Episode 24: Why We Choose to Feed Open Farm with Special Guest David Phillips

Corey McCusker  00:03
Hello dog lovers, and welcome to Muttz with Mannerz™ Canine Academy Podcast, where we’ll share dog training tips and educational information to help you raise your pup, young or old, so they can be a loving part of your family and your community for life. I’m your host, Corey McCusker, Canine Coach. And today I have with me, Dave Phillips, Territory Manager of Eastern Canada for Open Farm Pet Food. Let me tell you a little bit about Dave. Dave currently holds the Territory Manager position for Eastern Canada with Open Farm. Dave brings with him 20 years plus in the pet industry working alongside retailers to grow their businesses both on a store and a pet food brand perspective. Dave was the first hire of Open Farm, and has had the opportunity to see the brand start from its infancy to the fastest growing brand in North America. He has several positions with them, including regional manager for Canada and Director for Eastern North America. Welcome, Dave.

Dave Phillips  01:06
Thank you so much for having me, Corey. I’m just so excited to be here and just while I have this chance, on behalf of myself and Open Farm, I want to thank you for bringing us in and all the support you’ve been giving us. So this is, I’m so looking forward to this opportunity. 

Corey McCusker  01:19
And you know, I am glad that I have this opportunity to sit with you. You and I have met. We feel that what we feed our dog is so important. And when I decided to offer pet food to our clients, I researched for the best brand. I had done a podcast before about what’s in your kibble and I was talking to a nutritionist out in Regina and she had said Open Farm was one of the top recommended ones. And Skye, my pup, had some issues when I got her. She was a rescue from Manitoba. I’d got her as a pup. And I just putting her on different foods and it just wasn’t working for her. And then, recommended to try Open Farm as it was the premium brand. And she just loved it. And now I notice how shiny her coat is. And the opportunity to meet you, when Barbara and I had gone to the PIJAC conference, we were just seeking out things that we could offer in our region, what food and we met you, we sat down and you know just heard all about . . . and that’s what I want my listeners to hear about today. And that’s why I invited you on the podcast today to share information about Open Farm, how they started what they offer, and why to choose them. So Dave, how did Open Farm start? Since you were one of the first employees?

Dave Phillips  02:36
Yes, and somehow I’m the old guy now in the company. I love answering this question. I get it hundreds of times I never get tired of it. But it is such, to me, an inspirational story. So where we actually started is if you actually, so we launched back in 2014. But if you circle back a couple of years even before then around 2012, Jacqueline, who’s the owner and President of Open Farm and started Open Farm, she was an accountant at the time. And she tells the story often certainly been a lifelong animal lover all her life, has three pugs of her own. And one winter storm, she was actually downtown Toronto on her way to an accounting call and got stuck right beside one of those transportation vehicles that many of us have seen that have the pigs inside them that are being carried, unfortunately to slaughter. And seeing that visually, and this winter storm at the time, it was kind of an “aha” moment. And she went back and talked to her then boyfriend, now husband and co-owner, Isaac, about what had happened. And she started to reflect on what her wants and needs were, but also started to look at what was happening in the human food industry. Because certainly what always happens in the human food industry eventually moved to the pet food industry. Because you know, certainly no surprise to all of your listeners that our pets are our children now. And we want to do the very best for them. So what Jacqueline was recognizing 10 years ago, is she started to see this introduction of health food stores, places like Whole Foods and Farmboy, offering consumers a higher quality product based on higher quality ingredients. And she stood back and thought well wait a second, I’m not the only customer who’s going to want that for my pets. And she looked at the current pet industry at the time and thought, ‘There’s an opportunity that’s not being provided to consumers, is that something we can do.?’ And that’s where this came from its infancy. We literally launched Open Farm in 2014. We introduced three proteins of kibble in three different sizes. And literally that’s what we ran with for the first year and a half or so. And literally that first couple of years was just knocking on stores and getting placement upon placement. So it’s to me it’s a great innovation, an introduction story.

Corey McCusker  04:56
Yeah. And so you said it was a winter storm. So is she, she’s in Canada, I’m assuming.

Dave Phillips  05:05
Very, that’s a pretty good assumption. Yes, Jacqueline and Isaac live in Toronto. And that’s actually where our head office is based, in Toronto, Canada as well, too.

