MARBLEHEAD, MASS. — Upon adopting her first two pups in the late 2000s, Amy Renz saw an opportunity to make a lasting impact on their health — and the health of other canine companions across the country — and leapt at it. Ever since, she has dedicated her career to changing the narrative of pet food through her brand, Goodness Gracious.
“My advice for women is always to seek out and connect with other women in a meaningful way,” she told Pet Food Processing. “View each other as collaborators not competitors… A rising tide lifts all boats and there is power in the pack.”
In the following Q&A, Renz details her nearly 15-year journey since starting Goodness Gracious, including challenges, accomplishments, trends, and advice for other leaders looking to make a positive impact on pet health.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Renz: Goodness Gracious is as much a company as it is a spirit. Its mission is to provide human grade, nutritionally superior, whole food diets and treats for pets in a way that improves our connection to the planet and each other.
To do that, it uses ethically sourced ingredients, green-energy on a path to net zero, less plastic, zero Styrofoam and more compostable materials, a vibrant culture of inclusion that celebrates 100% diversity, and a charitable give-back to community animal causes amounting to half its profits.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Renz: Goodness Gracious was a right turn for me. In 2007, I was running a small software company. I adopted my first dog, Grace, and then my second, Lula. Like most new moms, I became committed to the health of my girls. I discovered the ugly truth of what passes for pet food and the unconscionable corporate choices to put profit over safety.
A powerful example of this truth occurred that year. Melamine was found in pet foods — sickening and killing thousands. This was followed by problems with jerky treats that put dogs in kidney failure, and later by workers at a large pet food plant becoming sick from toxic exposure to mold and fumigants.
Overwhelmed with distrust of commercial pet food, I started preparing my dogs’ food at home. Along the way, I learned that 3 to 5 million homeless dogs were euthanized annually in the United States because people fail them.
I turned 40 in 2009 and I started asking myself, “Who are you helping?” I was building shareholder value and providing leadership at that software company, but those answers were not enough. I envisioned a planet with thriving companion animals, homes for the homeless ones, and respect for all beings — and so I built a company committed to that purpose.
Goodness Gracious became my passion and purpose, a warm blanket for my spirit and thousands of animals, and the right turn that was 100% right.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Renz: While we all want to believe in a Field of Dreams, reality requires much more endurance. If you build it, people will come — but only if they know about it. We make products that pet parents would make, but that is not enough. We need to make pet parents aware of us too, and that takes time and resources.
Many consumers shop at their local pet supply store — which we think is wonderful. Many stores, however, may only carry the brands that are stocked by large distributors, and large distributors often focus their time and resources on big labels over small batch brands. Ultimately, getting the eyeballs of pet parents is our biggest challenge; but once we get them, we win their hearts and minds.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Renz: I have two recent ones to share. First, inclusion in The List by Truth About Pet Food (TAPF) is an achievement that makes us very proud. Susan Thixton of TAPF is a highly respected consumer advocate. We have connected with many pet parents through The List. We are grateful for their support and honored to contribute to the health of their pets.
We are also thrilled to have the support of many holistic veterinarians. These physicians recommend our food to their clients to help “right the ship” of many disease states and chronic health conditions ranging from obesity, allergies, leaky gut and GI issues, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and more. Receiving the reviews of doctors and parents whose pets have lost weight, resolved GI distress and skin problems, received improved ECGs, experienced remission, managed blood glucose levels, and romped around like puppies is like unwrapping a daily miracle. Time is the greatest gift of all.
PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
Renz: The three most important trends I see are human grade, whole food formulations, and gentle cooking or minimal processing.
The biggest, most important choice that a pet parent can make in pet food is to first do no harm. That means selecting a food that is safe to eat. Human-grade foods are regulated to mean that they are manufactured in a licensed and inspected human food facility using human edible ingredients. The safety level of human-grade pet food is miles above that of kibble and many canned pet foods. A look at the FDA’s recall database shows us that kibble accounts for about 75% of all pet food recalls and canned accounts for about 25%. Over the last several years, the biggest reasons for these recalls of kibble and canned products are pathogenic bacteria, aflatoxin, and pentobarbital. This is cause for concern.
