Ben Whitelaw with Barley Bones biscuits.
photo by John Shearer
Chattanoogan Ben Whitelaw has started a new business venture that has literally gone to the dogs – in a good way.
The 34-year-old recently began selling at several local businesses his Barley Bones-brand dog biscuits, which he believes provides good health to both man’s best friend and the environment due to the recycled food products used.
Using locally sourced, all-natural products made from beer-making wastes, he already has the products placed in four diverse local businesses.
“It’s been going pretty good,” he said. “It’s been steady growth.”
The McCallie School and University of Tennessee graduate’s idea for the product developed over several years. A local commercial brewer, he started his business after trying to figure out what to do with the spent grain used in the brewing process, other than just throwing it away.
As a result, he came up with a concept of developing dog treats that would possibly provide some green for him in the form of income and be green for the environment.
Although the concept was relatively simple, perfecting an ideal recipe was not. As he learned, much time was required to figure out what leftover products to use, and how to best dry them after they became moist in the brewing process.
“Originally it started about four years ago, and I started getting more serious about three years ago and worked on different recipes for dog biscuits,” he said.
He also wanted to develop a dog biscuit that stays together, is tasty to a dog and is healthy, and has an adequate shelf life.
What resulted was an all-natural biscuit that has spent barley, organic rye and organic oat flour, but no wheat or corn. It also has as many locally sourced ingredients as possible and regularly comes flavored with peanut butter or cheddar cheese, with such flavors as sweet potato and honey also now being introduced.
“The whole concept was to be an old general store dog biscuit,” he said, adding that he is not trying to focus on the boutique-style dog biscuit market. “I wanted really simple recipes.”
Just as developing the suitable recipe for the dog biscuit was not easy, neither has been trying to develop an ideal wholesale marketing plan.
His first big opportunity, he said, came earlier this year when the Blue Plate/Local 191 near Ross’s Landing voluntarily offered to hand out samples and sell the bags of the Barley Bones treats at their dog-friendly establishment.
The gesture gave him not only some help, but an idea as well.
“That sparked in me that I should focus not only on retail establishments, but also dog-friendly establishments – places with patios that allow dogs,” he said.
“And I see the dog-friendly locations as a great way of connecting the product with the intended customers. They (the dogs) get to experience the product in a relaxed environment. This is great because often dogs will not eat a treat when in an unfamiliar or busy environment.”
Later, he was able to start selling the treats at the Moccasin Bend Brewery in St. Elmo, which allows dogs in its beer-tasting room. As a result, the dogs get to enjoy some barley and rye while their masters enjoy some hops!
Being able to sell the product at the Moccasin Bend Brewery caused his marketing strategy to be tweaked yet again.
“That’s the kind of thing I’ve wanted to focus on,” he said. “Anybody who takes their dog to a bar or restaurant, that’s the target market. They are going to pay attention to what their dog eats.”
And more recently, he was able to sell the treats in his first retail store establishment – the natural pet supply store, Nooga Paws, at 2 North Shore – as well as Pruett’s Signal Mountain Market.
Mr. Whitelaw, who said he is starting to meet people who know him as the one who makes dog biscuits, said he has been pleased with the way the business is going.
He has a website (www.barleybon.es) and is optimistic about future growth.
“It’s kind of like a snowball slowly rolling down the hill,” he said. “We’re still at the top of the hill, but I feel like were at the point it’s starting to roll.”