The West Lives On
Western values go into every bag and can of Wild Calling! Pet Foods’ products.
Wild Calling! Pet Food’s Jeremy Petersen speaks in a Western drawl as he talks about the dog and cat food (and wild birdseed) company he founded with his father and brother in 2012 in Greely, Colo. At Wild Calling!, Western values—real, honest, true—are what the Petersens use to describe their company.
PPN: How do Western values come through in your business?
JP: We’re open, honest and transparent. We’re not trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. When you think of a cowboy or someone in the West, they’re honest; it’s an honest businessperson mentality.
PPN: What’s your history prior to Wild Calling! Pet Foods?
JP: Our dad was a pet food distributor who owned his own distributorship, and my brother and I worked there in the summers.
PPN: Describe Wild Calling! brand’s growth in its first two years.
JP: We saw more than 250 percent growth last year in our canned and dry products. We’ve gone from zero in 2013 when we launched our cans to 4,200 retailers stocking our products. Approximately 65 percent of those [retailers] stock canned and dry foods, and the other 35 percent stock some type of Wild Calling product. The number of stores carrying the Wild Calling! brand now eclipses 4,000.
PPN: Did you have an inkling Wild Calling! would take off as it has in only two years?
JP: We had faith in it. We figured it’d grow like that because we’ve done things a little differently than most companies—we’ve put a big investment into our packaging, and we haven’t cut any corners. We pay attention and fine-tune everything before we launch it—what you get is a professional-looking product. We’re a small, family-owned company, but in a lot of ways we’re outsmarting a lot of the marketing departments in large corporations. When everything is professional looking and thought through, reception is going to be pretty positive, and it allows you to believe in the product you are selling.
PPN: What is it about your packaging that people identify with?
JP: That painting on the packaging speaks directly to the transparency we are trying to provide as a company. We bring beauty to the ingredients while being open and transparent. When you illustrate like us, you have to have the majority of what is illustrated in the product; otherwise, it would be false and misleading. I think that speaks to people probably on a subconscious level, and then the contrast we get using a lot of colors draws people to our product.
So, when a person looks at our package, it might take them back to when they were on their grandma’s farm or to a special moment in their life. At the same time, our packaging shows the concept of a Western company—our values shine through in the way we’ve done things while allowing the consumer to interact with it and think what [they] will. We create a concept consumers can relate with and feel emotion toward.
PPN: Who does the illustrations for the packaging?
JP: I sit down with a graphic designer. I lay everything out, tell him how I want it and what I’m trying to achieve. In the case of the paintings, we’ve gone out and hired a local artist to make those for us. If we want to make a bison product, I sit down and I think about movement and how we want to create movement in the picture on the bag. Our graphic artist and I direct the artist on how to lay everything out, whether to use light brushstrokes or really tight brushstrokes—we direct all facets of the process.
PPN: You use a lot of exotic meats in your products. Where do most of your meats come from? What do you look for in the meats you use in your products?
JP: We source our ingredients from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We look for safe, quality producers who abide by ethical practices. All our ingredients and the people we buy from must meet strict specifications, and all our products are tested using five quality testing procedures. Then from our 40,000-square-foot Greeley warehouse, products ship to our distributors.
PPN: Any plans to expand to treats?
JP: We’ve got a new product line coming out right now called Exotic Essentials, which is a dog food in kangaroo, bison and rabbit varieties. Then we are going to work on new dog and cat food products, and then we’ll discuss treats later this year.
PPN: How many people work at your offices and warehouse in Greeley?
JP: We’re lean and mean at our head office. We’ve got three warehouse people. We’ve got a delivery truck driver, we’ve got the office support staff, and we’ve got seven sales reps, so 17 or 18 people. The sales reps manage a territory and none of them are based in Colorado; they each have an individual territory and cover a few surrounding states.
PPN: What has been the biggest challenge in your first few years in business?
JP: Probably the retail environment itself. Pet foods are becoming higher priced, and we compete at the top of the nutritional pyramid, and it has been a challenge getting stores to want to sell that higher-priced product. But once they do start selling it, they [hear of] the results in their [customers’] pets, and the stores see people coming back and that becomes the most positive thing for us.
We’ve seen retailers who’ve been able to reinvigorate their business with our food. We wanted to create a product that would be profitable for retailers to carry because for a lot of retailers, their margins keep getting hit and they go lower and lower, so we’ve been able to return profitability to pet food with a good, solid, American-made product that they can really build their businesses on.
We’re not in Petco and PetSmart or grocery stores. We’re in independent pet retailers. We’re trying to make a product for mom-and-pop retailers—a product that can help them be successful. We’d rather spend our money with a local business to help them grow and thrive.