Driven by her passion for food, animals and the environment and disillusioned by the ingredients and production methods of commercial pet foods, Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, worked tirelessly in her own kitchen to develop quality food for her puppy, Mosi, that would also support a local and sustainable food system. Eight years later, The Honest Kitchen now distributes their products on a national level and even ships overseas. Somehow, between juggling a company, family, philanthropy program and horseback riding, Lucy found the time to share how she channeled her love for both animals and humanity to create a burgeoning green business.
Q. What was your inspiration for The Honest Kitchen?
I started off working for another pet food company in southern California, called Solid Gold Health Products, and I worked for them for about four or five years. Originally I was in their equine division and then in their canine and feline products as a nutritionist and doing some product development. When I got my first puppy, I became interested in doing a raw food diet for him, which is not something that Solid Gold is a proponent of, so I started doing my own home prepared meals for Mosi. I was doing different concoctions in my kitchen and found that he was doing really well on it, but it’s very time consuming to prepare and kind of messy, ending up with a kitchen covered in broccoli and blood and all sorts of things.
So the inspiration behind the brand and product itself really came from wanting to do something that resembled a fresh, whole raw food diet that was much easier to prepare and that cut time. That’s the essence of it, starting off with one recipe and it all began in my house and it sort of snowballed from there.
Q. What was it like getting the Honest Kitchen off the ground?
I worked for about 10 months on the recipe, trying out different recipe combinations with my dog and seeing what he did or didn’t approve of. That was a pretty long process, and then finding a production facility took a long time. I had it in my head from the very beginning that we would have to make the foods in a human food facility to set them apart from the rest of the pet food industry, which I was somewhat disillusioned with in terms of a lot of the horrible things that end up in poorer quality foods. So I found a place that makes breakfasts cereals and bakery mixes to make the food for me.
We actually became incorporated -- I think -- about 10 months after the products were developed. We set up a website, which took a little while to build out. We set up a PayPal account as the payment method and actually, once we got the site up and running, I logged out and placed a pretend order and then logged into the back end of PayPal to make sure everything was going through and a customer in Virginia had beaten me to the first order. I always remember that day and it really has set the tone for how the company has grown and ballooned over the years. We have about 17 employees now and it’s nationwide with some overseas distribution and eight lines of food.
Q. What is the farm-to-bowl program? Where do you get the food that you use?
Basically, we want to be very transparent in terms of the sourcing of our raw ingredients, so we really like to have strong connections with our suppliers. We like to know who we're buying from; we don’t just purchase our raw ingredients from commodity markets or on spec. We work closely with out suppliers, some of whom we have been working with for eight years, since we began.
We take a lot of pride in knowing who we're working with, what our ingredients are and where they coming from. We've met some of the farmers who grow our food and our volumes are high enough now that we know that fields of stuff like celery are actually being planted exclusively for The Honest Kitchen.
It’s really nice for us to have that connection with the food. We have a high level of respect for the earth and for the land where are products are grown and where they start off. The flip side to that of course is that everything has to remain human grade and human edible from the farm all the way to the dogs bowl, right through the harvesting and dehydration, the whole production process and packing, everything remains fit for a human to consume.
Q. What’s the Pawlanthropy program?
We started that a few years ago; it’s basically just an arm of our company that’s responsible for our charitable giving. We choose a different main charity each month and donate a portion of the profit from our online sales to that charity. So it could be as local as a small pit-bull rescue right here in San Diego to a larger organization like Doctors Without Borders or the World Wildlife Fund or Heifer International, organizations of that scale. We try to rotate doing local things and also making sure there is a rotation between animal welfare, environmental and humanitarian causes. We also do quite a bit to participate in other non-profit events locally and nationwide. We have stores that work closely with rescue organizations in their neighborhoods so we try and provide food and sometimes monetary donations for those as well.
Q. What was your relationship with animals growing up? When did you realize you wanted to work with animals and nutrition?
I grew up in England, and we always had pets when I was growing up. I definitely had a rural upbringing—we didn’t even have a shop in our village. It was a mile or two walk to the shop or anything like that. We grew our own fruits and vegetables and had animals growing up. I began riding horses at the age of four, I still love to be around horses, and I have a few horses of my own now.
I think that my childhood being fairly rural provided a strong connection to nature and the environment and what’s going on around rather than the distractions of an urban upbringing. I went to agricultural college as a teenager to have a bachelor’s degree in equine and business studies. So I had four years of very close study of horses and also the business environment, marketing and finance and things, but on the horse side being surrounded by horses for four years through college was really a great time of my life.
And really, I have never had a time where I haven’t been with animals in some capacity. The horses I have now I bought at a facility about 15 minutes from work. I have a rescued racehorse from off the track in Texas, I got him as a four year old and he'll be nine in April. We have a very old Morgan pony that I actually adopted as a companion for my horse but my six year old daughter rides him. I also have two dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a five year old female named Willow and a one year old male named Taro. They definitely keep me busy.
We all bring our dogs to work, so we have about 10 dogs in the office every day. When we were looking for a building for the office, one that allowed us to have animals was a top priority. They have responsibilities—they're involved in all the taste testing and things like that.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well I don’t have much of it, but I hike with my dogs every morning before work. I ride my horse one morning a week before work and once or twice a weekend. I do Pilates and yoga, I love to cook—I cook almost every night. I think it’s sort of a European thing that we have food as sort of an anchoring thing for our family. Sitting down and having meals together is definitely something we put a lot of importance around. It’s sad to see some families in the world today that just grab a sandwich in the back of the minivan as they're being shuttled to soccer to music to baseball, one thing to the next.
We really just try to get back to basics and there’s a slow European approach to food and the whole thing of cooking and having a kitchen be the center of the home is something that important for us as a family and it’s definitely the center of our office as well. We have a big kitchen and an all bring loft and our office is downtown San Diego and our kitchen is where we gather for meetings and taste tests and such. It’s really the heart of our office.
Being in San Diego, everyone has access to farmers' markets and CSAs. We also have a rule internally at The Honest Kitchen to never use any genetically modified produce. We are actually in the process of joining the Non-GMO Project to really have that certification and insurance on top of the pledges from all of our suppliers in terms of where our food is grown and what’s done and what’s going into it, and making sure it’s not genetically modified.
Q. What’s next for The Honest Kitchen?
We have a couple of new diets planned for next year. We have a grain-free diet with beef, and then a grain-free cat food which will probably be produced with either turkey or duck—we're just working on the recipes for those right now. We're working on two more nutritional medicinal teas, one is for urinary tract health and the other is a calming formula. So those will be launched later on in the spring.
We always focus on making products that have an actual meaning behind them, not just doing gimmicky things for the sake of it. We love to involve our customers in the process too. When figuring out the veal, which is our latest recipe that we came up with a couple of months ago, we really involved our Facebook fans in the decision making in terms of ingredients they really did or didn’t want. Of course you can’t please everybody but being able to go with what the majority wants is great.
Facebookhas been great for us. We can see photos of our customers' dogs and our fans can really see what goes on behind the scenes at The Honest Kitchen.