ORLANDO, Fla. — Because Animals, a biotech company based in Philadelphia, won Purina’s Pet Care Innovation Prize during Global Pet Expo last week for its unique approach to alternative pet food and treat proteins. The startup was chosen by a panel of five pet industry judges, who heard brief business pitches from all five of the program’s finalists.

The company is producing cultured ingredients including probiotics, nutritional yeast and cultured meat to address rising issues with antibiotic resistance, environmental impact and animal welfare in the pet food processing industry.

“More than a quarter of the environmental effects of the factory farming industry — in terms of deforestation, water and fossil fuel use — is directly attributed to the foods that Americans feed their cats and dogs,” said Shannon Falconer, Ph.D., CEO of Because Animals during her pitch.

Falconer said she met her co-founder, Joshua Eric, MBA, while doing research at Stanford. The two leveraged their combined biotechnology and business knowledge to develop Because Animals’ first products, along with a chief veterinary officer, several scientists and a director of marketing added along the way.

“And as it happens, Josh and I had each spent many years in the animal rescue community and when we came together we were both looking for a way to feed our animals a more nutritious diet that did not also harm other animals and the environment,” Falconer said.

After its founding in 2016, the startup developed its first set of products, probiotic supplements for cats and dogs, in early 2018 as a beta run to establish its consumer base. From there, Because Animals introduced a prototype for a cultured mouse meat cat treat, in March 2019, and Noochies, a nutritional yeast-based dog cookie, in November 2019. 

Falconer said the cultured meat pet treats are expected to debut on the market in winter of 2021. Additionally, Because Animals hopes to launch its first complete-and-balanced cultured meat pet food products in summer of 2022.

“Another really cool thing that differentiates our cultured meat from animal-based meat is that our cultured meat is tunable, meaning that we can grow it under certain environmental conditions to optimize the nutritional profile of that meat, which means we won’t need to add a premix to our food, and we can also establish almost a personalized meat for pets’ specific dietary requirements,” Falconer added.

“Cultured meat, which is what we’re focused on, is actually making meat. So that includes the fat, it includes the muscle, it includes the vitamins and nutrients that meat has, so it is in fact meat, it’s not eating an alternative, the alternative is that it comes from a different source,” she said.

Because Animals will be awarded an additional $10,000 for its grand prize finish, on top of the $10,000 previously provided to all five finalists. The company will also benefit from continued partnership and mentorship with Purina.

"Two years ago, we came to Global Pet Expo and could barely get a meeting. This year, we're Pet Care Innovation Grand Prize winners," Falconer said. "It's been quite a journey, and we have Purina to thank for all the help along the way!"

Leaders of the five startups chosen as finalists for Purina's 2020 Pet Care Innovation Prize competition.

Other finalists include NewRoad Foods, San Juan Capistrano, California, which is producing fresh, baked-to-order kibble and treats for dogs; Minneapolis-based TEEF! by Primal Health, a liquid prebiotic dental health solution for dogs; Berkeley, California-based PetHospice, a full-service end-of-life support system to provide comfort for aging pets and their owners; and Lacuna Diagnostics, Ft. Collins, Colorado, which is facilitating more rapid diagnostic methods for sick pets.

"The Pet Care Innovation Prize is Purina's way of supporting pet care entrepreneurs in the industry that our founder helped create," said Bill Broun, co-lead of Purina's 9 Square Ventures Division and vice president of personalization and business development at Purina. "We congratulate Because Animals and all of the 2020 winners, who share our passion for pets and commitment to their health and wellness."

Purina’s annual Pet Care Innovation Prize program is geared toward young companies in the pet industry with innovative ideas about pet health and wellness, services, technology, nutrition, treats or litter solutions.

The program is facilitated by Purina’s 9 Square Ventures division and Active Capital.

Read more about products and brands shaking up the pet food and treat market.