Pet Business: What gave you the idea to start Savvy Beast Treats? How has this relatively young enterprise progressed since you launched it?
Queny Villanueva: Actually, it all started back in 1992, when I lost my first dog, Kico, to cancer. I started cooking for my second dog, Alex, who I ended up losing as well. After that, I began doing a lot of research on [food and treat] ingredients and got the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Martin Goldstein, one of the best holistic veterinarians in the country. I would go with him to many seminars, where I learned a lot about what is actually in pet food—it was very surprising. That was when I decided that one day I would make a difference.
So, I began working on [creating Savvy Beast Treats], taking a lot of time to make them perfect. Then, about a year and a half ago, I finally launched the company. I hired a [food scientist] affiliated with Cornell University [Dhyaneshwar Chawan, Ph.D.], and we put all of my ideas together to develop a recipe that is truly good for dogs.
Right now, we are in 23 stores across six states. We’re doing something that is different than what anybody has done before, so it has taken a little while for retailers to understand and accept. However, as we’ve grown, the feedback that we have been getting from retailers and pet parents has been overwhelmingly positive.
We are focused on selling through small, independent pet stores. These retailers tend to be a little more educated on pet nutrition and the ingredients that go into pet food and treats, which makes it very easy for me to go and speak with them about the ingredients I use and why I selected them.
PB: Savvy Beast Treats lists organic chia flour as the first ingredient in its products. What benefits does chia provide to pets?
Villanueva: I use certified-organic chia because it has a tremendous amount of vitamins and so much value for the pet’s body. It contains omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, and it has a high level of protein—each seed is 20-percent protein. In addition, it is non-allergenic, and it is great for fighting inflammation and aiding in digestion and skin and coat health.
I’ve combined the chia with certified-organic meat, which makes the products even higher in protein. And chia helps change that protein into energy and strengthens the immune system.
PB: Aside from the use of chia, what makes Savvy Beast Treats products stand out?
Villanueva: We use certified-organic coconut oil to preserve the treats, which is a great alternative to artificial preservatives. Coconut oil is another great antioxidant for pets; plus, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is a wonderful source of saturated fats. In addition, we don’t add any salt, sugar or
anything like that to the treats. We want them to be natural and pure.
PB: Can you tell us a bit about your manufacturing process?
Villanueva: We have a big farm near the Catskill Mountains, where we built a beautiful semi-commercial kitchen. That is where we make the treats, and everything is done by hand. We source all of our meats and other ingredients from farmers around New York state, which allows us to not only support these great local organic farms, but also get really fresh ingredients.
PB: What should retailers look at when evaluating all-natural dog treats?
Villanueva: They really need to do some research on ingredients. It is amazing how you can have a product that says all-natural, with green packaging that has a picture of a happy dog and big chunks of meat on it, but when you turn it over, you see that it contains a lot of ingredients that don’t fit with the idea of being all-natural. This can be very confusing for pet owners, so retailers have to be careful about the products they carry and ready to educate customers on ingredients.
PB: What can retailers expect from Savvy Beast Treats in the months and years to come?
Villanueva: Well, of course, we would like to have our treats in pet stores all over the country. Also, we would like to extend our product line to include cat treats, as well as incorporate some [exotic] meats. We currently have about five new recipes that we are developing, and all of them will use certified-organic chia seeds and meats. In everything we do, we want to serve as a good example for other companies.