PHOENIX — As a first-generation American Latina entrepreneur, Jess Berger is putting her passion for pets behind building her own brand, Bundle x Joy, while also elevating other BIPOC- and women-led pet care businesses in the process. Berger’s business model revolves around joy and is fueled by purpose-driven partnerships and giving back, providing quality nutrition at accessible prices, and curating a community of pet people that speaks to changing pet owner demographics and priorities.
“We’re not just trying to grow us — we need to all grow together for the industry to actually start to look different,” she told Pet Food Processing.
In the following Q&A, Berger shares how and why she started Bundle x Joy, as well as her advice for other female and BIPOC founders in the industry.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Berger: At Bundle x Joy, we’re about delivering joy to every pet person — that’s really our goal. We’re on a mission to create moments of joy for you and your pup, while celebrating the real pet people behind the pets. Our superfood nutrition and curated bundles create personalized experiences that are making waves on social media.
Some people say I’m building a lifestyle brand because we offer a lot of merchandise for pet people. I don’t know if I truly consider it to be a lifestyle brand, but so much of my life comes back to my relationship with my pups, and I think that resonates with a lot of other people too. We are really connected to our pets, so our goal is to find a way to create that joy for both the pet and the pet person, whether it be a silly little “added joy” item that we add to every order, or more of a fun, whimsical experience all around.
From the nutrition side, we really want to create quality solutions that are accessible to everyone. We already know today that, as the landscape of pet ownership continues to evolve and change, many people may not have $100 to buy a bag of food — that’s just not really an option for them. But we also want them to know they don’t necessarily need to go straight to value options either. We aim to help strike that balance between affordability and high-quality nutrition.
It really all comes back to building a community of real people and serving the unique needs of that community. We also listen to our community to guide our product innovations. For example, we’re launching some new items next year in response to consumer testing, and we’ve let our community be a part of those tests and trial runs. It also brings them on this startup journey with us, which has been really fun.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Berger: I was really fortunate to begin my career at PetSmart, surrounded by amazing leaders and visionaries in the space. I instantly fell in love with the pet industry as so much of my childhood surrounded the moments with our pets. There I learned so much about building a pet business, while also having the opportunity to discover what I enjoyed most about retail and merchandising.
That’s when I began to dream of having my own brand some day, which seemed like a crazy idea at the time. After leaving PetSmart, I had an amazing opportunity to run the Castor & Pollux business, which I honestly loved like it was my own. But I still felt like something was missing. I had my dream job on paper, but continued to feel like I had to fit in a box and struggled to feel represented in my day-to-day.
My journey kept pulling my heart to 2021, when I decided to take the leap and build the pet brand I wished existed.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Berger: When I first shared my ideas for Bundle x Joy, I had many people tell me that no one would ever want it. I remember feeling really disappointed when this happened, as I had respected those peoples’ opinions so much. But I quickly learned that I had to trust my intuition, and to take feedback with a grain of salt.
“We’re not building a brand for everyone, we’re building a brand for people that are hungry for a new kind of pet brand,” said Jess Berger, founder and chief executive officer of Bundle x Joy.
Sara Blakely of SPANX is really transparent about how she stopped sharing her business ideas with others, and had to trust herself enough to pursue her passions. I had to quickly accept that others, especially men, may not connect with our mission — and that’s okay. We’re not building a brand for everyone, we’re building a brand for people that are hungry for a new kind of pet brand. People that love to chase joy with their pets, and even our crazy rollerskates. I had to learn that not everyone’s opinion counts — find those that you respect and trust, and lean into them when you need advice and support.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Berger: Being featured with Luna and Sol on the cover of a pet industry publication earlier this year was such a surreal moment for me. Being featured as a Latina founder on the cover meant so much to my collective team, family and our community of pet people. I mean, I was wearing colorful rollerskates with my two pups, and speaking about my mission to help bring more representation to the industry — it was a dream come true.
More than anything, this cover proved to me that I was on the right path, and that despite the haters, people are ready for more real founders and brands — and that people truly believe in what we are doing at Bundle x Joy.
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Berger: The golden question for me over the last three years has been, how do I tackle bringing more representation to the industry? We’ve tested a lot of different things, and we feel like our 3% Give Back program, our online Joy Shop and our latest partnership with BestyBnB is a good marriage of what we can continue to do.
BestyBnB is a pretty cool digital platform that offers a very private and secure way for people to find overnight care for their pets. Typically, it’s used by victims of domestic violence who need to go to a shelter but aren’t allowed to bring their pets — primarily women, who tend to over-index as victims of domestic violence. We’re launching our partnership with them by supporting a non-profit organization in San Diego, while partnering alongside them to launch an initiative here in Phoenix, where Bundle x Joy is based.
The other aspect of our Give Back program is our Joy Shop which highlights other female and diverse founders and brands in the space. We’re very excited to continue to do that and to bring on even more awareness as we highlight and help consumers find pet products from other small but diverse-owned brands. We’re really focusing on women-owned and diverse-owned brands and bringing that assortment to our community. We’re not just trying to grow us — we need to all grow together for the industry to actually start to look different.
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
Berger: The pet industry is much “smaller” than most people might think. It’s a tight-knit community of people, and it can be a really hard industry to break into. I’ve heard firsthand from startup founders that have had horrible experiences, sharing how they felt very unwelcomed at tradeshows, for example. This is why it’s so important that we continue to encourage the pet care startup ecosystem with programs like Leap and the Black Pet Business Network’s SuperZoo pitch event this week. Diverse founders deserve the same opportunities in this industry, and I’m proud to help support this initiative in any way that I can as a mentor, customer and cheerleader from the sidelines.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?
Berger: Don’t be afraid to pursue your passions over position. Too many people get hung up on the expectation of titles and forget that the pursuit of knowledge can be the most important thing to chase in your career. Take the chances, apply for that job you aren’t sure you don’t feel good enough for, and don’t forget to stand firm in your beliefs, even when it’s not the popular opinion.
You own your career and journey — don’t let anyone else tell you what you “should” do, act like or look like. Be who you are and shine bright for others to see. You never know who you might be inspiring to chase their own dreams.
PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them.
Berger: I’m allergic to cats, so I don’t have any but most of our team does. I love them, they just don’t love me. I currently have two Great Dane rescue pups, Sol and Luna, who are about to celebrate their first birthdays. And yes, I have quite the birthday party planned for them — including the cutest party hats from Modern Beast. They’re the perfect taste testers and love everything Bundle x Joy.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Berger: It’s time that we stop competing. For too long we have been made to believe that there are limited opportunities available to us — and that we have to fight each other to make our mark. But I am hopeful for a different reality where we instead come together in collaboration over competition. But this requires each of us to find ways to work together, and to lift each other up each chance we get.
Until we change our perspective, the industry will struggle to find a place for us. There are some amazing new brands and founders coming on the scene and it’s also important that we also offer time and mentorship to those coming behind us. At Bundle x Joy, we’re beyond passionate about bringing more representation to the industry. If you are too, let’s chat and make things happen together.
Jess Berger joined PetSmart in 2007 and held various roles over her six-year tenure there before joining Prairie Dog Pet Products as senior vice president of sales and marketing in 2014. Roughly one year later, she joined Merrick Pet Care, Inc., as vice president of natural grocery. After exiting the industry to hone her skills in retail and marketing, Berger returned to establish her own brand: Bundle x Joy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing from the Vanguard University of Southern California, followed by an MBA and a DBA from Grand Canyon University.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.