A beloved pet with a health condition prompted a Fond du Lac couple to create their own all-natural dog treats, with some help from Moraine Park Technical College’s Culinary Arts program.
Kirby, a beagle, developed some health issues, accompanied by certain dietary requirements. Unable to find treats on the market that Kirby could have, that he liked and were reasonably priced, Dan and MaryAnn Maeder of Fond du Lac took matters into their own hands and started Simply Irresistible Dog Treats LLC, developing healthy dog treats that include cookies, mini muffins and Cool Licks frozen fruit cups – all Kirby-approved.
The home-based business was also a way for MaryAnn to be active. Legally blind and dealing with complications from Lyme disease, she became unable to work outside the home. “Dan felt doing something like this would help me feel needed as I had always had a very active and busy life before I became ill,” she said. In addition to running the dog-treats business with his wife, Dan is a senior design software analyst at J.F. Ahern Co. in Fond du Lac.
Both Dan and MaryAnn had learned how to cook and bake from talented family members. MaryAnn had previously worked as an assistant catering manager, and bakers and chefs she had worked with served as resources for in developing the treats. The Maeders also consulted with a veterinarian.
However, before they could sell their new products, the Maeders needed state approval for the labeling. “Dog treats come under the category of small-game feed and have strict regulations,” said MaryAnn. “I also had many questions regarding baking specifics, healthy alternatives, packaging, marketing, etc."
Since Dan had been a CAD instructor at Moraine Park, he suggested they contact the College. The Maeders were then directed to Ron Speich and Tom Endejan, two of the Culinary Arts program instructors.
MaryAnn brought her products to the Culinary Arts kitchens to be assessed by the instructors and students. “They answered my many questions, and led me in the directions I needed to go,” she said of the culinary team. “They calculated for each of our recipes the state-required information we needed. So without this part alone, the license process would have been a long one for us.”
Speich said it was a good experience for the students to assist someone who was starting a food-related business. They used a software program that calculates calories and nutritional information to create the required nutrition and ingredient labeling for the products. In addition to the nutrition content, they discussed ideas about packaging and where to market the treats.
“The Maeders aren’t marketing this product to the dog – they’re marketing it to the customer who buys it for the dog,” said Speich. “My students always love thinking of ways to sell products. It’s great to help someone who needs help.”
Mike Wetzel of West Bend was one of the Culinary Arts students who assisted the Maeders and gained some real-life experience in nutritional labeling from the project.
”I used the skills I learned in my classes with Ron Speich and was able to do a nutritional analysis on each of the products she was making,” said Wetzel. He enjoyed providing some guidance and knowledge to the Maeders to help them achieve their goals. “I thought the project was great and would do it again if need be,” he said, then quipped that the organic dog treats “actually do not taste bad!”
“I am very thankful to them and also feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with such great and talented people,” said MaryAnn. “For them to take the time and the effort to help me says a lot about their character.”
A team of dogs acting as taste testers gives the treats the final assessment from the canine consumer perspective. The team includes the Maeders’ own dogs, including Kirby, and those belonging to friends, dogs that are healthy and those that have conditions. Cigi, one of the Cool Licks taste tasters has ties to a celebrity, being a cousin to the Obamas’ Portuguese water dog, Bo. Cigi and Bo have the same grandfather.
Sales have been good, especially in the summer and the holiday seasons, MaryAnn said, with customers ranging from Fond du Lac to California. Family and friends pitch in when needed. The dog treats are sold from their home and at the Fond du Lac Farmers Market. For more information about Simply Irresistible Dog Treats, call 920-921-7464 or 866-342-1073.
For more information about Moraine Park’s Culinary Arts program, visit www.morainepark.edu and click on Academics.