Dogs are like babies; we feed them, we cuddle them, and we love them.
They grow up to become our companions—the one unproblematic family member giving us constant attention and love. Therefore, it only makes sense to reciprocate the love by keeping them healthy and safe by ensuring their food is as high quality as our own.
Cola’s Kitchen wants to offer your furry friend just that. Its personalized and balanced meals are the equivalent of a three Michelin star restaurant for dogs.
Created by sibling entrepreneurs, Salma and Sina Hamidizadeh, Cola’s Kitchen was founded as a way to disrupt the dog food market and honour the life of the co-founders’ pet, Max, who suffered from health and dietary issues throughout his life.
“Our pets don’t deserve to eat highly processed junk food just because there’s no convenient way of feeding them real food. Our mission is to be the solution to that problem,” says Salma.
Determined to shed light on the unhealthy options of dog food sitting on the grocery store shelves, the siblings, alongside a nutrition specialist and their young furry friend Cola, took on the challenge by coming up with fresh and healthy customized food recipes for their dog.
This side hobby quickly took a turn when the pandemic hit a little over a year ago when Cola’s Kitchen really started evolving and expanding. Although everyone had more time on their hands, the complexity of this project and the barriers the pandemic created made it all the more challenging—but the team persevered.
“To say that Cola’s Kitchen is truly a result of passionate people collaborating during a difficult time is an understatement,” says Sina.
Now, relying on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to act as a personal nutritionist, Cola’s Kitchen allows dog owners to get their customized, freshly made food delivered right to their doorstep.
“The pet food industry requires a significant overhaul, and we believe that we have the product, expertise and passion for doing so,” adds Sina.
For this week’s Startup Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Sina and Salma, siblings and co-founders of Cola’s Kitchen, about revolutionizing the pet food industry one customized meal at the time.
What sparked the interest in disrupting the dog food industry?
Sina: Unfortunately, what sparked our research that resulted in Cola’s Kitchen was the sad story of us losing our Doberman, Max. Max was always on top-rated kibbles. However, throughout his life, we wrestled with his diet and health a lot. We were encouraged to give him high-quality kibble, but as soon as health complications such as skin diseases or allergies would come up, we were told to add fresh supplementary items to cover prospective nutritional imbalances. Towards the end of his life, he was diagnosed w/ DCM (Canine dilated cardiomyopathy). Naturally, we started researching the causes and eventually discovered ongoing research investigating the link between diet in general and DCM (most brands involved are still very much under investigation). This essentially was the door opener for us to learn about diet, and I guess that was the beginning of moving down the rabbit hole.
Salma: Throughout our research, we realized how unregulated the pet food industry is in general and that concerned us even more for our newly rescued pup, Cola. Simply put, we couldn’t find what we were willing to feed our own dogs. The best option was to ask a canine nutrition specialist like Dr.Goodarzi to balance some recipes to cook at home once a month and portion, which was quite inconvenient. But, with our busy lives, we couldn’t guarantee that we’d be able to commit to that. And that’s the problem we decided to solve for other dog parents like ourselves. We will take on the recipe curation and balancing, production of the food, portioning, and delivering it every month right before you run out of food.
How does Cola’s Kitchen work?
Salma: Dog parents visit our platform at colaskitchen.com and tell us about their dog through a short, interactive questionnaire. This is where we collect all the data points that we need to personalize and individually balance their recipes. After the fact-finding process, they then choose up to 3 recipes for their pups. The recipes will then be prepared from fresh, human-grade ingredients a couple of days before they get shipped out. After that, we portion them for daily servings and deliver it straight to their doors.
Sina: On our back-end, the chosen recipes are balanced using artificial intelligence (AI) which acts as a personal nutritionist for dogs. This AI has been programmed and developed to do what an expert in dog nutrition can do (in many aspects even more precisely), instantly. It also allows us to change and adapt the recipes as the dogs get older and go through changes.
What are the benefits of Cola’s Kitchen food versus what a dog owner would find in the pet food aisle?
