We caught up with Shiv Sivakumar, Co-Founder of OMNI as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Founded in 2020, OMNI are a plant-based dog food company, focused on improving your dog’s health whilst reducing their environmental impact. Tasty, vegan, sustainable and healthy; what’s not to love?
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Shiv: Hi, I’m Shiv, and I am a Co-Founder at OMNI alongside Dr Guy Sandelowsky.
We use high quality premium ingredients to create a plant-based solution to dog food that is healthier and more sustainable. OMNI is unique in its’ offering because the food is formulated to be more delicious for dogs than many other plant-based dog foods but to also be competitive within the market against meat-based foods. 90% of dogs we surveyed on our taste-test trial chose OMNI over meat-based brands. At 30% protein content our food has more protein than many of the meat-based brands on the market. Our other key differentiation is that we are a vet-founded brand (Guy is a veterinarian) and we are distributed through veterinary clinics.
Shiv: Of course! We started in November 2020 after I got a puppy during lockdown. I started thinking about the great sense of responsibility I felt for my puppy, and I thought about what goes into my dogs’ food because that is the only component of his life, I have complete control over. I started looking into dog food and I started investigating the companies behind them and many are controlled by large multinational conglomerates who haven’t necessarily been focused on making dog food healthy or sustainable. These companies aren’t trying to address the nutrition issues that Guy was frequently seeing as a veterinarian. Guy mentioned that many dogs he saw had premature health issues due to a highly processed diet. In my mind, there was a gap between dog nutrition and pet food. My family are originally from Sri Lanka and dogs there are predominantly fed a plant-based diet. The dogs in my family were living up to 16 years whilst in the UK the average life expectancy for dogs is 11 years. Guy and I put our heads together and agreed to do something using plant-based ingredients that would be better for dog health and reduce the environmental impact of dogs too. I don’t think many people know that 20% of worldwide meat products go into dog food, meaning the average medium-sized dog has the same environmental impact as an SUV! We clearly need to address the environmental impact that dog diets have.
If someone ate processed food nearly 3x a day for their entire life, we wouldn’t be surprised if they had high levels of cancers and high levels of diabetes.
Shiv: Raw is attracting attention and I understand why. If you recognise that processed meat is the problem, then raw could offer a solution. However, raw dog food can contain bacteria and parasites and therefore from a health perspective can harm your dog. According to Public Health England, the American Veterinary Association, the PDSA and the British Medical Journal, raw dog food puts both dogs and members of the household at risk of serious illness as its more likely to be contaminated with various microbes like salmonella, E coli, campylobacter and parasitic worms. If you are feeding raw and are aware of the risks and chose to continue then we fully support you – but as a vet founded brand, we think it’s important that dog parents know the facts so that they can make more informed decisions about what they chose to feed
Shiv: Definitely; People are integral to what we do. Guy and I have a very good working relationship dynamic, and this helped our business work from day 1. We were very conscious about growing our team with people that would keep the OMNI culture alive. The early stages had a lot of pressure and so it was very, very important to ensure everyone had a good working dynamic. We have seen the benefits of being remote as we can hire the best people regardless of where they are, and we can also hire on flexible contracts so that if people have other commitments, they can still work with us.
Shiv: We always had a laser focus on product because with dog food, there are two consumers; the parents who buy the food and the dog who doesn’t care about brand, just whether the food is tasty. We spent a year in R&D phase, working with many nutritional scientists to collect data. It was great that our product got rave reviews from dogs during our surveys because that is the key to our business. We have continued with the product as our focus as even fussy dogs liked the food and we saw many customers reporting that since feeding OMNI they were noticing improvements in physical attributes like a shinier coat and less smelly stools. We have used all this positive feedback for our marketing of OMNI.
Shiv: Yes. At the early stages, dealing with large minimum order quantities was hard because we had not received investment at that time and so we invested all our personal capital in the product. There have been challenges in marketing because we get some people saying that dogs shouldn’t be fed vegan food, but they tend to come around once they understand that cutting down on processed meats is really benefitting their dog! Our priority is the health benefits for dogs; environmental benefits are just another great additional bonus.
Shiv: There are so many different forms of investment now, such as Angel and crowdfunding. We considered all of them and we decided to go for professional capital investors and institutional investors because it was about bring credibility to OMNI and the category. My advice is that getting investment can be dependent on forming connections with the right people. Don’t compromise on your business just to get your foot in the door and you should feel comfortable saying no to investors if they aren’t right. Also, if you fail to get investment, ask for feedback as you can then go away and make the changes that may get you investment next time.
Thank you for your time, Shiv!