“The baby’s all grown up,” says founder Patrick Meiering with a laugh.
It all started on the fateful day in 1995 when Patrick was hiking near Durango, Colorado with his beloved chocolate Lab, Zuke. They were working hard, and Patrick realized Zuke needed an energy bar as much as he did. Inspiration struck, and the idea for creating a natural energy bar for dogs was born.
Patrick researched nutrition — healthy ingredients have always been a hallmark of Zuke’s — and was soon grinding vitamin supplements into meat in his garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As luck would have it, he had a very willing product tester.
“Zuke tried everything. I knew what I was putting into it, so I could sit there and feed him . . . and see what happened,” Patrick recalls. “I’d give him a PowerBone, we’d go out for a hike in the Sandia Mountains and I’d say, ‘How are you doing, Buddy?’ Was it too much carbohydrate? Is he spiking up really fast and then getting tired at the end of the run? Is it a nice, smooth energy level throughout his hike?”
Patrick would also share products with other hikers with dogs and ask them to let him know how their pups liked the products. Encouraged by the response, he started looking for investors in his fledgling company. But he met with a lot of skepticism that consumers would care about nutrition for dogs, so his main investors were family members. His brother Chris also invested sweat equity, teaching himself coding to create the first Zuke’s website and helping hand-pack bags of treats in Patrick’s garage.
Patrick is grateful for the early and ongoing support from his family and friends because he faced all the challenges small businesses face, such as finding the right employees, and how to pay for everything.
“‘Do I sell my car this week so I can make sure I have labels for the packaging later? Do I move out of my house and live in my office?’ There were all those challenges,” he says. “Of course, looking back 20 years later, it’s ‘Oh, that was fun!’”
Patrick decided to move the Zuke’s ‘World Headquarters’ — himself and one paid employee — to Durango in 2001 because he felt the town’s outdoorsy lifestyle fit his vision for the company — as well as his own life.
“It was active, it was pine-scented air, it was running streams, it was all these amazing things. That’s what represents this brand.”
Patrick wanted Zuke’s to be about more than healthy ingredients in dog treats — he wanted it to be about people ‘fueling the love’ on outdoor adventures with four-legged friends. That concept attracted fellow dog lovers as the company grew.
“We became family — and yes, the dogs came along too.”
Employees brought — and bring — their dogs to the office. Patrick says dogs increase productivity and decrease stress in the workplace as well as at home.
“It’s this magical connection where your dog just looks at you and says, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re happy — I’m going to be happy with you.’ Or ‘You’re sad — I’m going to lie down and droop my ears and be sad with you,” he says. “It’s one of the most amazing, awesome things about having a dog — I love it.”
Combining nutrition with an active, adventurous canine culture has proven successful for Zuke’s. From the flagship PowerBones offering, Zuke’s has grown to offer over 90 different products. In the last six years alone, Zuke’s has sold over 29.7 million pounds of treats.
But that’s not Patrick’s biggest success marker.
“What I love is we were efficient, we were effective. We maintained our integrity through the process. It maybe took longer for our company to build, but the heart that was beating inside of it was very strong,” he says. “We continued to care, and we continue to care. There’s this wholesome wish that we’re leading better, healthier lives together. That’s probably the thing that I’m most proud of.”
Now Patrick and his wife Mindy fuel the love with their dogs Trek and Ellie, and Patrick works with his brother, who is now the Director of Innovation and ‘BoneGyver,’ to continue conceiving new ideas for healthy pet treats. He is excited that dogs are increasingly considered family members in today’s society.
“I think it’s the natural evolution of the human/dog bond. It’s been going on for thousands of years now. We’re at this wonderful new place.”
Patrick hopes Zuke’s will continue to support and strengthen that special bond in the next 20 years. And he’s grateful to all the dog lovers in the Zuke’s community.
“Your dog matters. Your time together matters,” he says. “I’m getting fired up about the next 20 years.”