June 18, 2014

“Innovation is very delicate,” said Richard Thompson, CEO of Freshpet, a fresh, all-natural, refrigerated pet food. “Risk taking is important. Retailers have to put a fridge in their stores to sell our product. That was hard to sell at the beginning.”

Thompson’s comments came during a breakfast speech to members of the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth.

“Dry dusty kibbles and mystery meat in a can? We thought we could use some innovation,” said Thompson. “Dogs are slowly becoming more and more human-like. They started in the back yard, now they are in the house and now they are even in the bed. We wanted to capitalize on the natural pet food trend. There are at least 14 percent of households that cook for their dogs.”

Thompson is no stranger to risk.

He invested in Freshpet in 2006 after years of manufacturing everything from table centerpieces at Pizza Hut to spaghetti and oil products.

“We are in 12,000 stores so it seems to be working,” said Thompson, who just opened his ninth factory, a state-of-the-art plant in Pennsylvania.

Thompson also spent years building the Meow Mix brand after he purchased it for $176 million from Nestle Purina, and then sold it for $720 million.

“Everybody remembers the jingle,” said Thompson. “Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, it is still one of the most recognizable jingles in the branded arena and that’s just good marketing.”

He advised business owners to always be looking ahead, no matter what field they are in.

“There are always plans for more,” he said. “The one piece of advice I would give? Control your destiny. Don’t leave it in someone else’s hands.”

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