Last week, I spoke with Emma Gibbons, owner of innovative pet brand, Huds and Toke, and recipient of the Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award (RWA) Queensland, 2023.
We explored innovation, entrepreneurship, her road to the RWA, and beyond.
Emma’s journey in entrepreneurship began while she was in school.
“I’ve always been extremely entrepreneurial, since I was in grade 9,” said Emma.
“I was the eldest of 4 kids and I was obsessed with horses and animals – I really wanted to go to a horse event or a gymkhana so I created my own gymkhana at our property,” she said.
“I made the ribbons from scratch, wrote the programs, selected the judges, and invited people – sometimes we had 40 riders of both senior and junior level.”
Emma says this keen interest in animals has always been a driving force in her journey.
She pursued a diploma in Applied Science, Majoring in Animal Nutrition and Production.
“My course was a stepping-stone to becoming a vet, originally,” said Emma, “but I couldn’t quite handle the blood and gore.”
Taking a step back, Emma decided to experience life, going backpacking, working in agriculture, managing picking crews, before circling back to entrepreneurship.
“I ran few other crazy businesses along the way, but I had a good hard look at myself and said I want to follow my dream in [working with] animals,” said Emma.
This ambition was realised in her business, Huds and Toke – which Emma, and her husband Russell run together.
“I noticed a big gap for horse treats in the Australian marketplace and got into wholesaling pet products," said Emma, "we became the first horse treat manufacturers and are now the biggest horse treat producers in Australia.”
Evolution and invention
As Australian markets evolved, so did Huds and Toke.
While items like bone marrow and broth began to saturate the market for human consumption, ingredient availability for pet food began to diminish.
Looking to trends across the globe, Huds and Toke made the bold decision to explore insect protein.
“We started our own insect farm, with mealy worms,” said Emma, “but I soon realised my strengths and interests lay in manufacturing rather than agriculture.”
Emma reached out to businesses in Queensland and Victoria – experts in waste management and upcycling – to develop sustainably produced insect protein for pet food.
“We’ve got quite a few prototypes on the ground, testing what the dogs prefer – insect powder, quantities, diluted with different products,” said Emma.
This pioneering innovation is what landed Emma in the running for the RWA.
The Rural Women’s Award
Emma says the RWA has been one of her most positive experiences, from start to finish.
“I rang them after the interview process and thanked them, it was really uplifting,” said Emma, “in some instances, you can feel like you’re under fire when you’re on panel, but through the whole process I felt really supported.”
She noted that the connections made through the RWA network comprised one of the most meaningful aspects of the experience: “It’s a women led group and they’re building that support and creating equity,” said Emma, “I feel like I can ring some of them now and I’m not so alone.”
She says that winning the RWA has emboldened her, driving her to take chances, and seize opportunities.
“It's given me a lot of confidence in myself, in our brand and our capabilities, and just being recognised as being an innovator, giving me a voice to speak up a bit louder,” said Emma.
She is passionate about using this platform to enhance collaboration and create better: “let’s put our heads together and we can be twice as good.”
“I’ve really thought about how I can build on this win to leverage our business and our products," said Emma, "I’ve approached businesses to ask, How can you work with me to help promote our sustainable products? How can you work to build this with me?”
Emma’s essentials for innovation.
Emma values collaboration, sustainability, and positivity.
“Our factory motto is Positivity equals productivity, and productivity equals positivity,” said Emma.
“Our products have to create a positive effect, we’re so attached to our dogs and our horses, it has to be emotional.”
Huds and Toke’s motto, Creating awesome memories, is about capturing that joy, and celebrating these special relationships.
On a greater scale, Emma strives to bridge gaps in industry to create game-changing, sustainable products.
“We really want to create planet friendly pet products, and we see this huge gap in collaboration. We want to collaborate more with producers, with our insect protein specialists, our packaging guys in Brisbane,” said Emma.
Emma's journey epitomises some of our core values and passions here at the Sustainable Innovation Co.
We're inspired everyday by bold women - disrupting the status quo, driving innovation, and leading change to create better, brighter futures for each one of us.
We can't wait to see what else Emma has in store, and we're excited to watch her represent Queensland as an RWA national finalist, this September.