Corey McCusker  05:14
Okay, good. Okay, that’s great. I mean, just from her, you know, being out and seeing that truckload of unfortunate pigs. So, okay, so that’s great. So you talked about, you know, getting into it. So how is Open Farm doing now?

Dave Phillips  05:29
Well, as much as I love telling the introduction story, I’m almost as proud to tell where we are now. So knowing what I’d said we introduced back in 2014, fast forward to now, we are now the fastest growing brand in North America, which we are so proud of. And daily, we are having stores reaching out to us now or consumers reaching out to us now saying, How do I get this product? So we’re so proud and we’re so happy to really be the leader in the industry of this now.

Corey McCusker  05:57
That’s great. And so for those listening, why or what differentiates Open Farm from the competition?

Dave Phillips  06:06
Sure. So we always call them pillars, I guess. And since day one of our creation, we’ve said, we firmly believe the best quality food, and thus Open Farm, is going to come from four key aspects. One is ethically-raised meat, two a sustainable sourcing, three is full traceability – so consumers know exactly what they’re getting – and full nutrition, meaning it’s a fully nutritional diet, but at the same time too, providing a variety of different offerings, depending on the cat or dog’s wants or needs.

Corey McCusker  06:42
Okay, so does this, you say a variety of different offerings, so it doesn’t just apply to dog kibble. What are the offerings?

Dave Phillips  06:50
Absolutely not. So we started with dog kibble. So fast forward to now we have a full line of dog kibble, both grain-free and grain-in, specifically ancient grains, if consumers are looking for that option. We also offer it in freeze-dried, wet stews and blends for our dogs and cats, bone broth, treats, chewable supplements, and also gently-cooked, which is a frozen product, which is literally our high end meats, which I know we’re going to talk about in a second,stew v cooked to the highest quality. So we’re really excited about that as well. So it really provides everything a consumer could be looking for to feed their pets.

Corey McCusker  07:30
Okay. And I mean, you know, we’re a training facility, and I want to talk about the puppy recipe, because I get a lot of puppies and owners at that time are looking about, okay, what food am I going to feed? So why is Open Farm puppy food different?

Dave Phillips  07:45
It’s a really good question. I almost have to take a step back and relate it back to children. You know, certainly when it comes to allergies, both human and pets, there’s a lot of discussions amongst all of us. I’m a parent myself about you know where exactly these allergies came from. But one of the views is that it can be driven by what is fed to a puppy or a child in early age, I have three daughters. But you know, for example, when they were young, I remember that time it was, you know don’t introduce them to peanuts or tomatoes, and things like that, because they’ll get an allergy to it. And as a result, that is the same with the majority of the puppy formulations in this industry. The majority of them are a single protein focused for that reason, purposely not introducing other proteins in early stage. But when we came up with our puppy formulation a couple years ago, obviously, as part of our research, we made sure we had the most up-to-date information, and reports on what we’re seeing with allergies. And if you look at humans now with children, gone are the days of just completely removing all those items from them. Now, if you have young children, it’s like, No, expose them to those type of things. Introduce it to them at a young age, so they won’t have an allergy, and will have less of a chance of getting an allergy. And it’s the same with our puppy formulation. So what we’ve done, which is so unique and different is we are actually introducing four proteins in one. So we’re introducing to them, chicken, pork, salmon, and whitefish. 

Corey McCusker  09:19
Okay, that’s great. That’s interesting. But I do get questions when owners come in and now we’re offering the food is their dog does have allergies or something, you know, so what do you do if they do have allergies?

Dave Phillips  09:35
My go-to recommendation, our go-to recommendation is always our white fish formulation of either grain-free, or grain-in. And the reason for that is we don’t use meat meal. And instead what we use is, we use a portion of the white fish that are caught through sustainable measures, we take a certain aspect of those, grind those into white fish meal and use them in our formulation. So as a result, with our white fish formulation, the only possible protein that is in there is white fish. There’s no chance of cross contamination. There’s no chance of an aspect of chicken being in there that if your dog is allergic to chicken. So that is always our go-to. And I wish I could say it was our idea. I just remember within a month or so of us introducing this, the number of stores are reaching out to me saying, I’ve had so much early success with this white fish formulation, addressing issues of hotspots, itchiness, etc.

Corey McCusker  10:38
So Dave, you know, you talk about the white fish, the allergies, that’s great. And the quality of Open Farm’s food. So how do we know it’s high quality food? What makes it high quality?

