LOGANSPORT, IND. — Foppers Gourmet Pet Treat Bakery was born out of the desire to have a fun treat to feed a black Labrador retriever loved by Michelle Leffert, chief executive officer who founded the company in 2004. The quest to feed her new furry best friend the best treats available — specifically ones that were domestically sourced and manufactured — got the ball rolling.
“Consumers want to believe in the company they are supporting. They want transparency and accountability and that starts with us,” Leffert said.
In the following Q&A, Leffert shares how she started Foppers, what’s important for her and her business, and advice for women interested in joining this fast-paced industry.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Leffert: Foppers Pet Treat Bakery feels like the next-door neighbor that you love to connect with. Our product and presence have a down to earth, relatable feel for all pet parents. Our mission has been to offer an affordable, quality dog treat for every household. After 18 years in business, that mission has not waivered. Our products are free from additives, preservatives and fillers, and can be found in stores across the country starting at just $1.00.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Leffert: That’s a funny story that I love to share. Way back in 2003, my daughter just had to have a puppy – a pre-teen that would literally melt into a puddle of mush without a dog at home. My husband and I were both raised on farms where dogs were strictly outdoors. Well, after months of begging, we finally obliged. We drove out to a small farm in the middle of nowhere and brought home this wiggly black lab puppy at Christmas. We named her Holly.
Of course, my daughter went back to school after the holiday and Holly became my sidekick. At the time, there weren’t many treat options that were made domestically, and I had a hard time finding a product I was comfortable feeding her. Thus, bloomed Foppers! It started right in our kitchen and blossomed into this amazing company with help from a lot of amazing people and loyal customers!
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Leffert: This is a tough one – I would say getting our name out in front of the consumer. We have such an amazing product with a loyal following, but retail can be a monster challenge if not done the correct way. We’re lucky to have brought on an amazing head of sales about four years ago that has gotten our brand into some major retailers, and done so in a smart, sustainable way. We still struggle at times to place our product in front of our consumer on a daily basis, but I have all the confidence we will soon be there!
PFP: What is top-of-mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Leffert: Sustainability, expanding the business, fine-tuning food safety – all of the above! We focus heavily on food safety and have our SQF 9.0 certification. We follow strict protocols and pride ourselves in putting out a safe product. Foppers only sources in North America. From raw ingredients to packaging, we focus on growing our local economy as much as possible. It has been and will continue to be part of our mission.
We doubled in size from 2020 to 2021, and we’re projecting to double in size again by the end of 2022. This includes not only our amazing Foppers line of branded product, but also some fantastic contract baking partnerships that have helped us push our capabilities past our wildest dreams.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?
Leffert: The pet industry is so fun! The people and the companies are fantastic, and the industry continues to grow every year. I would say to find a product, and a company, you really believe in. A company that is not simply profit focused but truly puts out a quality product and looks out for their people.
Also, be a pet lover! More often than I care to admit, I run into people within the pet industry that have no animals personally and no passion for the products or purpose. Make sure the industry is the right fit for you before diving in. We would love to have you!
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
Leffert: The pet industry is tough; there is a ton of competition. However, there are a lot of larger companies that like to swoop in and buy out the smaller ones. So, really you have a few mammoths guiding the trends of the pet industry. There are a lot of regulations similar to human food that must be followed to ensure a safe product is placed on shelves. There are no shortcuts in pet.
PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
Leffert: Sustainability, quality, and safety. Every pet parent wants to care for their pet, and that starts with trusting the product you are providing to them. Consumers want to believe in the company they are supporting. They want transparency and accountability and that starts with us.
PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them.
Leffert: Dog person all the way! I don’t mind cats, but I’d much rather cuddle up with a dog next to me. Our Holly, the whole reason we started Foppers, left us in 2012 and I haven’t had the heart to get another dog. Maybe one day, but no one will ever replace my girl… You can find her photo on every package we ship! She is a reminder of why we do what we do, and her love carries me through every day.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Leffert: What’s the old saying? Love what you do, and you will never work a day in your life. Okay, so maybe not that… Perhaps, don’t forget to take a moment for yourself, to bask in your success and share it with others. This crazy, fun, fast-paced, ever-changing industry can be tough to stay in. But it’s all for the dogs!
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.