How a commitment to human progression created a new US$75 million dog chew category.
What started as a small family business born out of tradition and curiosity, has grown into a complex supply chain and an entirely new industry in Nepal that supports economic growth and social progress.
I accepted an invitation for a dinner gathering at a friend’s house in Bellingham, Washington, with a small group of relatives and friends who had also grown up in Nepal. It was over 20 years ago when I first saw my friend’s dog, Kaos, chewing on a piece of Churpi, a common food in Nepalese culture. For centuries, the traditional hard cheese chew was made by people of the Himalayas to dry and preserve cheese. Although I enjoyed Churpi throughout my childhood, I had never thought about feeding it to my dog – until then.
While I was curious if all dogs might share my love for Himalayan cheese, I quickly learned that the traditional recipe could upset a dog’s stomach. As an aspiring chemist, I knew there was an opportunity to improve the digestibility of the hard cheese chew. With the help of my brother and friend, we spent nearly four years reengineering the ancient recipe – we removed the lactose and lowered the fat content to make it perfect for dogs. And I think it was worth the wait.
In late 2007, we took our first batch of cheese chews from Nepal to a small pet fair back in Bellingham. We started with 100 pounds of chews and sold out within the first two hours. That was a positive sign for our new venture. The following year, we officially founded the Himalayan Dog Chew Company and introduced the first hard cheese chew in the pet industry, creating an entirely new category.
Since our humble beginnings, we have focused on making the safest and highest-quality alternative rawhide chews in the industry and put human progression and economic growth at the heart of everything we do.
Building a Dedicated Supply Chain with a Focus on People, Pets, and Progress
Our first step was to establish our supply chain to locally, and ethically, source the milk and process our hard cheese chews. We ended up building a logistical and training operation in Nepal that will continue to support the growth of this entire category for years to come. From the family farms and hillside collection sites to the dairy centre’s and production facilities, our supply chain is a bit more complex than you might expect for a hard chew made from one simple ingredient: Himalayan cheese.
With the help of my parents back in Nepal, we started working with small family farms throughout the Himalayas that get their livelihood from the milk from their cows. Small farms have always been a critical part of our global community and we’ve always tried to advocate on their behalf; we helped pass the first laws in Nepal to allow farmers to take out insurance on their livestock as capital, protecting the farmers and their families for future generations. In addition to providing these farmers with fair wages and a reliable income from the milk, we offer education on how to care for their cows to prevent disease and keep them in good health. We have multiple checks for safety and quality and follow the strictest production standards throughout our process.
Since the farmers typically have a small number of cows, we work with nearly 45,000 family farms to source the milk needed to keep up the demand for our original hard cheese chews. To help maintain strong relationships with all our farmers, we established an exclusive partnership with Manaram, a local company that is certified by the World Fair Trade Organization, shares our vision for human progression and economic growth and strives to help to eliminate poverty in Nepal through production and trade.
Many farmers will travel long distances by foot, bike, or horse to bring their milk to one of about 1,000 collection co-ops located in the hilly region of Nepal, about 2,600 feet above sea level. Before accepting the milk, we confirm that its being sourced from healthy cows, test the fat-to-liquid ratio of the milk to ensure it meets our quality standards and verify that the farmers are supporting social change and providing education for their daughters. This is the first of many checks for safety, quality, and ethical standards across our supply chain.
We transport the milk collected at the hillside co-ops to one of our dairy centers, which follow the same strict production standards we have in our U.S. facility. We start making our chews by pasteurizing the milk. After separating and removing the fat, or cream, we use our special process to breakdown the lactose. Then, we add a little citrus juice to naturally thicken the milk to create curds that we press into a slab for about 24 hours before we cut them into our famous cheese chews. Much like making beef jerky, we use smoke to dry the chews – and this process takes nearly two months.
Our cheese chews are rigorously tested and inspected before they leave our dairy centers and, again, when they arrive at Manaram’s headquarters in the capital of Kathmandu. At both locations, we conduct testing for moisture, water activity and pathogens. At Manaram, our team sorts and buffs the chews by hand and visually inspects them to make sure they meet our quality standards and do not appear brittle or misshapen.
The journey for our original cheese chews doesn’t stop there – they are packaged and exported to our new, state-of the art facility in Arlington, Washington. Currently, our dog chews account for about six percent of the total native exports for the entire country, and we are continuing to strengthen this industry in Nepal. Once the chews arrive at our U.S. facility, which is certified for quality by SQF and APHIS, they undergo another physical inspection and round of testing to confirm they meet our strict standards before they are transported to our distributors and retailers to reach the pet parents.
From the family farm in Nepal to a pet parent’s home here in the U.S., it takes nearly six months to bring our original cheese chews to market. As a result of the care and attention we have put into this process, we are delivering the safest and highest-quality alternative rawhide chews in the industry.
Supporting Human Progression and Economic Growth in Nepal
When I started this company, I wanted to make a positive impact on the people of Nepal – and it was my parents’ experiences that inspired me to support social change in my home community. My mother never had the opportunity to go to school because she was asked to take care of her brothers and married at a young age, and my father left school without completing 10th grade to help his parents raise his brothers and sisters. These experiences are far too common, which is why the country has a very low literacy rate. Since many public schools in Nepal do not have libraries, I recognized an opportunity to donate books and build libraries in remote areas of the country.
We work through the Manaram foundation to use the proceeds from the Original Himalayan Dog Chew to help protect and fulfill the right to education for children in Nepal. We donate one textbook for every pound of cheese we sell, which has resulted in more than 200,000 books being donated to local schools and libraries. Additionally, we’ve supported the building of more than 150 libraries in remote areas of the country and created dozens of annual scholarships for higher education
In addition to supporting childhood education, we are committed to improving the lives of women. About one out of four women in Nepal are employed and the vast majority (90 percent) of them engage in informal employment and earn below the government’s minimum wage rate, which means they are economically constrained by their employers. It is also customary for young girls to be married off into other families with little-to-no education. I knew education would lead to better job opportunities for girls in Nepal, while also empowering them to seek higher education through scholarships.
Since we introduced the first hard cheese chew for dogs in 2008, this new category of alternative chews has continued to grow and outpace the overall pet treats category. In fact, we have sold more than 35 million of our Original Himalayan Dog Chews in the United States, and interest continues to grow year-over-year. By continuing to build this category as well as our brand, we know the people of Nepal are seeing immediate and positive impacts in their daily lives and we are supporting the human progress and economic growth that has been important to me since the beginning.
Article contribution by Suman Shrestha, President, Himalayan Pet Supply.