Can’t Find Good Food for Your Dog? Make Your Own and Start a Company.

By Jeffrey Bonior
courtesy Grandma Lucy’s

Grandma Lucy’s freeze-dried meals always come with quality ingredients — and are Made in America.

Eric and Breann Shook began preparing home-cooked meals for their dog Lucy in 1999 when the English Cocker Spaniel stopped eating her pet food at the age of 11.

“We tried everything out there on the market and really couldn’t find any foods she would eat,” said Breann. “We found one treat, a freeze-dried liver treat that she liked and that’s all it was.

“We were really excited but all over the packaging it said, ‘not for human consumption’ and ‘wash hands after handling’ which we thought was a little odd and kind of scary.

“So we started cooking for Lucy.”

Lucy enjoyed her fresh, new meals and lived a healthy life until the age of 17. After all, the fresh-prepared meals were the kind that Grandma used to make.

And that’s how Grandma Lucy’s, a specialty brand of freeze-dried dog food and treats, began in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. where it has expanded into its fourth manufacturing facility in the past 19 years.

What goes into a pet's meal?

The home-prepared section in the dog food aisle is the fastest growing category in the pet industry today. Freeze-dried or dehydrated dog foods have slowly taken away market share of the standard kibble or can food suppliers.

Grandma Lucy’s uses a freeze-dried process. The process production requires food to be placed inside a vacuum chamber that lowers the temperature until it is below freezing and then moisture is slowly drawn out by raising the temperature. The water originally found in the food moves from a solid to a gaseous state to eliminate of most of the moisture.

The dehydration process that some companies use in their manufacturing removes 90 to 95 percent of the moisture, while Grandma Lucy’s freeze-dried formula removes about 98 to 99 percent.

“We wanted a product that was shelf to table. There were not a lot of refrigerators or freezers in pet stores. so we chose freeze-drying over dehydration,” recalled Breann. “What freeze-drying does is introduces a lot of heat into the products and it really keeps all of the natural nutrients in where dehydrating you have to introduce heat to it for a long period of time and it dries out the products more.

“Also, with the home-prepared category, people want it to be ready fast. They don’t want to necessarily wait for 20 or 30 minutes for the dog food to rehydrate. Some of our products like the Artisan line has a potato base, and you can pretty much just add warm water and give it to the dog almost instantly.”

Grandma Lucy’s also features its Macanna and Performance lines that have either a chick pea or pinto bean base. These meals can take from 3 to 5 minutes of rehydration before your canine is digging into a home-cooked bowl of delectable food.

"We source 87 percent of our ingredients in the United States, 90 percent from North America and anything outside of that is just because it is a better region for that ingredient might be. Like bananas from South America." Breann Shook, Grandma Lucy's co-owner

Unlike kibbles and many dehydration products, when you open a bag of Grandma Lucy’s you will see the same fresh food we cook for our own dinners. Carrots, pumpkin, kale, fruits, celery, hemp hearts and of course the protein that is mixed in with the veggies but also comes in larger chunks to garnish your dog’s gourmet meal.

The proteins include chicken, beef, liver, pork, venison and fish. The mixture of all meals is grain free.

“If you remember the recall on Chinese dog food back in 2005, well, that really put a highlight on where the ingredients are coming from and the inferior quality of ingredients coming from China,” said Breann. “We source 87 percent of our ingredients in the United States, 90 percent from North America and anything outside of that is just because it is a better region for that ingredient might be. Like bananas from South America.

“Our chicken meals, once you add the warm water back in, it turns into a regular, tender white cooked chicken breast. We wanted to make sure we were bringing human-quality ingredients. Since we’ve started, we’ve only used human grade meats and vegetables.”

Rapid Expansion

Grandma Lucy’s pet food is still Made in America and most likely always will be. The Shooks have manufactured in southern Orange County, Calif. since Grandma Lucy’s inception.

“We’ve got to get the U.S. products out there,” said Breann. “Asian markets love U.S. pet food because they don’t trust their own.”

Breann Shook was still in college in 1999 when she married her high school boyfriend Eric. That’s when they began the business with the energy of fervent youth. They grew the business slowly and are sole owners who employ about 25 people at the Rancho Santa Margarita facility and an outside team of about 50 brand ambassadors.

Grandma Lucy’s products are sold in specialty dog food stores throughout the United States, Canada and 11 other countries. The Shooks are currently working on certification from the European Union to further expand.

“Business is really good,” said Breann. “We’ve pretty much had double-digit growth since we started. We still get people that call in and will talk to you for 45 minutes about their dog.”

Grandma Lucy’s is sold in smaller specialty pet stores because a consumer will find a business owner who can educate them about the great benefits of freeze-dried food. You won’t find Grandma Lucy’s in Petco, PetSmart, Target or your grocery store.

They also sell online, and have been able to keep a close balance of sales at brick-and-mortar stores and on their website.

Eric handles most of the machines in the manufacturing plant and packaging while Breann oversees management and sales.

But you can be sure Breann is down in the manufacturing plant every day to witness Grandma Lucy’s production.

“I love manufacturing,” she said. “I can travel all over the United States and visit different manufacturing facilities. I love seeing what everybody does. Actually, next week we are going to Ben and Jerry’s and taking our three children.”

And there is new Grandma Lucy’s mascot, a nearly three-year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel that is appropriately named Lucy #2.

And in case you were wondering, there was no Grandma Lucy in the Shooks’ families.

“She was named after Lucille Ball,” said Breann who, at the age of 38, was born decades after the hit TV show went off the air. “Oh my gosh, I love I Love Lucy. I’ve seen them all multiple times.”

You can be sure that when Eric comes home at night, he doesn’t have to shout out a Ricky Ricardo, ‘Loooossy, I’m home.” Lucy #2 is right there waiting at the door, tail wagging, knowing she will be soon chowing down on a fresh, home-cooked feast, just like her owners.