Thinking about the environment while picking up trash locally
Asami Yamamoto, the founder of mellowbear, is from Imabari in the Ehime Prefecture. Her concern for the environment was sparked when she began picking up litter in her hometown.
Asami explains, “When I thought about what I could do for the environment besides picking up trash, I turned my attention to food waste. I’ve always enjoyed baking and was very interested in food, and since my mother used to make everything by hand, additive-free was also something I was familiar with. I started the project after making homemade treats for my three dogs. I thought combining unutilized ingredients and additive-free dog treats could be fun to work with. It felt like connecting the dots.”
“When I began my efforts on mellowbear, I created flyers and canvassed the local shopping streets looking for people who’d support my project. Then, a greengrocer in Hatagaya gave me the thumbs up and began contributing vegetables that would have otherwise gone to waste. From there, mellowbear’s first treats were created.”
“From there, I gradually spread the word and received more and more messages about unused food from friends. For example, a friend who produces food using cod meat asked me if I could use some leftover cod skin, and I also started getting more calls from companies.”
Asami had a particularly strong desire to use venison among many other ingredients that had not been utilized.
“There’s an overpopulation of deer, and about 600,000 are exterminated each year to protect the forests, and most of the deer are buried in the ground or burned. But venison is incredibly nutritious for dogs, too. I wanted to make use of it if I could. So, I went to Nagano Prefecture to talk to hunters and deer processors.”
Treats also foster human connections
Asami is responsible for every aspect of mellowbear, from producing it to selling it and participating in events. Since venison is difficult to process, she asks for help from a business with good hygiene control, but other than that, everything else is handmade. Asami twists and turns cod skins and molds cookies one by one. “It’s a lot of work, but I like it,” she says, her voice bubbling with excitement.
“I get to interact with many different people through the brand. Having a dog makes the town feel like your own, or you start to get to know more people. During walks, I greet them and strike up conversations. It’s enjoyable and fulfilling to see attendees of pop-up events become friends.”
Many unused foods are still presenting challenges, and the concept is still expanding. Asami also wants to create a system not only for processing and producing mellowbear products locally but also for creating jobs for those who have difficulty finding work due to time constraints.
While enjoying treat time with beloved dogs
Asami visits greengrocers in Hatagaya and also different areas to explore food ingredients.
“I now have more opportunities to get feedback from individuals who inform me that certain ingredients are being wasted. I want to explore more and eventually make treats with all unutilized food ingredients. An astonishing amount of food is thrown away daily, so I think I can produce using only discarded ingredients,” says Asami.
Enjoying a moment in the day with your dog with treats is not a stuffy affair but a way to solve food waste. These treats are filled with Asami’s vision.
Asami explains, “The brand concept is ‘We just wanna have fun.’ If food waste is featured up front, it tends to be seen as a bit serious, but treat time is a fun time for both dogs and their owners, so I also made the packaging hip. The message about food waste is written on the back as a secret message, and I hope it will encourage people to think about the environment and take action.”