Posted: November 01, 2010

Small biz: former Chipotle exec launches dog food line

Mike Taylor

Jim Adams used to head up marketing for Chipotle Mexican Grill, the burrito chain known for emphasizing natural ingredients and meat from humanely raised animals.

Now he's taking that ethos to dog food, with his Redbud's Raw Premium Dog Food featuring antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken and beef.

Adams, 49, worked for Chipotle from 2000 to 2008, took a year off and in June launched Redbud's, named for one of his two dachshunds, Red. The former Chipotle exec started off selling his product line Saturday mornings at the Cherry Creek Farmer's Market, with promotional help from the dachshunds that he or his wife, Paula Haddock, would parade down the market aisle wearing miniature sandwich-board ads touting Redbud's on their torpedo-shaped torsos. Adams has also gotten Redbud's into three Denver retail stores so far.

"The genesis of it was my love of dogs," Adams said of his new business. "But what I learned and was involved with at Chipotle was critical. That changed a lot of things in my own life about how I looked at food and what I ate, and who was producing that food and how they took care of their animals. So it was only natural that I would extend that into my dog food business."

The afternoon of Sept. 30 found him pitching his product line and business model to a crowd of about 100 and four judges at the Naturally Boulder Days "Pitch Slam." Naturally Boulder Days is an annual expo intended to nurture startup natural food companies and promote Boulder as the epicenter of the natural-products movement.

Adams was one of 22 fledging entrepreneurs who got two minutes to explain their business plan and then faced questions from the judges. The judges were friendly but unsparing, a case in point being when Adams was asked about the price of his Redbud's Raw dog food.

"Well, dogs eat a lot less of this (than conventional dog food)," Adams responded. "About 1 percent of the dog's body weight, twice a day."

"That's not an answer," one of the judges snapped.

Adams finally said his chicken (mixed with organic fruit and vegetables) goes for $5.99 per pound and his beef-based food for $6.49 per pound at the farmer's market. This elicited an elongated whistle, apparent sticker shock, from the audience.

But in the Denver area where plenty of people treat their dogs like four-legged kids, Adams hopes to have 250 regularly subscribing customers within two years and, if all goes well, expand to other states. He takes orders online at www.redbudsraw.com .

"We are after a quality-conscious consumer where no price is too high," said Adams, who says raw food gives dogs a shinier coat, better breath, more energy and easier poop cleanup. "If you're like me and don't have a kid, you can spend it on a dog."

Adams wasn't chosen as one of the four finalists in the Pitch Slam; first prize went to Julie Nirvelli and her Golden-based White Girl Salsa. For winning she received $10,000 worth of essential business services plus the chance to exhibit her wares at the Natural Marketplace tradeshow in 2011.

Despite not making the finals, Adams considered the effort worthwhile.

"It helped me deliver the message about my dog food in a very concise way," he said. "I also thought it was a lot of fun to be in front of those folks who are interested in natural foods, even if mine happens to be dog food, and chat about it. Because that's a world that I worked in for a long, long time."

Whether there are enough consumers who want to feed their dogs raw food - and pay people-food prices for it - remains to be seen. Adams admits veterinarians are divided on whether raw food is beneficial.

Heather Manfre, manager of Chewy's Bonetique in the Lowry Town Center, one of the three retailers that carry Redbud's, says it's too early to tell how customers will respond to it.

"It's very new for us," she said. "We've sampled it out, and some people have come back to buy more. And some of his customers from the farmer's market know we have it, so they're coming here now. But it always takes some time for things to kind of get off their feet here."
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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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