Sometimes in business, passion takes precedence over profits. That’s the case for Logan Honeycutt ’09 (above, right) and Michael Cody ’06 (above, left).
Driven by their love of dogs and a mission to eradicate an invasive species of fish that’s devastating water habitats across the U.S., the Chicago entrepreneurs co-founded BareItAll Pet Foods.
The roots of the company can be traced to Honeycutt’s junior year at the College in 2008. The economics major was taking a course on environmental economics that examined how the decisions companies make can have serious and lasting implications for the health of our planet. As part of the class, taught by economics professor and department chair Calvin Blackwell, the students learned about the introduction of Asian carp in the Southern United States in the 1970s.
While the intent was to import the hungry carp to help control algae and parasites in fish farms, the carp quickly began competing with native fish for food. And they soon cut an environmentally and economically destructive path into the waterways of the Mississippi River basin. Today, the nuisance fish threatens the Great Lakes.
“That’s something that really stuck with me,” says Honeycutt, who remembers thinking during the class that there had to be a business opportunity hidden somewhere in the carp problem.
Meanwhile, as an M.B.A. student at DePaul University, Cody had a similar epiphany when he learned about the threat Asian carp posed.
After graduating and moving to Chicago to work in consumer and market research, Honeycutt was poring over economic data when he noticed that only one industry in the U.S. had survived the Great Recession without a decline: pet food.
Reunited in Chicago, the former college roommates soon began discussing ways to exploit the abundant, protein-rich carp as a primary ingredient in pet food.
“That’s why we knew the pet world was a perfect marketplace for it because you have nondiscerning customers – dogs physically eat anything – but it also helps that Asian carp is extremely tasty,” Honeycutt says.
The partners spent several months doing research and whipping up recipes in Honeycutt’s kitchen before his wife, Erika Lindroth ’09, banished the fishy-smelling entrepreneurs from the house.
In 2015, after contracting with a local manufacturer, the company launched its first product – a dog treat called goBARE Crunchers. Later that year, they released two more dog treats. Future plans call for expansion into dog kibble and cat treats.
With products now in some 150 stores across the Midwest as well as in select retailers on the West Coast, BareItAll’s sales are healthy, Cody says.
But their top priority continues to be decreasing carp populations. Partnering with local fishermen, they have already removed an estimated 50,000 pounds of Asian carp from the environment – a decent dent when you consider that a single carp can lay up to 4 million eggs in a year.
By remaining true to a sustainability ethos (Honeycutt and Cody also donate their time and money to help find homes for shelter dogs as part of their company’s charitable program), they are confident they’ll achieve financial success by putting Mother Earth first.
“Humans are very short-sighted,” Honeycutt says. “We think we have made the greatest decision, and then all of a sudden it backfires. Who cleans up the mess? We are trying to become a model for how you can leverage market-based solutions to actually fix environmental issues.”
Now that’s a business model worth sustaining.
Photos by Leslie McKellar.