Homemade heaven for hounds

The Cosy Home pets play an important part in making our house a home. Sara Walker talked to Marisa Jones of Ella’s Pantry, who’s turned her love of home baking into a dog-friendly business.

When Marisa Jones got her first dog, a yellow Labrador called Ella, three years ago, she was determined to be as careful about her dog’s diet as she was about her own.

“I’ve always loved to cook and bake,” she explains. “My husband and I don’t eat ready meals or anything with added artificial ingredients, and it seemed natural to extend that philosophy to Ella.”

Although it was too impractical not to use commercial dog food for the bulk of Ella’s diet, Marisa began making her own dog treats from natural, human grade ingredients so that she knew exactly what her dog was getting. She made them in small batches in her own kitchen, tried them out on friends’ dogs, and soon started getting requests for orders.

“I was between jobs at the time, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to set up a business with the treats,” says Marisa. ‘Ella’s Pantry’ was born in June 2013, and Marisa started selling her homemade goodies at farmers’ and artisans’ markets in and around her hometown of Northwich, Cheshire.

“I recently attended my first repeat event, and about 80% of my customers were coming back for a second time, which was fantastic,” she says. “I just love running the market stall, and Ella sometimes makes a guest appearance – I do have to keep an eye on her through, as she is a typical Lab and would love to run amok among all the homemade pies and goodies if allowed!”

When developing her recipes, Marisa started with a basic precept of ‘simple, natural and homemade’. She consulted a book of dog treat recipes for ideas, researched online and ran each recipe past her vet.

“There’s a list of foods that dogs can’t eat,” she explains. “As well as the obvious things like chocolate, I had to learn all the others and be very careful to avoid them. I now make 15 different types, and recently set up a website so that I could sell online as well. My most popular ranges are probably the fishy ones – tuna, mackerel and sardines, and the sausage squidgies and liver cake. My sausages come from the local butcher and are 70% meat, I then combine them with oats, soft cheese, eggs and oil to make soft treats that are a firm favourite with every customer. I get great feedback on the treats – a lot of customers say that their dogs are sensitive to commercially-made treats, but have no problems with mine. As I use human-grade ingredients, you could even eat them yourself if you wanted to!”

All Marisa’s goodies freeze, and will last for 14 days. She’s currently experimenting with vacuum packing to increase the shelf life, with the idea of reaching a wider market and possibly seeing her products stocked in pet shops and delis.

A new line is her ‘pupcakes’, which have been so popular she’s developed several varieties.

“They look like a conventional cupcake, with a cake-style base and soft icing,” she explains. “One variety is made from peanut butter, honey, oil, wholemeal flour and soft cheese, and I’ve just brought out the ‘offal pupcake’, made with liver and heart. It sounds disgusting, but every dog seems to love them. Unfortunately I can’t sell those online at the moment, as they’re too fragile, but I’m working on it!”

For more information about Marisa’s treats, or to order, please visit www.ellaspantry.co.uk. All varieties are priced at £3 for 150g.

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