The Future of Sojos
Jen Loesch discusses her new role as general manager of Sojos and why the company is perfectly positioned to continue innovating the raw food category.
Pet Business: What made you want to join the Sojos team? What are your immediate impressions of the company?
Jen Loesch: I have two Australian Labradoodles at home, so as a pet parent myself, I’ve always been personally invested in pet health and nutrition. I transitioned my dogs into the raw category a few years ago and, having worked on the pet retail side for a number of years, I have seen natural and raw kibble alternatives really take off in recent years. Raw pet food, in particular, is one of the fastest growing categories, and Sojos deserves much of the credit for pioneering and innovating in the category. I’m thrilled to be joining a family of pet parents that are 100 percent focused on pet nutrition and who have such a direct and positive impact on pet health.
Since joining the team, I’ve been happy to see that my initial perception of Sojos was spot-on. Working for Sojos is a small and passionate team whose expertise is helping to change the way people feed their pets. Every member of the team is truly dedicated to pet health and making the most of each bite at mealtime. Furthermore, this family mentality shows a true respect for other family-run businesses, and that includes helping independent storeowners grow their businesses to serve more pet parents in more ways. Independent retailers are at the heart of our business and success story, and I look forward to continuing to foster and build upon initiatives to help them thrive.
PB: How has your professional background prepared you to help guide the Sojos brand to even bigger and better things?
Loesch: I’ve worked with a variety of companies across industries, from retail to manufacturing, and that diversity and breadth of experience has helped me better understand consumer thinking as a whole. Because of that, I’m able to bring a new perspective that someone who has always lived and breathed the pet food industry may not have.
No doubt, Sojos’ history and founding principles continue to help guide it today. However, I believe my outside perspective will complement long-standing traditions and help the business grow, diversify and attract new pet parents as customers. I’m in a position to think singularly about the future and how Sojos can learn from other business best practices I’ve seen in other categories.
PB: How would you describe your role as general manager? What will be some of your specific areas of focus?
Loesch: The role of general manager gives me an opportunity to play a role in many different aspects of the business with the goal of continuing to pioneer new, fast-growing pet food and treat categories—while helping Sojos expand and refine operations.
I’ll be working closely with WellPet’s new CEO Camelle Kent and with the Sojos sales and marketing teams to ensure we’re communicating our current offerings effectively, as well as introducing new recipes in a way that excites both retail partners and pet parents. A large part will be overseeing how we educate pet parents on the compelling benefits of a raw diet. Obviously a key part of that is supporting independent retailers with things like in-store training and customer demos to help them foster one-on-one relationships with pet parents.
PB: What are the main areas of strength that you think Sojos can build on?
Loesch: We’re a leader in the raw category—our long history, the quality of our recipes and the benefits pets have experienced all prove that. But there’s no question that we have an opportunity to introduce the power of natural raw nutrition, and the real difference kibble alternatives can make, to many more pet parents.
That said, Sojos is not only raw, it’s rehydratable, so it helps add water to your pet’s diet, travels and stores easily and offers everyday main meal value. It’s nutritionally balanced if fed alone, it’s a clear alternative to wet canned food or it can be rotated with kibble for variety. In addition, Sojos’ freeze-dried meat treats and baked treats are made with many of the same amazing ingredients.
Bottom line, the Sojos line-up has something for everyone—and in that regard, our story and journey has just begun.
PB: What do you expect will be your biggest challenges in your new role?
Loesch: Sojos is in a unique position. It’s always been family-owned and the company itself is a tight-knit group that operates very much like a family to this day. At the same time, the demand for raw nutrition is at an all-time high and Sojos is navigating the challenges of meeting that demand.
Camelle is eager for Sojos to continue operating autonomously, with the same family feel and independent retail focus—but now with the support of WellPet resources. Hiring a new general manager is one way to accomplish that while setting the table for accelerated growth.
More and more pet parents are starting to understand what Sojos has known all along: Raw nutrition can play a key role in keeping pets happy and healthy. Even so, many still have reservations about transitioning to a raw diet. Some think it’s cost-prohibitive, messy or time consuming. My challenge is to break down misperceptions and help pet parents understand the Sojos story and breadth of offerings so we continue our trajectory of growth.
An extension of this will be supporting our retail partnerships. The pet parent experience often begins in a store aisle—and that’s where Sojos established its roots. That said, e-commerce is also important as long as it doesn’t detract from or undermine the business of independent retailers. Continuing to roll out programs like our recent MRP and iMRP policies to ensure consistency across retail channels will be an essential focus for us as we move ahead.
PB: What are some of the most exciting new products and initiatives from Sojos?
Loesch: We’ve most recently unveiled two new recipes made specifically for puppies: Sojos Complete for Puppies, the first life-stage food in the raw, shelf-stable food category; and Sojos SimplyPuppy, raw, all-meat treats. Sojos Complete for Puppies is appropriate for all breeds. It combines raw, freeze-dried turkey and omega-rich salmon with select superfoods and a blend of essential vitamins and minerals. The “soft-serve” mix is particularly beneficial to puppies with developing teeth and gums. And five-minute rehydration, a first for Sojos, offers added convenience for puppy parents who are new to the category.
Looking ahead, future plans include expanding our life-stage offerings and continuing to build out our line of raw recipes for cats.
PB: What are some of your expectations and goals for the company in 2017? Over the next five to 10 years?
Loesch: This year, I’d like us to focus on trial and innovation—getting more pet parents to experience Sojos raw pet diets for themselves. We have something for everyone from our grain-free, nutritionally balanced Sojos Complete, to Sojos Wild diets made with exotic proteins, to Sojos Pre-Mixes, which are a great way to begin the transition from kibble.
Within the next few years, I’d like us to develop additional foods that help pet parents migrate from basic kibble to more balanced and complete nutrition and eventually into raw—either completely or as a rotational offering.
Sojos measures true success by the number of pets “transformed” by the power of uncompromised raw nutrition. From team members in sales and marketing to finance and every person in the manufacturing facility, we’re all focused on lives transformed.
To that end, we’ll continue creating foods that are nutritionally advanced, yet affordable. Whether everyday main meals, in rotation or as a treat—we want all pets to have ready access to the quality nutrients and enzymes they need to live their longest, happiest and healthiest lives possible. Simply said, that’s my ultimate goal—help our team transform the lives of more and more pets in the U.S. and abroad.