Salma: There are many! Most commercial food in the pet food aisle is the human equivalent of junk, processed, and canned food. We don’t use any preservatives or additives. Your dog can’t thrive on something that can sit on a shelf for over a year. We make our food from human-grade, high-quality meat, and ingredients vs plant-derived proteins or low digestible animal by-products like ‘chicken meals’. We gently cook our meats and starches on low heat instead of extensive thermal processing that usually goes into pet food production, depriving your dog of real nutrition. Thermal processing also makes food harder to digest.
Sina: Our most distinct difference, however, is the customization of our food. When you’re giving your dog a generally balanced diet that isn’t personalized, you’re basically settling for some deficiencies and excess in protein, fat, energy, calcium, phosphorus, etc. In the short term, they may not really affect your dog, especially if it considers the age, weight, and breed of the dog. However, when we look at this in a longer span of time such as over a year, the seemingly small deficiencies and excesses get magnified. Over the course of years, these changes can translate to diabetes, kidney and liver disease, cancer, and heart disease which can translate to more vet visits.
Were there any difficulties in bringing Cola’s Kitchen to life?
Sina: Bringing any business to life is very difficult, let alone having to do so during COVID. There are a lot of moving parts in Cola’s Kitchen that need to work in sync. We started the Cola’s Kitchen project as a side hobby for everyone involved before COVID. Therefore getting all the moving parts in sync was very time-consuming, especially with everyone having full-time jobs. After COVID hit, we were able to move faster since we all had more time; however, making arrangements became ten times more difficult with the lockdowns. We also started with a minimal budget to mitigate risk if things didn’t work out, especially during a time like COVID when everyone is cash strapped. So to say that Cola’s Kitchen is truly a result of passionate people collaborating during a difficult time is an understatement.
What has the response been like from Cola’s Kitchen consumers?
Salma: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. Because of the personalized nature of our product, we’re able to form real relationships with the dog parents on our service and have one-on-one conversations with them. Most of them have had some, if not years, of experience with other types of dog food. So hearing how Shelby is finally eating, Zeus’s coat is softer, or Lilith has more energy than before really makes our day. Going into this, we knew we would eventually have a loyal following. We just didn’t expect it to happen this soon.
Are there any plans to branch out to food for other pets?
Sina: Definitely in our plans for the future! We have the expertise and the technology to provide the same service to cat parents. So we’re looking forward to branching out into that.
What is Cola’s Kitchen’s overall mission?
Salma: To make taking care of your pet, the way they deserve it, as easy and convenient as possible. Our pets don’t deserve to eat highly processed junk food just because there’s no convenient way of feeding them real food. Our mission is to be the solution to that problem.
Where do you hope to see the company in five, 10 years?
Sina: We see ourselves as the leaders of our industry within the next 10 years. The pet food industry requires a significant overhaul, and we believe that we have the product, expertise, and passion for doing so. We want to be at the forefront of innovation within our industry, and we know we’ll continue to disrupt and change the way it operates. We will be working diligently to introduce our product to more markets, including international ones, as we continue to grow.
Do you have any tips for working with your family?
Salma: After many years of working together, we’re full of tips! Make sure your personal relationship doesn’t get diluted by your work relationship. Make conscious efforts to spend time together and leave shop talk behind!
Sina: Come up with ways to communicate together effectively and openly. It doesn’t always come naturally in family dynamics, but it goes a very long way once you have it down.
Is there anything else we haven’t mentioned that you would like to talk about?
Salma: We want to encourage dog parents to dig a bit deeper into what they’re feeding their dogs. We were quite shocked when we learned about the labeling tricks and the reality of what goes into pet food. After all, the packaging and marketing had been telling us a different story for years. It’s true that our dogs’ needs are different from ours. But that difference is not in that their digestive and immune system will thrive on preservatives, burnt and terribly smelling food, questionable protein sources, or empty calories. We’re all familiar with the saying “you are what you eat” and that also applies to our dogs!