A look into the inspiring life of Sissy McGill, the woman who went against the grain to bring natural pet food to America.
Back in the 1970s, the landscape of the pet food industry was significantly different from today’s. All the big companies had two things in common: they were run by men, and they relied heavily on artificial ingredients. But in one fell swoop, Sissy Harrington McGill changed this. Fueled by a strong desire to make a better product for her beloved animals, the founder of Solid Gold became a pioneer in the pet food industry by insisting on using only the highest quality meats, fruits and vegetables. Against all odds, she introduced the first natural, holistic pet food, improving the lives of millions of animals in the process.
Sissy first discovered the need for superior canine nutrition when she started looking into the best food to feed her own dogs. After losing two of her championship Great Danes to bloat, she did some research and discovered that members of the same breed were living significantly longer in Europe. Determined to give her beloved companions the best life possible, she traveled overseas to find out more. In no time at all, she realized that high quality food was the key to longevity and vitality – and nothing on the U.S. market came close to comparing to a premium pet food in Germany.
Sissy got to work and created her first recipe – Hund-N-Flocken. Made with real meat, whole grains, and nutrient-dense superfoods, this flagship Solid Gold product was unlike anything North American animal parents had ever seen…and they loved it. “For four years I worked off the floor of my living room and out of my garage, handing out samples,” says Sissy. It was during these formative years that Sissy’s brand – and legacy – were built. She earned the trust of consumers, and established her brand as the “gold” standard to which companies would aspire for generations to come. How? By prioritizing quality ingredients that healed the gut and provided balanced nutrition. “I tried everything out on myself first, then my dogs, then friends’ dogs,” she says.
As Solid Gold continued to grow, Sissy cultivated her reputation not only as a provider of holistic pet food, but as an educator, savvy businesswoman, and fighter. She faced numerous challenges, including a great deal of pushback from the FDA, since there was no standard for natural pet food at the time. But despite this resistance, which led to a financially-devastating court case and six months in federal prison, Sissy forged ahead. In 1982 she launched her second product, SeaMeal – an innovative vitamin and mineral supplement. Upon its release, her loyal customer base began to flourish at an even faster rate.
Over the course of four decades, Sissy singlehandedly transformed Solid Gold from a small garage operation into a thriving enterprise. With her innovative products and a great deal of passion, she changed the face of the pet food industry, and taught animal lovers across the country that the food they feed their dogs and cats matters. But as time wore on, Sissy knew she needed to enlist the help of business experts in order to grow Solid Gold into a household name, so that more animals could benefit from its transformative nutrition. In 2014, a private equity firm, VMG Partners, recognized the brand’s potential and acquired the business.
It was during this chapter of the company’s history that Julie Barron was appointed as the CEO of Solid Gold. As an accomplished sales leader with ample experience, Julie was the perfect individual to follow in Sissy’s footsteps. But she knew that the founder of Solid Gold was key to its lasting success. “Sissy is remarkable,” says Julie. “I mean, how many start-up entrepreneurs do you know who can claim they changed an industry? She was a trailblazer — 1974 was a man’s world, but she didn’t give up.”
Under the leadership of two highly diverse female leaders, Solid Gold became an even more positive force in the industry. They launched more products, and established themselves as an educational resource for those looking to learn more about their animals’ nutritional needs. Sissy and Julie worked closely with one another for years, and still keep in touch on an almost daily basis. But handing the torch to Julie also enabled Sissy to focus on giving back to animals in a different way. At the age of 87, she works six days a week at her retail store, Holistic Gold Nutrition Center in California. Through her non-profit, Heart of Gold Legacy, she provides assistance to various organizations that promote the general welfare of animals.
Today, Solid Gold is a polished reflection of its founder. Thanks to Julie’s inspired contributions and Sissy’s enduring guidance, it’s a thriving company that continues to value quality, revolutionary ideas, and most importantly, the health of companion animals. “We’re staying true to Sissy’s vision by crafting recipes that cleanse, balance and fuel for gut health and overall immune support,” says Julie. “I’m proud to be a part of a company that’s helped animals thrive for over 20 generations, and look forward to carrying on Sissy’s legacy for years to come.”