Canine cuisine

MU business school grads on the success of their natural pet market.

Couple with dogs at a pet store
Kyle Schlosser (left), BA ’02, MPA ’06, and Jessica (Jensen) Schlosser, BS BA ’04, MBA ’05, with pets Rocco (left) and Lizzi, namesakes of their natural pet market Lizzi & Rocco’s. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

Published on Show Me Mizzou April 27, 2023
Story by Blaire Leible Garwitz, MA ’06

“Half the time, we like our fur children better than our human children,” jokes Jessica (Jensen) Schlosser, BS BA ’04, MBA ’05. “They listen better than our two daughters, and they don’t talk back! Our pets — five dogs and one cat — are an integral part of our family, and we want all our children, whether they have two legs or four, to live their healthiest lives.”

Jessica and her husband, Kyle Schlosser, BA ’02, MPA ’06, became proud pet parents of Lizzi, a Yorkshire terrier, and Rocco, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel mix, during their time at Mizzou. While researching the very best food for their very good dogs, they realized that many brands contained artificial colors, flavorings, preservatives and low-end ingredients like corn, wheat soy and animal byproducts — stuff that’s hard for dogs to digest.

In 2009 after building a business plan, they launched Lizzi & Rocco’s Natural Pet Market in Columbia. Five years later, they opened a second location and are now a seven-figure company. On the horizon: expanding to offer nationwide shipping on their quality-made, ethically sourced natural pet products, including food, treats, supplements and toys.

The couple says their Mizzou coursework has been essential for making their dream a reality. “My classes shaped how I view all aspects of business ownership and gave me the necessary skills to make intelligent decisions,” Jessica says. “Kyle’s organizational-change courses have been invaluable as we navigate road bumps and effectively tweak things.”

The Schlossers credit their success to meeting the needs of an underserved population — health-conscious pet owners. “Many pet parents view their fur children as genuine family members who deserve the best quality of life,” Kyle says. “Like us, they were having trouble finding healthy pet products.”

Their success is part of the exponential growth of the natural pet food industry, which is expected to become a $21.5 billion industry by 2032, according to Future Market Insights.

“People are taking a more proactive approach to their health, and this is trickling down to their pets,” says Liz Schmitt, vice president of sales and co-owner of Packer Mellem, an independent sales group focusing on natural pet products.

Jessica and Kyle have toured manufacturing facilities to see food production firsthand and won’t stock a product without knowing what ingredients are being used and where they’re sourced. They also look for stock containing ingredients shown to have long-term health benefits.

Since dietary needs vary, each customer receives a personalized nutrition consultation to discuss any pet health issues. Just as in humans, skin irritation, digestive problems and other health conditions can be linked to diet. “We love that we get to be ‘pet health coaches’ and really dig in to find a solution to improve a pet’s life,” Kyle says.

For example, when one customer’s cat, Tela, was diagnosed with kidney failure and given less than six months to live, the team created a made-to-order nutrition plan. Tela lived five more years. “Our customer told us she attributes our help to improving Tela’s health and increasing her longevity,” Jessica says. “Situations like this make our job incredibly rewarding.”

The Schlossers’ dedication to helping pets has not gone unnoticed. In 2022, Jessica was named to COMO Magazine’s 20 Under 40, a list recognizing outstanding professionals under 40 who excel in their industry and are company leaders and committed community citizens.

But it’s not just Columbia that benefits from Lizzi & Rocco’s. Out-of-town pet parents can receive a free nutrition consultation via phone or email — whether they’re customers or not.

“We want the best for all pets no matter their location,” Kyle says. “We’re total pet-food nerds, and helping little creatures is what motivates us every day.”

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