Passionate alum from ChemE launches innovative pet food company

Sofia Bonilla and her dog Snoof.

Sofia Bonilla (ChemE PhD 1T7), an accomplished alum from the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto, has taken her expertise in microbiology, environmental science, and chemical engineering to revolutionize the pet food industry in Canada. Driven by her passion for animal welfare and sustainability, Sofia founded HOPE Pet Food, a brand that combines scientific advancements in alternative proteins with nutritious and eco-friendly pet food.

With a team of dedicated and talented women, Sofia aims to bring positive change to the pet food industry. “I’m mostly proud of the team I lead,” she said. “We are currently a team of five strong, smart, and hard-working women enabling positive change in the pet food industry from formulation to logistics.”

HOPE Pet Food focuses on bridging the gap between nutritious and sustainable pet food by eliminating livestock and fish ingredients, which contribute to a significant portion of the environmental impact associated with pet food production. Instead, the company utilizes evidence-based research and novel ingredients sourced from insects, algae, and fungi to provide a healthier and more sustainable option for pets.

Currently, HOPE Pet Food offers an insect-based line of dog treats, with plans to launch an insect-based dog food later this year. The company is also exploring the use of ingredients from algae and fungi to further enhance the nutritional value of their products.

Sofia’s journey in the pet industry began after years of research in bioprocess engineering, where she developed processes to extract algal proteins in a more efficient and sustainable manner. Recognizing the untapped potential of novel proteins from insects, algae, and fungi in pet food, Sofia founded HOPE Pet Food in 2019 to bring these innovations to pet owners.

Transitioning from a career as a scientist to leading a pet food brand presented both personal and professional challenges for Sofia. Starting the company just before the pandemic, she faced the difficulties of maintaining work-life balance while managing the business and dealing with childcare disruptions. Professionally, one of the main challenges has been communicating the value of alternative proteins, particularly insect proteins, to pet parents who have been accustomed to meat-centric pet food formulations. However, armed with scientific evidence and a passion for change, Sofia embraces these challenges and remains dedicated to transforming the industry.

Looking ahead to 2023, Sofia’s focus is on expanding the business and establishing distribution partnerships to make HOPE Pet Food products readily available to pet parents. She identifies three important trends shaping the industry: sustainability, scientific advancements, and humanization. By prioritizing sustainability, incorporating scientific knowledge, and striking a balance in humanization, Sofia believes the pet food industry can evolve in a more positive and informed direction.

Sofia Bonilla serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of HOPE Pet Food, a brand that exemplifies innovation and sustainability in the pet food industry. With her extensive academic background and dedication to animal welfare, Bonilla is driving change and inspiring others to make a positive impact. Read the full Pet Food Processing interview with Sofia.