Why Does Sustainable Pet Food Matter?

This is a Q&A with Ruth Stedman Marriott, founder of A Pup Above (our first ever affiliate partner wow!!).

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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You'll learn:

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Here's more from Ruth:

My husband and I founded A Pup Above with our pup Lola back in 2018. Prior to launching A Pup Above, I worked in merchandising at Walmart and my husband worked for his family business which is based in Ecuador. We are now privileged enough to work with our dog Lola on a daily basis and she really is part of the team. She comes to meetings and is fully involved in most aspects of the business. It makes building the business extremely rewarding for us.
Picture of A Pup Above team and their dog treats

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  1. Tell us about A Pup Above. Why did you start a dog food business?

    We founded A Pup Above for our pup Lola. When my husband and I first brought her home, we struggled to find a food product that would work for her and that we felt was good enough to feed her. The labeling on pet food is incredibly obscure as to the content and source of ingredients. In addition, the dog food industry has had deadly recalls which really motivated us to gauge whether what was going into her bowl was safe and nutritious, or not.

    We knew we wanted her to have a fresh food diet, but when Lola arrived in 2016, raw food was the only fresh dog food option available in stores. Lola didnโ€™t like raw food but she did like it when I cooked for her. It was at this point that we decided to create our own gently-cooked Lola approved product that we felt good about feeding her.

    In May 2018, we launched the business. Today, Lola is literally the pup above on our logo and the inspiration behind everything that we do. All of our products must be Lola approved. Since Lola is an avid consumer of them, nothing will ever be released that we donโ€™t feel comfortable feeding to Lola.

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  2. What informed your approach to building A Pup Above? What does this have to do with sustainability and climate change?

    In addition to creating a food that Lola enjoyed and we felt good feeding to her, we wanted to create a brand that could help change dog food for good. For us this means sourcing human grade ingredients and investing in a food system that's kinder to planet earth. ย It's not enough just to fix the human food system, the feed system also needs to be addressed so we're growing healthier foods in a more sustainable way. We're big believers in regenerative farming as a method of doing this and contribute 1% of our sales to the White Buffalo Land Trust, an amazing organization dedicated to converting conventional farming land (such as monoculture crops) to regenerative farming land, a practice that aids in the restoration of our soils, water and air.

    We also upcycle where we can and think through where we can do better with our supply chain on a regular basis. Today that means using non-GMO ugly produce in our recipes, using renewable powered fulfillment centers and having fully recyclable packaging through our partnership with Terracycle.

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  3. Many people see sustainability as only being accessible to wealthy people. I can imagine this is a significant part of sourcing high-quality pet food โ€” it's probably not cheap. How do you think about affordability and economic sustainability?

    Just like with human food, feeding fresh real food is more expensive than heavily processed foods. With kibble, it's a heavily processed food that on average has more carbs than a bag of potato chips. As a result, it's much less expensive than real food. We're just now seeing a huge amount of pet parents recognize this and want to incorporate fresh food into their dog's bowl. How much fresh food they incorporate into the bowl does vary based on their dog's size and budget.

    We have some people who use our food as a topper, some use it as a mixer and some feed it as a whole meal. At the end of the day, if you're using it as a topper or mixer, you're cutting down on the processed food by 25-50%, which provides a huge health benefit for your pup. ย We're big advocates of building your dog's bowl in a way that works for you and keeps your pup happy and healthy.


  4. What are some limitations and challenges with your product and pet sustainability decisions overall?

    While we're big advocates of regenerative farming, the practice still has a ways to go to become mainstream. Increased consumer demand will certainly make it easier for more farmers to justify and invest in the transition. And companies putting time and resources into further building out this type of farming practice will also help. While we're still a small but mighty company today, as we grow we'll be able to make bigger and bigger contributions to the space, which is exciting to us.

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  5. Tell us more about why A Pup Above is unique.

    In addition to using fresh human grade whole food ingredients, we gently cooked our food sous-vide. This is a high-end restaurant technique proven to enhance the flavor and nutrition of food. With traditional cooking, you lose whole food nutrients to the cooking water. With sous-vide, all of the nutrients stay locked inside of a food safe bag, resulting in a tastier and healthier food. The long slow cooking process also creates a natural meat gravy that dogs absolutely love.

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  6. There are so many companies that claim to provide sustainable pet food โ€” why should we trust yours? Do you have any partnerships or certifications that demonstrate your environmental and social commitments?

    When you buy A Pup Above, 1% of that sale is going to White Buffalo Land Trust. It's not 1% of profit, which can vary greatly by year and in some cases companies may not be profitable. It's 1% of revenue, meaning we're able to make sizable contributions each year and over time increase those contributions as we grow as a company.
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  7. Other than A Pup Above, what are some of your favorite tools and resources for fighting climate change?

    If readers are interested in learning more about regenerative farming, one of the best new movies on it is the Biggest Little Farm. Kiss the Ground is another great organization in addition to the White Buffalo Land Trust. Kiss the Ground has tons of resources on the benefits of regenerative farming and how consumers can better support the movement.

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  8. โ€What is one thing you wish more people understood about the movement for a more sustainable futureย 

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    Moving to a more sustainable planet will take many small changes that over time add up and result in large changes. Some people get discouraged because they want to see big sweeping changes quickly. However, people should look at what small things they can do to get started (i.e. recycling, using reusable bags, walking more and driving less, buying from brands that align with your values and represent the future you want to see). In particular, as a consumer, the most powerful way to make your voice heard is through the brands you support. Often times changes are market driven and the big companies, who have the biggest environmental footprint, will only seek change once they see that their traditional products are no longer resonating with consumers.

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  9. Any advice for people who are new to the fight against climate change or aren't sure what their place is?

    Just to remember that small changes matter too. The important thing is to get started in making those changes that will help make the planet a healthier place.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

๐Ÿ’Œ Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Take action
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter."ย - Meghan Mehta, Google