As the old saying goes, ‘the mother of invention is necessity.’ Typically an entrepreneur starts a business because they see a need in their community or they discover a product that isn’t already available to consumers. In Jessica Borneman’s case, her business was started to fill a need in the pet industry for safe, nutritional dog treats that would meet her dog’s needs.
Borneman’s basset-hound/Labrador retriever mix was adopted into their family when he was just 8 weeks old. They chose the name Tank, but he quickly became known as Tanker Tot thanks to Borneman’s husband who thought the dog’s stubby legs looked like tater tots.
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When Tank was about a year old, his parents began to notice signs that he was having trouble with his digestive tract. They switched his diet to a healthy, millet-based dog food, but they couldn’t find a suitable treat that would appease his sensitive stomach.
Borneman had experience as a partial owner and general manager of a pet store in the past, and she decided to use her knowledge of the pet industry to create a treat that would meet Tank’s needs as well as the needs of pet owners who were looking for a healthy and affordable treat for their dogs. She spent two years formulating the perfect recipe, and began Tanker Tots dog treats at farmer’s markets shortly after that.
With some help from her husband, she was able to fine tune the recipe and naturally increase the shelf life of the treats, which is currently six months. The crispy, biscuit-like treats are available in three flavors: peanut butter banana, sweet potato pie and cheddar cheese. The company also offers pupcakes for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
Now, Borneman’s goal is to expand her product line. She’s recently added paw and nose wax, chicken jerky and beer bits. The beer bits are made with the help of another local business.
“The beer bits are made with craft brewer’s grain. Apocalypse Ale was awesome enough to give me a five gallon bucket of spent grain. It’s malted barley. … It was a win-win, they get to stock the dog treats with their beer grains and they get some place for those [grains] to basically be upcycled.” – Jessica Borneman
Borneman only uses human-grade ingredients in her products. She says that industry standards differ greatly from pet food to human food, and she wants her products to offer pets and pet parents the best quality possible. Lindsey Bender, the owner of a local pet grooming salon that stocks Tanker Tots, says that she feels it gives dog owners a lot of peace of mind when she can tell them that the treats are so all-natural they could eat them themselves.
Borneman is so passionate about making Tanker Tots that she makes her own peanut butter from scratch and grinds her own millet flour. She also makes the drive from Virginia to North Carolina every few months to pick up the 400 pounds of sweet potatoes that she needs to make the batter for the biscuits. Although the ingredients vary depending on the flavor of the treats, every Tanker Tot recipe includes millet, sweet potato and vitamin E.
On top of making sure that her ingredients are the best and her biscuits are handmade in small batches, Borneman also took the extra step of registering her dog biscuits, including each individual flavor, with the state of Virginia.
The process is complicated, and Borneman was not required to do it. It involves getting her feed license from the Department of Agriculture, sending the products out for lab testing and registering all her labels and test analysis reports with the state.
The process can take anywhere from 6-10 months, which sometimes brings her new product rollout to a halt. She says it’s worth it though, because it adds an extra level of professionalism to her products that pet owners are very thankful for. The fact that Borneman is so confident in her products and she takes the time to ensure that they are certified safe before placing them on retail shelves, shows her true dedication to pet health.