A fluffy Pomsky puppy named Lola was the inspiration for SKU alum A Pup Above, a dog food brand that is pleasing canine palates and capturing market share in the hot dog food category. When Ruth and Javier Marriott adopted Lola in 2016, they struggled to find nutritious pet food that satisfied her discerning palate. They tried major kibble brands, but Lola turned up her black nose at it. They also tried raw, dehydrated and freeze-dried dog foods on the market, but Lola didn’t like the taste or texture of any of them.
As they delved deeper into the world of pet food, they were troubled by what they discovered.
“The more I learned about pet food and the type of ingredients that are legally permitted to go into feed, I became horrified by what I thought was healthy food for Lola,” says Ruth.
At the time, they both were getting their MBAs at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. They decided to turn the challenge of creating the perfect dog food for Lola into a business enterprise. After countless weekends spent cooking up recipes, they finally got the “paws up” from Lola. A Pup Above launched in 2018 with a mission to change dog food for good. They focus on creating nutritious and delicious dog food that gets the paw of approval from Lola and meets the standards and meets the standards Ruth and Javier have for their dog.
Unlike traditional dry kibble, A Pup Above can be taken out of the freezer and prepared fresh for each meal. Using farm-fresh ingredients, A Pup Above is made using the sous-vide slow-cooking process, which makes the meat extra tender and moist while reducing waste and preserving the nutrients. A Pup Above is the first dog food brand to use this cooking method.
Chicka Chicka Bow Wow
Today, the company offers four flavors – Texas Beef Stew, Turkey Pawella, Porky’s Luau, and Chicka Chicka Bow Wow – all of which have passed Lola’s picky taste test. Each recipe is carefully crafted with the pup’s health in mind, and they are committed to using only human-grade ingredients, non-GMO veggies, and elevated protein levels. Recently, the company added nourishing bone broth to the mix, which brings even more health benefits and nutrients. This eliminates the need for pet parents to purchase the broth separately.
In addition to fresh food, A Pup Above last year launched a line of dry food with the same flavors and nutrients, providing the taste of fresh food and the convenience of dry food.
As entrepreneurs new to the pet food industry, the road hasn’t always been smooth sailing. SKU has played a valuable role in the brand’s evolution. A Pup Above, which went through SKU Austin Track 7 in 2019, received much-needed mentorship, says the couple. The brand’s lead mentor was Austin CPG icon Clayton Christopher, who helped them better understand distribution. That has helped immensely as the company has expanded nationwide.
A Pup Above has come a long way in five years. The products now are available in 2K stores. The company’s revenues have grown a stunning 250 percent year over year. That growth has been driven by several factors, including a high rate of pet ownership as well as the willingness of pet parents to spend more on high-quality pet products.
The U.S. dog food market is expected to hit $36.4 billion, growing at a CAGR of 4.4 percent between 2022 and 2027. Overall spending on pets is expected to increase from $1,320 per pet per household by 2025, reaching $1,897 by 2030.
The brand’s customers fall into three categories: dog parents, healthy eaters and conscientious consumers. For dog parents, their pets are like their children, and they take time and consideration when making purchases for them. The dog parent is a rapidly growing segment as people delay marriage and having kids. For many empty nesters, their dogs are a beloved member of their families. Healthy eaters understand the importance of knowing what they put into their own bodies, and they are equally careful about what they put into their dog’s body. Eighty-four percent of millennials believe natural food is vital for their pet. Conscientious consumers seek out eco-friendly products and are willing to pay more for them.
Palate-pleasing for Pups
And ultimately, A Pup Above’s growth has been driven by its appeal to pups.
It received a five-star rating from Dog Food Advisor, which enthusiastically recommends it “because of its grain-inclusive and grain-free fresh cooked, human-grade dog foods that use a generous amount of named meats as the dominant source of animal protein.”
“I own a small Maltipoo who is the world’s pickiest eater. She really needs to win an award for how picky she is. She would only eat if she was absolutely starving. Finally I found A Pup Above. I was absolutely surprised at how much my dog loved its food. She not only finished her plate her first meal but she would eat it over and over again. I have never ever seen her active like this,” raved one Google reviewer.
Another says “My Goldendoodle Gwen is absolutely obsessed with her Turkey Pawella! She does this little dance while I get it ready and it makes me so happy to see how excited she gets.”
And the most glowing review comes from Lola, now holding the position of chief pup officer (CPO) and chief taste tester. As she aptly puts it: “Good food, good mood!”