fines if people did not feed their pets ‘suitable diets’ – in other words, vegan or vegetarian food that was not complete. The ‘Jail Fine’ headline actually backfired, leading to a 90% surge in online searches for vegan/vegetarian dog food in both the UK and US, resulting in increased exposure for all plant powered food brands. So, thanks to the lobbyists for the PR!
10. What are HOWND’s future aspirations?
To make the world a better place one dog at a time. We want to continue creating great plant-based products which offer real health benefits for dogs. We want to educate pet parents on the benefits of plant-based nutrition and hope to reduce the number of dogs who suffer from allergies. Ultimately, we want to be a leading brand that focuses on health and wellbeing while playing an important role in reducing animal cruelty and damage to our already fragile planet.