Philly startup delivers fresh, human-grade dog food

A new Philadelphia dog food startup wants to change the way you think about feeding your pets—rather than reaching into a bag of food for some stale kibble, you should open your fridge for some fresh ponzmo.

A locally sourced and Philly-made pet food brand, ponzmo provides owners and their pets with preservative-free and human-grade dog food. It’s delivered your door, frozen in perfect portions for your pet, what founder and head chef Damian Zaccaria calls “farm to dog bowl.”

“You can actually see all of the ingredients. Even with ultra-premium dog kibble, it can be hard to know what your dog’s really getting,” Zaccaria said. “Your dog can tell the difference between a bowl of fresh-made food and store-bought kibble.”

Zaccaria was inspired to craft ponzmo by his own picky dogs: Ponzu the Boston Terrier and Queso the French Bulldog. He said that Ponzu was never enthusiastic about eating—until he combined his passion for cooking and love for his pets to begin preparing meals for her.

He said ponzmo has all of the benefits of a homecooked diet without any of the drawbacks. He explained that, when many owners cook at home for their pets, they don’t quite do it right. Such homecooked meals often lack in essential nutrients, as owners don’t typically have the time or resources to ensure that their pets are receiving a nutritionally balanced diet.

But ponzmo is specially formulated and guaranteed to meet all of a dog’s dietary needs, Zaccaria said. He worked with veterinarians certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition to formulate recipes and to create an algorithm that determines dogs’ exact calorie requirements based on factors like weight and activity level. To guarantee compliance with the Association of American Animal Feed Control (AAFCO), a sort of FDA for pets, he regularly sends random samples of a prepared batch of ponzmo to an independent pet nutrition lab for analysis. So far, he said, all of the analyses have been positive.

The main ingredients in the original ponzmo formula include chicken, chicken liver, sweet potato, rice, cauliflower, and green beans, which are baked, steamed, or boiled at low temperatures to maintain nutritional integrity; owners can view a full list of ingredients and guaranteed analysis on the ponzmo website. The startup recently debuted grain-free beef formula, but even with grains, Zaccaria said that ponzmo is a cleaner eating experience than most commercial “limited ingredient” dog foods.

“The most rewarding part of all of this is getting to see the impact on these people’s family members. Because that’s what they are—dogs and cats are our family. And I get the opportunity to meet them and play with them. I see their shinier coats and increased energy,” he said.

Zaccaria created ponzmo in part to spend more time with his own furry family members. After the venture began overwhelming his weekends and evenings, he left his job in finance and began using his MBA to help the dog food startup thrive. Now, since June 2017, he’s been preparing ponzmo in an FDA regulated and compliant West Philly kitchen alongside owners of countless food trucks and culinary entrepreneurs who share the space.

“We’re the only non-human product there. I get a lot of funny looks, but everyone is always very interested,” he said. “I didn’t know this type of dog food was a thing myself until I started doing it.”

Zaccaria said that what sets his brand apart from other existing fresh delivery pet foods is ponzmo’s dedication to hormone and antibiotic-free meats. He also guarantees to give back to the Philadelphia community. In addition to donating a portion of his human-grade ingredients to a cooking program for West Philly youths, he delivers some of each batch of the finished product to two of the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, locations for free. Zaccaria also donates a portion of ponzmo’s proceeds to the rescue.

The brand is currently prioritizing building a consumer-base in addition to creating new formulas—Zaccaria has his sights set on a recipe for cats, and he’s hoping to build awareness at dog parks and dog-friendly events throughout the city. Owners and their dogs will have the opportunity to try some ponzmo at Philly-area events. Past events include Dinner with Your Dog at On Point Bistro, where owners received a bowl of ponzmo for free with their owner’s meal.

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