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Dr Lucy McKinna

Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Dr Lucy McKinna

Dr Lucy McKinna – Veterinary Surgeon, BVSc, MSc, MRCVS is Founder of Noochy Poochy – an exciting UK start-up specialising in nutritionally complete vegan dog food and vegan supplements.

Lucy graduated as a vet from the University of Melbourne in 2007 and has worked in small animal practice ever since. Lucy cut her teeth on the entrepreneurship with her stall ‘Fat Salad’, where she sold hungry festival-goers ‘big boxes of healthy stuff’ at some of the largest UK summer festivals between 2012 and 2017. The Noochy Poochy idea started forming 5 years ago while she was living in Brighton. She likes taking her dogs to the park and watching them trundle around. Her biggest hope is that one day someone starts a company making some decent vegan thickshakes.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I graduated from Melbourne University in 2007 and have largely worked as a small animal vet surgeon since then, in both the UK and the Middle East.

Ever since I can remember I have had an interest in sustainability, the environment and animal welfare. I remember asking for a Good Shopping Guide for my birthday when I was 17 – they were actual physical books back then! That book was my bible!

Determined to make the pet food industry sustainable and kind, I started PlantLabs with Tom, my partner. Our first product in our Noochy Poochy range is Noochy Poochy Adult – a complete vegan recipe for adult dogs, with a natural cheese and herb flavour.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

As a dog parent about 5 years ago, I was finding it harder and harder to make it to the pet-shop till clutching my bag of lamb and rice dog food, knowing full well I’d feel infinitely better about the whole transaction if there hadn’t been a lamb anywhere near it – as long as I could be sure an alternative food contained everything my dog needed. There was no doubt in my mind that my dog Kizzy couldn’t have cared less whether there had been a lamb anywhere near it or not, as long as it tasted delicious.

Searching through the limited vegetarian and vegan dog food options at the time, I couldn’t find one where I was happy with both the recipe ingredients and the ‘analytical constituents’ on the back of the pack that could convince me I would be doing a good thing by my dog (as well as all the lambs). It struck me that there had to be other people like me, who would opt to buy vegan for their dogs if there was a premium option available – a complete recipe backed by experts, with an ingredient list that I would like reading through – and that perhaps if I could provide such a recipe, and dogs felt it tasted good, we could revolutionise pet food.

How did you achieve awareness?

We’ve been using a number of marketing platforms, social, in-print and online PR, sampling and advertising. We started off focusing on our core audience i.e. vegan dog owners, but are now looking to spread the message further afield; even if you aren’t vegan you can still feed your dog plant-based. I have a lot of friends who are not vegan – some are vegetarian and some not,  but they are all feeding their dogs Noochy Poochy as their dogs are loving it.

Something that has been a little tricker of late, due to obvious reasons, are trade shows and dog events. We are looking  forward to doing a lot more of these this year. We have also worked with a couple of subscription box services – great for introduction to existing customer bases. We have found that it’s important to get product into people’s hands, and then we let it do the selling itself.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

Up until now we have funded the business ourselves, but as we launch Noochy Poochy Puppy, our second in the range, we are now looking for investors to help take Noochy Poochy and our sustainable NPD to the next level.

What are the key successes?

Getting a brand to market during a pandemic has certainly thrown up more obstacles than we would have encountered pre-Covid. The fact that we are here now and the business is thriving is something we are really proud of.

But mostly, the quality of the product itself, especially as it is  the standard setter for the range. As a ‘complete’ dog food Noochy Poochy genuinely contains everything a dog needs to live a healthy and happy life. We have a 30% organic ingredient content and what’s more, by using wheat-free and plant-based ingredients the recipe naturally omits 6 of the 7 top canine food allergens, commonly found in other dog foods. With a 28% protein content, Noochy Poochy boasts the highest protein content of any vegan dog food in the UK -and higher than most meat based dog foods on the market too!

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Both of us being vegan, we had always intended that Noochy Poochy be a vegan dog food, however it was slightly tricky at first due to the legislation – the pet food industry had never really had to worry about vegan sources of certain nutrients before … we had to do a lot of lab testing ourselves as the information just wasn’t out there! In order to be a nutritionally complete food, the recipe must meet nutritional requirements, which include certain vitamin and mineral levels –  set out by the FEDIAF, the European trade body for the pet food industry. Initially, we struggled finding a vegan source of Vitamin D3, so we had to undertake testing (on product, no animals involved!) in order to check the stability and suitability of our chosen vegan vitamin D3 (made from algae). Results from the trials  were even better than we expected and we are now proud to be able to say that Noochy Poochy is a fully nutritionally complete and fully vegan dog food.

What are your plans now/for the future?

This spring we’re excited to be introducing the second product in the Noochy Poochy range, a complete puppy food – and our first wet food will be arriving soon after that.

We want to keep building our brand and our cruelty free product range, whilst striving to ensure ours are also the best on the market. We aim to be the biggest vegan pet food company in the world by 2026.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

I think some people just aren’t happy being ‘employed’ in a set job role –  and it is that that drives you to start something new. It’s something you can’t ever shake. So if that is you, you do have to just go for it – whether it makes sense to just drop everything and do it, or to build up gradually alongside your day job- it depends so much on your situation and what it is that you are trying to build.

Can you share you top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?

Hahaha I’m not sure I’m at all ready to be giving out tips yet! But I guess, while I’m still figuring it out , the only thing I would really say is to try and partner up with someone who has different skills from you, because unless you are superhuman, doing it on your own is very hard, and for whatever skills you lack, you WILL have to pay a consultant for it (accountant, web designer, graphic designer, the list goes on) – much better that you and your co-founder are able to do as many things as possible  for free.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?

Oh dear I think most of the people who inspire me are dead – like Founder of The Body Shop Anita Roddick or Dr Ignaz Semmelweis – the Father of Infection control

Will Young @therealwillyoung – Will recently chained himself to Huntingdon Life Sciences to protest against the experiments on dogs that still go on. Absolute champion

Sia @siamusic – Sia adopted a couple of 17 year old boys as a single parent. Is fairly awesome in general. What a gal.

Ricky Gervais @rickygervais -Ricky doesn’t have a problem saying exactly what he thinks about cruelty to animals. Also often funny. So glad he is in the world.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

‘Well behaved women seldom make history’ – favourite inspirational

‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’- has got me through a few tough times

What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?