At a glance
Leslie Moyan FCPA believes there is a revolution underway within the pet food industry. It is being fuelled by the humanisation of our companion animals and a growing consumer awareness around plant-based diets, sustainably sourced food and alternative proteins. Moyan hopes to add momentum to this movement in his role as founder, CEO and CFO of Melbourne-based TBH Pets, which stands for ‘To Be Honest’.
The accountant, consultant, academic and entrepreneur has a vision to disrupt the pet industry by converting the consumer mindset to a healthier and more sustainable pet food product through his start-up TBH Pets.
“We believe animals should not be slaughtered to produce food for pets,” says Moyan. “This is not sustainable or ethical.”
Together with co-founder and friend Blair Triplett, Moyan set out to create a cruelty-free pet food that was both nutritious and tasty, as well as environmentally responsible.
Moyan and Triplett began their experiments with dog treats, made using healthy, human grade, plant-based ingredients. Then, they began working with a more unusual ingredient – crickets, which contain nearly four times as much protein as beef, are much less fatty and whose environmental footprint is tiny in comparison to cattle.
The partners conducted hours of product trials on dogs belonging to friends, relatives and neighbours, always followed up by interviews and feedback from their owners.
They also researched the pet food market and identified their two key brand targets as female millennials and the over-55s.
Moyan, who has held senior finance roles with Citicorp Scrimgeour Vickers and PwC, sees a real opportunity for TBH Pets.
“We’re on the cusp of a number of major trends,” says Moyan.
“Sustainability is one, plant-based is another. We have other ingredients becoming available, one being hemp, which is an emerging trend, as is insect proteins. The overarching trend, however, is the increasing humanisation of our pets.”
The next move for TBH Pets was to move their operation from the kitchen table to a small bakery, and then to a larger facility with HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) international food safety certification.
They began with two vegan dog treats – Nutritious Seaweed with Chickpea & Sweet Potato and Superior Hemp with Quinoa & Carrot – as well as two cricket-based treats – Organic Cricket with Hemp & Camomile, and Organic Cricket with Roasted Pumpkin & Almonds.
In addition to the usual channels, the premium-priced treats – which retail for A$12 for 100g – are also sold through cafes, with the hope that pet owners would grab not only a coffee for themselves, but also a treat for their dog.
With the business slowly building momentum, the next step for the partners is, rather unexpectedly, to take a step back.
“Blair and I, as the founders, want to replace ourselves as quickly as we possibly can with people that are more talented and better at each job than we are,” says Moyan.
Plenty of curveballs
Since coming up with the business concept in early 2019, the business founders have had to overcome some serious obstacles.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the face-to-face meetings with customers so crucial to their product development. They also underestimated how difficult it would be to create an all-natural product with no added fats, sugars or preservatives, but that still appealed to the pets’ tastebuds. (They engaged a chef and a vet to help.)
Perhaps their biggest stumbling block has been changing the consumer mindset.
“Most pet ‘parents’ don’t realise dogs are omnivores,” says Moyan.
“Persuading humans that pets can extract sufficient nutrition and protein from a plant-based and insect-protein diet is more difficult than we anticipated, so we are investing heavily in education around this.”
Big investment, big ambitions
The self-funded venture has seen A$100,000 poured into TBH Pets so far, but Moyan believes the strong partnerships with online retail channels and medium-sized pet store chains will have the business making a profit within months.
TBH Pets has an ambition to become the leader in holistic pet products. The company is working on an expansion to its pet treats range, and is about to launch a main meal product and a grooming line, as well as making plans to side-step into pet advisory services down the track. International expansion will rely on first proving value to, and securing, investors.
“While we know the pet industry is dominated by some very serious, what we call ‘Big Pet’ players, we think the trend to plant-based and inspect protein is such a persuasive trend that ‘Big Pet’ will inevitably have to comply at some point,” says Moyan.
“We understand some companies are already doing some work around this... but us nimble guys can open up little niches and try to get the beginnings of changing people’s behaviour and mindsets around plant-based and alternative proteins.”
While their price point is at the upper end of the market, Moyan is confident in TBH Pets’ consumer base – people who want high-quality, ethically sourced and healthier food for their pets.
One piece of advice
“Know your market. The most difficult thing is to listen to negative feedback and not take it personally. People are generally nice and try to sugarcoat everything, but keep asking them for the bad news so you can improve your product.”