Dave Phillips  10:49
Again, great question. I actually have to go back to those pillars I mentioned before of ethically-raised meat, sustainable sourcing and traceability. As we know, the quality of ingredients can vary vastly. And our view is that if we’re going to be the offering the best quality nutrition to our pets, that’s going to be derived from the best quality ingredients. So how do we provide that? All of our meat is sourced from third party accreditations either with Certified Humane or Global Animal Partnership, both are not for profit. And because we source from them, there is hundreds upon hundreds of standards that those farms must follow for those certifications that are far higher than the regular standards are in place for Canada in the US. Any consumer, if they’re interested, they can go on those respective websites, click on the particular animal and they’ll show those standards, space, shelter, daylight, etc, all those things. But the take away because of those two certifications that no other brand has been able to achieve in this pet industry, you’ve got a third party not for profit validating that this is the cleanest, freshest quality meat, and the animals are being raised to the highest possible standards available. 

Corey McCusker  12:08
Okay. And that goes for the, all of the proteins like including the fish.

Dave Phillips  12:16
Actually, that only speaks to the meat itself.

Corey McCusker  12:19
That only speaks to meat. 

Dave Phillips  12:21
That only speaks to the meat, yeah. When it comes to our fish that then gets into the sustainability aspect I mentioned, which is our second pillar. We again, just like our meat, we firmly believe the best quality fish comes from the natural way animals should be raised. So to give consumers, third party, complete transparency, that we are providing the best quality fish, we’ve partnered with Ocean Wise. And they’re really the gold standard when it comes to sustainable fishing. They’re based out of Vancouver. And through that partnership with them, they will dictate to us exactly the type of fish we can catch, where we can catch it, and how we can catch it. So because of those standards, we can only catch in places where the fish are in season, we can only catch when they’re available, and we can only catch using fishing methods that enables us to catch what we’re supposed to. We’re not going to be in a situation where we’re throwing out nets and catching byproducts such as whales, walruses, dolphins, etcetera. We’re only catching what we’re supposed to. So I go circle back to the meat itself. The fish is the same. It is the highest quality, the freshest, cleanest fish with complete transparency, that there’s no growth hormones, no antibiotics, they’re truly just living a natural life.

Corey McCusker  13:36
Okay, great. I know also that because of the way that Open Farm produces it, you can change the protein. So some dogs, you know, they might, and we’ve had owners say, Okay, I want to try another type, like I want to go from turkey to beef or to the white fish. And we have found and I mean, I do this with my dog, that it’s easy to transition the proteins with when I’m dealing with the Open Farm. 

Dave Phillips  14:05
And we’ve done that on purpose. Certainly there are some brands out there that if you want to switch between the different proteins you have to do a proper transition. But with Open Farm, we want to make it as easy as possible because our view is providing variety and proteins gives the dogs, or the cats, the best nutrition possible. I always love to use you know humans as an example. I love pizza. But if you gave me pizza every day for 10 years, at some point, I’m going to go, Not anymore. And it’s the same with dogs. I know you and I’ve spoken about this, or with cats too, that a consumer will come in one day and go my dog or cat just stopped eating. It’s as if they went I’m not having that protein anymore. So literally with Open Farm, every time you grab a bag, you can grab a different protein, just throw it in there, and it’s formulated in such a way that there’s easy transition. You don’t have to do it about over a week or so a time. And that’s what I certainly do with my dog, Trixie. Every time I go into a store, I’ll grab a different protein each time. Give her that variety.

Corey McCusker 15:11
No, that’s what I do too. And I mix it up, I change it up. So speaking of changing it up, maybe I’ve heard some new things come, or I’ve heard new things coming out with Open Farm. So what can you share with us? What’s on the horizon with Open Farm?

Dave Phillips  15:27
So, a bit of tease, I guess some excitement. So literally, what we just launched two weeks ago is we’re calling it raw mix. And as you know, you and I again, have talked, many of your listeners are going to probably nod their heads when they hear me say this, is more and more people want to feed their pets like themselves. They’re not just feeding kibble anymore. No, they want to create almost a three course meal that they would have on a Friday night for themselves. So we’re introducing raw mix, which well it’s almost like a kibble plus category. And what we’ve done is we’re taking our kibble, we’re infusing it with our freeze dried, coating it with our bone broth, plus adding additional pieces of freeze dried that is 95% meat. So why this is so good for customers, is those customers that want to focus on a higher meat content or focus than traditional kibble, you have that option. But also for those customers that recognize they want to give a bit of different category variation to fill that bowl, but just have busy lives, we all have busy lives, and they don’t necessarily have the time to grab these different things. With raw mix, they can grab a bag, and it’s all in one. They’ve got the kibble, as they said, they’ve got the freeze dried, and they’ve got the bone broth as well, too. So that is literally launching over in stores of last couple of weeks, and any of your consumers, just go on our store locator, reach out to your local store, and they’ll be able to get that for you. 