Everyone knows that you cannot juice cleanse your way out of a daily Happy Meal®. We also know that we can’t thrive on a diet of Ensure® drinks and Total® cereal; these products would be the human equivalent of a technically “complete and balanced diet.” While we accept this as truth for us as humans, it is not how industry wants us to think about pet foods. They would like us to think that ultra-processed pet foods fortified with vitamin and mineral premix supplements qualifies as good nutrition.
The best diets — for pets and humans — start with lean whole quality proteins and a colorful assortment of vegetables. Why? Because phytonutrients and powerful natural compounds that support health are found only in whole foods. Anthocyanin in blueberries, quercetin and kaempferol in broccoli and kale, alpha lipoic acid in Swiss chard, carotenoids and glycosaminoglycans in eggs, polyacetylenes in carrots, polysaccharides in kelp are all excellent examples of natural compounds that support health at the cellular level. They reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, detoxify the body, support the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems, increase immunity, and more. Our dogs and cats cannot get these compounds by eating conventional kibble or canned products.
It’s also important to understand where pet food regulators stand on supplements. Today, the legal definitions of some vitamin and mineral supplements and other additives include allowances for heavy metals like arsenic, lead, chromium, and cadmium. And there are no limits on the total amount of heavy metals that can be found in pet food.
I am excited to see growth in the gently cooked pet food segment. Gentle cooking means a single process of low heat is used to achieve core temperatures that destroy pathogenic bacteria while maintaining as much nutritional integrity of the food as possible. Depending on the manufacturer’s process, that core temp may be somewhere between 145°F to 170°F. When that gentle cooking uses a process like steam or sous vide then something magical happens. Or, more appropriately, doesn’t happen. The browning process is avoided in these methods of gentle cooking, and when you avoid browning you are not introducing glycotoxins into food. Unlike gentle cooking, the high heat treatments used to make kibble or canned feeds result in heat-induced toxicants called advanced glycation end-products (“AGEs” or “glycotoxins”), which science shows are at the root of oxidative stress, chronic disease, and many diet-related pathologies. Scientific studies show that kibble and canned pet foods contain very high levels of AGEs. Science has also shown that elimination of glycotoxins from the body by transitioning to a minimally processed diet results in the improvement of many chronic disease states. That’s super exciting!
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
Renz: From a nutritional health perspective, I would love people to learn about the Dog Risk Group (DRG) out of the University of Helsinki. They are studying 12,000 dogs and the impact modifiable exposures have on the development of over 100 diseases. I’ll share one study. The DRG found that when a puppy’s late post-natal diet contained no raw food, or more than 20% canned food, or more than 80% kibble, then that puppy had a significantly increased likelihood of developing allergic skin conditions (i.e. atopy) in adulthood. They also found that when that diet included at least 20% raw food, no canned food, or less than 80% kibble then that puppy’s likelihood of developing atopic dermatitis in adulthood significantly decreased. Similarly, they found that the more homecooked food that puppy ate, the more protection against adulthood atopy they had.
In the United States (and worldwide), reports of chronic disease in humans have skyrocketed over the last 20 years. The same trend is happening with our pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), for example, reports that one in four dogs will develop neoplasia. Other studies show that the lifespan of dogs is declining. I think this study by the DRG is remarkable and encouraging as it underscores the strong connection between diet and health, and our power to have a positive influence on our pets’ health span and lifespan.
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.
Renz: My parents raised two daughters: a veterinarian and a pet food entrepreneur. We were born to love all animals. The lives and spirits who occupy the center of my heart are canine. Grace and Lula inspired that right turn I talked about earlier. Goodness Gracious is named after Grace, and Lula’s tail-wagging dance inspired the name of our best-selling, single-ingredient Hula Lula jerky treats. I will love Grace and Lula forever.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Renz: Women are brave, strong, brilliant and fierce. When we connect and empower each other, we achieve and have impact. My advice for women is always to seek out and connect with other women in a meaningful way. View each other as collaborators not competitors. Share your experiences and ideas; trade your influences; buy and sell with each other with integrity as partners. A rising tide lifts all boats and there is power in the pack.
Amy Renz changed the trajectory of her career when she founded Goodness Gracious in 2009, after spending several years in the software industry. Renz received bachelor’s degrees in communications and psychology from the University of New Hampshire.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.