Luca & the Five Girls Serves up Organic Dog Treats

by | Jun 2024

Luca and the Five Founders of Luca & The 5 Girls

Emery Engelsma, Lauren Seim, Elli Johnson, Rylie Nelson and Kate Johnson. The 17-year-old Edina High School students are the founders of Luca & The Five Girls, an organic dog treat company. Photos: Chris Emeott

What started as a summer camp project becomes a full-fledged business for five Edina friends and their puppy playmate.

The summer of 2017 was like any other until five Edina friends gathered for what they thought would be routine playdates with neighbors. What they didn’t realize was that these imaginative interactions would become the platform of a business soon to take off.

The girls at age 6 during their first summer camp with Susan Johnson.

The girls at age 6 during their first summer camp with Susan Johnson. Photo: Luca & The 5 Girls

At 10 years old, twin sisters Kate and Elli Johnson gathered at their aunt Susan Johnson’s house with three of their neighborhood friends—Lauren Seim, Emery Engelsma and Rylie Nelson—for fun-filled and creative activities. From painting canvases to designing T-shirts, Johnson led this inseparable group into endeavors that allowed them to think outside the box. “Our mantra is: ‘Think big and believe in yourself,’” Johnson says.

As confidence and skills grew, the girls set their sights on starting a business together. At first, they considered running a lemonade stand, but Johnson challenged them to stretch their horizons and be imaginative.

“Dogs were a common interest, so it made sense to start there,” says Kate, now 17. Her aunt’s dog was the original mascot for the group, inspiring the company’s first naming iteration, Luca’s Dog Boutique. The small but mighty team got to work on researching recipes to bake and test in Johnson’s kitchen.

Luca, the mascot of Luca & The Five Girls.

Luca, the mascot of Luca & The Five Girls.

When reviewing initial research, the team discovered the lack of organic pet treats across the market. “We saw that organic food was becoming more popular, and we wanted to create a dog treat that matched the quality of food we consume,” Rylie says. “We looked at lots of dog treats on the market and saw they contained lots of preservatives and sludge, so we decided to create a treat that was healthy, organic and high in protein.”

“We are really proud of our ingredients,” Lauren says. “We think it’s important to feed our dogs healthy food, just like we feed ourselves.”

They knew they couldn’t be alone in their sentiment. Ahead of the curve, the girls saw the opportunity for organic treats and went with it. “We found that people who tend to prefer organic food want that option for their pets, too,” Kate says.

Next came the packaging. “At first, we went to Paper Source and got bags and ribbons,” Johnson says. “We would hand draw dogs on the tags, personalize them, give them names,” Kate says. At 5 a.m. the first morning of selling, the girls were out on Sunnyside Road, treat bags in tow, ready to make a mark on the community. Very early on, the girls learned to overcome obstacles. Instead of turning away cashless customers, the girls provided a self-addressed envelope for the customer to mail payment when they were back home. Soon after, the brand became Luca & The Five Girls.

Luca & The Five Girls Packaging

Their treats, called Nummers, come in unique and traditional flavors. Besides chicken and beef, there is peanut butter and pumpkin among others. Along with organic ingredients, the girls focused on human-grade, high protein and grain-based recipes to help keep pets satisfied for longer. They use organic bases, such as peanut butter, eggs, milk, chicken and beef broths. Many of the ingredients are sourced from Minnesota suppliers.

Each bag of treats features a playful profile of Luca and an avatar of each of the girls swinging, jumping or lounging on Luca’s soft black and white fur. The partnership with the packaging designer has been a fruitful one throughout the entire design process. “We had many meetings, and the packaging would go through evolutions,” Emery says. “Every session we had, it would get closer to what we were looking for. We were a huge piece of what it looks like now.”

Fonts and colors were only pieces of the puzzle. “We wanted our personalities to show on the packaging,” Lauren says. Kate adds, “We wanted to keep the brand our own.”

While the girls continue to have affection for dogs (and each has their own furry roommate now), their dedication to community is what stands above all else. When first starting out, the company hired seniors and people with disabilities as bakers. They continue to donate part of their proceeds to support organizations, such as the Animal Humane Society, People and Pets Together Food Shelf, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Highlands Elementary and many more.

“I love that we have been able to create a name for ourselves and build our company into something that is known across multiple Midwest states,” Rylie says. “I hope that Luca & The Five Girls will be a well-known international brand in five years.”

Luca & The Five Girls dog treats are available in local stores, such as Lunds & Byerlys, Jerry’s Foods and Ace Hardware. The team also makes appearances at pop-up shops, farmers markets, fundraisers, the Edina Art Fair and the Edina Car Show. And they never stop innovating.

“We’ve gotten a ton of requests for cat treats, so we may have to add more products,” Kate says.

Luca & The Five Girls
Instagram: @lucaandthefivegirls


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