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Petbrosia: Carves Niche in Custom Pet Food

Posted: August 9, 2013, 10:00 a.m. EDT

A Cincinnati company gives dog and cat owners a choice in the exact nutritional makeup of their animals’ diet.

By Clay Jackson

With terms like "all-natural,” "organic” and "raw” having made the rounds in the pet food industry, what phraseology, if any, is left for a manufacturer to distance itself from the competition?
Keith Johnson, owner of Petbrosia, thinks he’s got it figured out: made-to-order dry food formulated to meet the needs of individual cats and dogs.

"There do exist small, local raw food businesses that can custom-create meals,” said Johnson, who founded the Cincinnati company. "We design to the profile of the pet versus having the pet parent try to figure it out.”

Petbrosia owner Keith Johnson’s dogs Mickey and Rosie helped inspire his startup company. Because of their different lifestyles and body types, the Jack Russell terrier/beagle mixes would be best served with customized diets, Johnson believed. Courtesy of Petbrosia

Kurt Gallagher, director of communications for the Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C., echoed Johnson’s sentiments: "I haven’t heard of this.”

Year-Old Experiment
Petbrosia debuted in March 2013 to a test-market audience in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Despite limited marketing, orders have come in from across the United States, Johnson said.

Even more exciting for the Petbrosia team is the number of reorders. Johnson pegged the rate of repeat, direct-to-consumer purchases at about 50 percent.

Johnson said he has spent hundreds of hours with consumer focus groups nationwide in an attempt to tap into what he called the "wants, needs and constraints” of the customer.

"People are trying Petbrosia for the health benefits and continue with it because their pets love it,” he stated.

Johnson based his pet food model on the idea that "the consumer wants to do the best for their pet as part of their family.”

"At a high level, we are utilizing [the same] core philosophy we apply to human diets,” he noted. "Petbrosia also takes advantage of the huge trend to buy online and [to] do so with a differentiated offering.”

His business model appears to be working. According to an interview published in the online Upstart Business Journal, Johnson projected first-year revenue of $3 million.

The Beginning
Johnson is fluent in the consumer products industry after working 18 years at Procter & Gamble, including more than two years as brand manager for Iams pet food.

"I came up with the idea for Petbrosia based on my deep understanding and knowledge of the pet care category and a passion for pets,” Johnson said. "I have experience in process engineering, marketing, e-commerce and finance—elements I drew from to create Petbrosia.”

Besides using $50,000 of his own money, Johnson received $200,000 in seed funding through the Dayton Region Entrepreneur Signature Program. Individual investors who support Johnson’s vision of what he thinks pet food should be have chipped in more, bringing the pot to about $385,000.

Johnson is seeking an additional $800,000 to increase marketing and add to a staff of six, according to

How It Works
Petbrosia’s tailoring of dog or cat food starts with a proprietary algorithm based on scientific data for each breed, Johnson said. Pet owners go to and create a specific nutritional profile by entering the animal’s name, breed, gender, age, energy level and weight.

"The unique recipe has a nutritional profile of fats, proteins and carbohydrates designed to their ideal body condition,” Johnson said.

The website also allows the pet owner to check off allergens, such as chicken, soy, wheat, corn and potatoes, though highlighting soy, wheat or corn is a moot exercise because none are ingredients in Petbrosia food.

"We have limited capabilities to handle all allergy concerns and are very direct with consumers in the event that we are unable to meet their [specific] needs,” Johnson said.

Once the customer has input a pet’s information, and barring any uncommon allergies or special dietary requirements, Petbrosia will ship 10- or 20-pound lined boxes of kibble directly to their door.

The food is made by another company, one Johnson wouldn’t identify other than to say it’s "a growing manufacturer, using some of the newest technology available in the U.S. and the highest standards in health and safety.”

Sample Petbrosia Nutrition Profiles
Labrador retriever: 8-year-old male, 75 pounds, normal energy
• 30.41 percent protein
• 13.80 percent fat 
• 2.51 percent fiber
• 288.69 Kcal/cup
Burmese cat: 6-year-old male, 8 pounds, high energy
• 32.22 percent protein
• 14.00 percent fat
• 3.54 percent fiber
• 284.78 Kcal/cup

Higher Price Point
Petbrosia food costs more than many brands on the market: $3.49 a pound for a 10-pound box and $2.99 a pound for a 20-pound box, plus tax and shipping. An auto-replenishment option is available.

"Our formulas are created with a consultant nutritionist who has done work with a number of large and small pet care brands in the U.S., Canada and Europe,” he said.

The Petbrosia site also puts things in terms a working pet owner can appreciate: a mochachino premium coffee is $3.50 a cup, while two cups of Petbrosia for a medium-size dog cost $1.32 a day.

A number of people on the Petbrosia payroll have pet experience, including Johnson’s wife, veterinarian Vanessa Scocchera, who is trained in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP.

"We literally have dinner conversations about food safety,” Johnson quipped.

Looking to the Future
While only chicken is available as the base protein source, Johnson expects to soon introduce lamb and salmon. He also is planning a treat line.

"We just opened a nutrition and community center in Cincinnati to provide a physical location to teach about pet health and well-being and to be able to continue learning from pet parents,” Johnson said. "We have a very flexible model that we can improve upon as we learn and grow.”

Johnson is convinced that Petbrosia is at the forefront of pet food.

"Folks from the industry believe what we are doing is the future,” he said. <HOME>


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