Beautiful Joe’s and the Buy-One-Give-One movement

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Beautiful Joe’s and so we thought it might be interesting to explain how we came to start making and giving away dog treats.

If you cast your mind back to 2013 (it was the year Prince George was born, Alex Ferguson retired from running Manchester United, and same sex marriages became legal – still can’t place it? – ‘Gangnam Style’ was in the Top 10 charts for 17 weeks and ‘The Great British Bake Off’ became a national obsession), an American business called Toms Shoes was starting to make waves here in the UK.

Launched in 2006 by a young entrepreneur called Blake Mycoskie, Toms Shoes gave away a pair of shoes to a shoeless person for every pair of shoes it sold. Within a few years, other companies in different fields had followed suit. An optician called Warby Parker had teams of opticians working in poorer countries, giving away a free eye test and pair of spectacles for every pair of spectacles sold. This Bar Saves Lives was giving a meal to a hungry child for every snack bar sold. Figs, which serves the medical sector, was giving away sets of scrubs for every uniform sold. Better World Books was giving away a book for every book it sold. Twice as Warm… but you get the picture, the ‘buy-one-give-one’ (aka ‘one-for-one’) movement was very much in the news.

Honey’s has always operated a policy of quietly giving back. Quietly? We never want to be one of those companies that brags about how charitable they are. We publish our policy (in a nutshell: we never turn any good canine cause away, run a free-to-all canine nutrition education programme and healthcare service, give 1% of sales to Compassion in World Farming, and make regular donations to Rainforest Trust), but try not to make too much of a fuss about it. We believe, as the Romans would have said, in ‘factum non verbum’ or ‘deeds not words’.

In 2013, when Honey’s was four years old, we came to the realisation that our plans to give away meaningful amounts of dog food to local rescue centres was unfeasible. Our costs (free range, organic and wild, British sourced meat, for starters) were too high and our margins too slim to do more than donate the occasional hamper. What could we do instead? For several years, we had been making air dried liver treats for our own dogs – a batch here, a batch there. These we could afford to give away, although only in limited quantities. Which is when we saw the possibility offered by the one-for-one concept.

Like so much that happens at Honey’s HQ, the launch of Beautiful Joe’s was very much a communal effort. Team members often worked in their spare time to build the first drying room, find a local supplier for our little yellow tins, source pasture-fed ox (aka beef) liver, identify suitable recipients to donate the treats to and all the other innumerable tasks required to turn our Big Idea into a reality.

One of the biggest decisions was what to call the treats. After much debate, we decided to commemorate a once famous, nineteenth-century dog who had helped to champion animal rights. Beautiful Joe was rescued by Margaret Saunders after she saw him being brutalised by a farmer in Canada. Saunders decided to tell Beautiful Joe’s life story from his own perspective (the book opens: ‘My name is Beautiful Joe, and I am a brown dog of medium size’) a literary device that had been employed by Anna Sewell when writing ‘Black Beauty’ a few years earlier. The result was a massive best seller with over a million copies sold in the five years after it was published in 1893. Saunders spent the next half-century campaigning with considerable success against animal cruelty. Anyway, as in our own small way we wanted to do something to support animals, it seemed an appropriate name to choose.

When we began to contact different rescue centres to see if they would be interested in receiving some free treats we were delighted by the response. Indeed, one thing we have never been short of is potential recipients. Why the demand? Rescue centres use the treats as treats, of course, but also as training aids (thus helping dogs to find new, forever homes). Many rescue centres also decided to sell Beautiful Joe’s – a double win as they not only raise extra cash but can also claim the free ‘give away’ treats for themselves.

At this point, in case you are unfamiliar with our treats, we should explain that they are completely natural. Nothing whatsoever is added. All we do is take pasture fed ox liver or free-range lamb lung and slowly, slowly dry it. As it dries the flavour is locked in. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that dogs (and cats) go absolutely crazy for the result. What about the little yellow tins mentioned above? Our snazzy yellow Training Tins are the ideal way to store treats especially when you are out and about. If you fill one with a few treats and rattle it, you may be surprised at how effective this is in attracting your dog’s attention. You may also be surprised at how good their hearing turns out to be!

One of the interesting aspects of the ‘buy-one-give-one’ movement has been how its proponents have developed and extended their charitable objectives. Toms Shoes, for example, found (after donating 95 million pairs of shoes) that, in the words of its founder ‘giving is really hard’. Before he sold the company, Mycoskie switched to other forms of giving and the same has happened at other ‘one for one’ businesses. World of Books, to offer another example, is on track to donate a million books by 2025, but has also helped raise over £55m for various charities and has supported more than 39,000 authors.

At Beautiful Joe’s we haven’t changed our core strategy, but we have altered the operating details. Until recently, we were strictly ‘one-for-one’ i.e., for every packet of Yummy Liver Treats we sold, we gave a packet away. However, after nine years we eventually had to put the price of our Yummy Liver Treats up. Indeed, for the last few months they have retailed at £8. True, what our Yummy Liver Treats customers are really doing is buying two ‘£4’ packets (one for their own dogs, one for dogs in need) but since the increase we have still seen sales of our Yummy Liver Treats drop. To counter this, we recently introduced a second flavour, Tasty Lamb Treats, for just £6. We give away a packet of Tasty Lamb Treats for every ten packets sold.

How successful is our revised strategy? Well, to date, thanks to the generosity of our customers, we have donated around 120,000 packets of treats in total, worth a smidge under £500,000 and we intend to double this by 2027. We think the two flavour, two price point policy is what will make this possible.

Which brings us to our final but perhaps most important point. As we have already mentioned, the fact that we gave been able to help so many dogs in need is entirely down to the generosity of our customers. Thank you, thank you, on behalf of the tens of thousands of dogs who have benefited from your kindness over the last decade. We hope that you will continue to support us and to spread the word amongst your dog loving friends and family.