Back in 2002, Marty Grosjean and his family adopted Crinkles, an amazing dog with a host of health problems. The family worked hard to get Crinkles healthy, but it seemed like every conventional solution they tried ended up creating another issue. That’s when it hit Grosjean, “If I’m thriving on a natural life, why wouldn’t Crinkles?” He had already incorporated natural products into his household: from the food he ate, to the household cleaners he used, but the family still fed their pets conventional foods and treats, which contain artificial ingredients and fillers. Grosjean started Crinkles on natural pet products, and the difference was night and day. As a result, he founded Only Natural Pet in 2004.
Now 15 years old, Only Natural Pet has become the leading online retailer in natural pet supplies. The company operates an e-commerce site and three retail stores and has developed more than 200 of its own Only Natural Pet branded products, including food, vitamins, supplements, and flea prevention and treatment. The company recently became a certified B Corporation, making it the first North American pet food and treat company to attain the certification.
I sat down with Grosjean to talk about the consumer shift to natural pet products, his company’s B Corp certification, and why the 85 million US households with pets should pay closer attention to the ingredients in their food, treats, and supplements.
Crinkles had a number of health issues when she joined your family, and you saw immediate results after putting her on a natural diet. How did the experience inspired you to go from pet parent to entrepreneur?
Marty Grosjean: At the time we were trying to move Crinkles to a more natural diet, I was shocked to see how difficult it was to find natural pet products in stores or online. I had a background in e-commerce and thought it wouldn’t be difficult to launch a website that would make it easier for pet parents to buy natural pet food, treats, and supplements. Since then, the market for natural pet products has exploded, and pet parents are now fortunate to have many natural options, both online and in-store.
How has the pet care industry changed since you launched your company?
MG: The pet industry has historically had a transparency problem. Supply chain origination and ingredient sources were a virtual unknown for years. We were feeding our pets whatever kibble or cat food was available at the local grocery store without any sort of authentication of product quality or source. Poor ingredients, fillers, and nebulous packaging claims have caught up with pet food companies.
Similar to their own food, consumers now expect a level of transparency when it comes to the food and supplements they are giving to their pets. As any pet parent would tell you, our pets are members of our families. We are taking the time to read labels, track sourcing, and buy natural for our children and our families, and we expect that we should be able to take the same approach when it comes to our pets. While certainly changing rapidly, this is unfortunately not the norm in the pet industry, which is why we felt it was important to become a certified B Corporation — we need to do everything we can to ensure that pets get the same quality assurances that we humans do.
Tell us about your journey toward becoming a B Corp. What was the experience like for you, and what does B Corp certification look like in the pet care space?
MG: We are a founding member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) which strives to make the planet healthier for both humans and their pets. As a result, we’ve worked closely with other industry leaders to set standards that cover everything from efficient facilities to sustainable products and packaging. As PSC members, we already had exposure to parts of the B Corp assessment as PSC makes segments of it available to its members to help them asses their sustainability practices.
For us, the B Corp certification was the logical next step in our company’s evolution. We’re obviously dedicated to transparency when it comes to pet health, and by going through the B Corp assessment and becoming a certified B Corporation, we have been able to take our commitment to sustainability and transparency to the next level.
How did the process of becoming a B Corp make your business better?
MG: When we came out of the B Corp impact assessment, we excelled in the environmental section. We had already performed a life cycle assessment of our pet food lines, purchased carbon offset credits, utilized sustainable packaging, and were members of the Pet Sustainability Coalition.
The impact assessment made us look at areas of our business that we hadn’t previously thought to focus on through the lens of sustainability. Those included supply chain, day-to-day operations, and employee sustainability — three areas where most businesses should increase focus and consider auditing from a transparency and sustainability standpoint.
- Supply chain: Though we have always made a point of working with sustainably-focused suppliers, the B Corp assessment had us looking deeper into how our suppliers operate, from sourcing and transportation to their own company culture.
- Day-to-day operations: From our warehouse to our office, we started to take a closer look at the things we could do to augment our sustainability efforts — from zero-waste initiatives to switching to LED lighting.
- Employee sustainability: We assessed some of our office practices and looked at new and innovative ways to build employee satisfaction and loyalty. Employees now receive their birthday off, as well as eight hours of paid time off to volunteer.
It is so common to think sustainability is solely about our environment, but it’s not — it’s about also being good stewards of our community, our customers, and our employees. As a result of our B Corp assessment, we have identified new ways to ensure we are looking at sustainability from all angles. We want to invest in our employees, our suppliers, and our customers so that they will continue to invest in us.
Part of being a B Corp is the ongoing process improvements and dedication to enhanced sustainable practices. What’s on the horizon for Only Natural Pet?
MG: B Lab, the nonprofit behind B Corp certification, has a lot of great analytics that we’ve been using to determine where we have the most opportunity for growth in our sustainability. On our certification, we scored high on our environmental impact, but saw room for improvement when it comes to our employees and our community, so that’s where we’re focused.
With our employees, we had 80 percent employee satisfaction on our assessment, which was high, but we think it can go higher. To help raise that score, we’re working to expand our employee training programs to not only include job skill training, but also life skills training, like financial literacy and health and wellness programs. Part of sustainability is having a sustainable business, so to the extent that we can have a satisfied, engaged, and tenured team, we want to take advantage of that.
As we continue to be active members of our community, we’re really working to grow the definition of who our community is. Our employee volunteer program and retail store pet adoption events strengthen our Colorado community, but we’re working with our vendors to make sure they’re active in their communities as well. Whether that’s making sure they have an inclusive hiring policy or sponsor employee volunteer events, we want to broaden our sustainability into our community as much as we can.
Lindsay Whitcher is the Founder of Meridian Strategic Communications, a communications consulting firm offering counsel and execution in written communications, internal/external communications, change management, social media strategy, crisis communications, and event planning and management.