One of the Pandemic’s Most Unlikely Offshoots Is High-Quality Dog Food Brands

As Americans coddle their pets, upscale meals for man's best friend are prospering

a woman on a blanket in a park with her dog
Sundays for Dogs takes its name from the one day of the week founders Tory and Michael Waxman could spend with their dogs. Sundays for Dogs

Tory and Michael Waxman are the kind of professional power couple that you might read about in The New York Times and be suitably envious of. She is a successful veterinarian with degrees from Cornell and University of Pennsylvania. He is a Yale-bred software engineer whose enterprises include Grouper, the dating app funded by Y Combinator.

As one might expect, the Waxmans work insane hours. Hours that historically haven’t allowed them much time for Mabel and Schuyler—their dogs.

In fact, there was just one day each week that the Waxmans weren’t running off to work and had some semblance of downtime. “We’d wake up on Sunday mornings and our dogs knew what day it was,” Michael Waxman said, “because we’d spend the whole day with them.”

So when the Waxmans were ready to bring their collaborative venture to the market—the first “human-grade” dog food to come in a box—a brand name was one thing they didn’t have to sweat over too much. They called it Sundays for Dogs. And while it’s obviously a brand meant for man’s best friend, it’s also a brand for the times where the family pet, as a companion and stress-reliever, is more important than ever.

“In this weird moment when days of the week have taken on new meaning,” Waxman said, “we think that [the name] is the core emotional piece of the brand that we’re really trying to evoke.”

Sundays for Dogs is launching today, and though the Waxmans’ years of research and development would probably have resulted in a drop date around now anyway, their brand is part of a larger trend caused by the pandemic. Despite the fact that consumer spending is down by 35% in Q2 and unemployment hovers around 10%, direct-to-consumer upmarket dog food brands are having a moment.

The Farmer’s Dog ships USDA-grade food directly to customers, who keep the meals in the fridge under serving time.The Farmer’s Dog

Tailored, a personalized DTC dog food, launched on May 19. After making its debut in March, Hungry Bark, another personalized dog chow upstart, secured a $2.1 million funding round in July. Meanwhile, even more established artisanal dog food brand The Farmer’s Dog, founded in 2015, has seen a 100% month-over-month increase in subscriptions since the pandemic began and a revenue spike of 400% from this time last year.

In February, the American Pet Products Association announced that spending on pet-related goods and services had hit $95.7 billion, with food making up the biggest chunk of that spending.

“Consumers are more educated than ever about the ingredients that go into their pets’ food, which means they’re willing to pay more for quality products,” CEO Steve King said in a statement. “As the demand for natural, minimally processed ingredients continues, we expect to see steady growth in this category.”

But the larger reason why artisanal dog food brands are finding traction right now has less to do with consumer sophistication and everything to do with consumer emotion. In simplest terms, the pandemic hasn’t just sent Americans stampeding to get dogs; it’s made existing dog owners value their dogs more. Americans tend to spoil those they love, which probably explains why owners (well, those who are still employed and can afford it) are willing to pass over that $12 18-pound bag of Purina puppy chow in favor of a DTC service like The Farmer’s Dog, whose fare begins at $2 a day.

“Mom, can we get a dog?”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.