Pioneering Portuguese brand Sancho Pancho turns food waste into delicious dog treats

Sancho Pancho owner Daria Demidenko has turned her Santos apartment into a small family business operation that transforms unprocessed food waste from restaurants and markets into delicious and nutritional dog treats. What started as an idea to give the best possible food to her two beloved dogs, has transformed into a growing sustainable dog food business. When she started 2 years ago, it was the first of its kind in Portugal.

I sat down with Daria to discuss what sparked her business idea, how it all started and what exciting plans they have on the horizon for Sancho Pancho.

A love for dogs sparks a business idea

Some of the most ingenious creations come out of seemingly crazy ideas. And Sancho Pancho is no exception. Daria’s entrepreneurial journey began with a desire to leave her hospitality job and create a business that would combine her love for dogs and wish to tackle food waste.

Recounting how it all started, Daria explains her journey to entrepreneurship, “I had reached my limit with my job and decided it was time for a total career change. I got the idea from a friend to make deserts for dogs which I found super interesting and decided to make dog biscuits with cooky cutters out of our kitchen"

She was already making homemade food for her two beloved Xoloitzcuintle dogs, Pancho and Oli, when she started experimenting making dog biscuits using food leftovers, which she sold in Santos Collective, a weekly farmer’s market in central Lisbon. At the same time, restaurant owner and friend Édson Neves had opened Sekai Sushi Bar and was challenged with using up the fish he bought because of changing covid regulations. This sparked the ingenious idea of using discarded fish parts for making dog treats and initiated a new business venture to tackle food waste.

Tackling Lisbon’s food waste with tasty dog snacks

Every month, Sancho Pancho collect 80kg of fish that would otherwise end up in the bin.

In March 2020, Daria partnered with Édson to make a delicious variety of dog treats using fish parts that would otherwise be thrown out. On average 30% to 40% of the fish that Édson buys for his restaurant cannot be used because parts like the skin, backbone, tail and edges are too tough and fibrous for making sushi and other delicacies. However, they are perfect for animal consumption. Using an assortment of cooking equipment, Daria can grind, bake, and dehydrate fish and meat parts into mouth-watering dog treats. Even I am eying up the dehydrated salmon skins, which have become a popular doggie snack.

“From collected ingredients we are making dog biscuits, meat and fish jerky, skin fish chews and even fish oil,” states Daria. “All the products are 100% natural and made by hand. From being just a hobby ‘Sancho Pancho Shop’ has become a functioning business.”

On average Daria collects around 20kg of fish waste every week from Peixaria Veloso and around 50kg of organs every month from Talho Naco and Intercoelho. These businesses are thrilled as Daria can take the waste off their hands, which they would otherwise have to sort out. By partnering with fish mongers, butchers and local markets around Lisbon, Daria is turning food waste into a new resource that fuels the concept of a circular economy.

Inspiring conscious consumer choices

Delicious dog biscuits can be made with an assortment of food leftovers.

Sancho Pancho’s impact doesn’t just stop at their food waste collection. Customers have also been inspired to do their bit by collecting discarded parts from fishmongers and butchers to make food for their pets, and sometimes even for themselves. One customer has gone as far as creating a cookbook with dog food recipes using food leftovers, inspired by a wish to tackle her own food waste. By implementing small changes into our daily lives, we can all have an impact towards creating a future that is more inclined to reuse and repurpose precious resources, rather than wasting them.

Daria explains, “we need to rethink how we treat food. Conscious habits like proper food planning for how much we buy, how we store and use it, and being mindful with the amount we cook to ensure as little food waste as possible, all seem insignificant, but if enough of us do it we can make a big impact. And if we have furry family members, we can look at what type of leftovers can be used to safely feed them.” A conscious consumer lifestyle has been central to Sancho Pancho’s business ethos and more customers are following suit.

Sancho Pancho expands with new commercial opportunities

There are exciting plans on the horizon. Having reached her production limit and outgrowing her kitchen, Daria has been on the lookout for a new commercial space where she can expand her business and has set her eyes on a location near Estrela.

Inspired by CoCasa’s concept, the idea for the new space is to combine a kitchen and shop area with a coworking and event space. Her dream is to not just build a shop, she wants to create a community of likeminded people who can come and mingle, relax, learn, work and be inspired. Down the line there may even be a dog grooming section and coffee shop.

Sancho Pancho has also caught the attention of French supermarket chain Auchan. In their effort to be more sustainable, the food store is turning mature bananas into banana bread which they are selling in their stores, in addition to supplying frozen dog food from discarded animal parts from their fish and meat counter. Auchan have asked Sancho Pancho if they can also use their food waste to make dog treats for their stores, meaning operations will greatly expand, thus needing a much bigger space. 

Changing how we treat food waste

Fish scraps can have a variety of usages, from dog treats to fertilisers and essential oils.  

Food waste is one of the biggest challenges of our time. According to the UNEP Food Waste Index 2021, around 931 million tonnes of food waste were generated in 2019. It is therefore high time that more businesses and consumers treat waste differently. Scandinavian countries are proving that a zero-waste food policy is possible with salmon producing industries using 100% of the whole fish, where parts like the eyes are used to make fertilisers or to generate essential oils.

The United Nations has set a target to halve the world’s food waste by 2030 under one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 12.3), and more companies like Sancho Pancho are jumping on the wagon to fight the food waste challenge. This initiative also involves sustainably managing marine life. This year’s UN Ocean Conference will take place in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July with the theme of “Saving the Oceans and Protecting the Future”.

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