Corey McCusker  16:58
And hopefully we’re your local store if you’re in the York Region. 

Dave Phillips  17:01
Absolutely, absolutely. 

Corey McCusker  17:03
And you know what, you just made my life much easier because I do all of those things that are going to be in that raw mix. So, and I am a very busy person. So I’m really looking forward to that. And I know a lot of my customers will be too. So that’s great. So I want to thank you. Is there anything else we need to know about Open Farm? Because that’s like we’ve gone through quite a bit. And so is there anything . . . You mentioned the cat. So can we just touch on the cat food because I have two cats plus the dog and I know my clients have cats. So the offering for cats, is it different or the same?

Dave Phillips  17:41
It’s kind of the same but different. So on the cat side we offer four proteins and a grain-free option. We also offer our version of wet stew, for the cats we call a wet blend, which provides a wet option. And then we also offer them the bone broth as well too, which is available for dogs and cats. I know I didn’t mention this when you asked what’s coming up, but I guess another tease for our listeners is in the next month or so we will be introducing freeze dried for cats. And on that note also introducing freeze dried patties for the dog consumer as well, too. 

Corey McCusker  18:17
Awesome. That’s excellent. Well, Dave, thank you, because I want to just say thank you for sharing all of this with us because I know you’re quite busy. And I’m just really happy that, you know, Open Farm is the premium food that we do offer our clients because we’re trying to be a one-stop-shop. And I mean, I just love the products. My dog loves them. My dog looks healthy. She’s a sports dog. So it keeps her really fit and lean. And she’s a running machine. So I want to just thank you for taking the time out and sharing this valuable information with us. And those listening, if you want to know more, you can go to www.openfarmpet.com. And if you are interested in learning more about Muttz with Mannerz™, you can go to muttzwithmannerz.com and find out more about us. But, Dave, thank you so much for sharing this, and I look forward to our future relationship with Open Farm.

Dave Phillips  19:19
I very much appreciate that. And I purposely didn’t hold these things back. But there are two other things that I have to tell our listeners about Open Farm. 

Corey McCusker  19:27

Dave Phillips  19:28
I said we’re all about the ethically-raised meat. We’re all about the sustainable fishing. But what I haven’t had a chance to say which is I think our biggest stand out aspect is traceability. So not only do we give our consumers third party accreditation to the quality of which those animals are being raised, to us, we think our consumers should know everything. So literally for any of those items that I mentioned, any of those categories we’ve ever produced. Any consumer can take that item. And if there’s a QR code on it, they can scan that QR code, or they can enter the lot number on our website, and they will get a full list of every single ingredient in that particular item or bag, I guess I should say, and where it came from: country, state, and or province. And to me, this is such an “aha” moment because forget the pet industry, this isn’t even available in the human food industry. And not only that, when you enter that lot code, or scan the QR code, we also give you the test results. That’s how confident we are in what we are doing. And the other thing I want to add too is I actually want to speak to the packaging. All of our packaging right now is fully recyclable through a program called TerraCycle. So any of your consumers, they can return their empty bags to you. And as you know, we’ve set up a program with TerraCycle, that these bags are being returned and being made into plastic park benches. Because not not only are we obviously wanting to make a difference for the pets, we also want to make sure we’re making a difference for the environment as well too. And stay tuned as well too, because those bags that are currently going through TerraCycle in the coming months will become fully recyclable in your local blue or gray box, which is going to be the first of its kind as well, too.

Corey McCusker  21:11
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And I’m sure I’m going to have your back on another time because there’ll be more exciting stuff coming from Open Farm. So thank you so much, Dave, and thank you listeners for tuning in again, if you do want to hear other podcasts or information, please email us at muttzwithmannerz.com with your ideas, and we’ll make sure that we get on another podcast and share some information. So thanks, everyone for listening. Thank you, Dave. 

Dave Phillips  21:42
And thank you. 

Corey McCusker  21:43
All right, take care.


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