Entrepreneurial Monks Bake Benevolent Dog Biscuits–Dogs Applaud!

by Mary Haight on June 12, 2009

The recent New York Times article on the entrepreneurial Monks of the ancient Cistercian Order called attention to the vastly different worlds that coexist within this Sparta, Wisconsin Abbey’s walls-the contemplative ring of Abbey bells in a call to prayer, and the frenetic ringing of the office phones, with calls from institutions to individuals ordering high quality, low cost, socially responsible products. When LaserMonks began, it was all about the eco-conscious soy ink printer replacement cartridges; now, with some expert help, there’s coffee, preserves, gift baskets, and Benevolent Dog Biscuits. Of course, the latter piqued my interest!dsc04147monks

I spoke with Sarah Caniglia, who, with partner Cindy Griffith, came to sell their online ink and toner business to the Order, and ended up staying to manage and take LaserMonks products to a whole new level: from $2000 a year to the $4.5 Million business it is today. And only three people do all the work! Monks of any Order, after all, are not intended to be all about commerce. True to their Order, all profits go to charities and to support the community in which they reside.

Sarah, one smart cookie if she doesn’t mind my saying so, thought of the treats concept, noting that the dog biscuit product truly fit the work of the Order: “Monks, and Cistercians in particular, have a long history of being “entrepreneurs” (founded in 1098) and also lovers of the earth and living things…this combination of having to work to support the abbey and the love of animals is a perfect reason for this product.”

And between the Monks and the women, they have their own built-in taste testers, with six dogs licking their chops each day as the ovens emit the heavenly scent of peanut butter, sesame, carrot, and applesauce. (Sarah also mentioned a cat and 3 horses…hmmm, do I smell at least one new product line here?)

“Monks bake the biscuits and this helps them sustain their contemplative lifestyle. Because proceeds are donated to charity (i.e. Canine Companions for Independence as well as Storybook Farm, an equine therapy camp for children with life – threatening illnesses), they chose the name Benevolent Biscuits” says Sarah. It’s obvious they all take their role of producing socially responsible products seriously.

I spoke to Sarah about how the 2007 pet food recall has broken trust with so many people who now actively read labels searching for quality, US ingredients in their companion animal’s foods and treats, and how would their biscuits measure up? Her response follows.

“We are also very conscious of healthy living for the animals…because of this we felt that the biscuits/treats should have natural ingredients.

Our biscuits use wheat flour, natural, unsweetened applesauce, no salt (except for the low sodium chicken soup granules in the Divinely Originals), all-natural peanut butter.

We use no sugar or butter–the only ingredient with sugar are the frosted biscuits and for those we use white frosting, but very little on each biscuit.

We also purchased as many ingredients as we can locally–for example, we purchase the wheat bran in bulk locally from an Amish store.

The idea to bake and sell the biscuits came about because we feel people should always have a choice when purchasing products or services…we wanted to offer healthy, reasonably priced, attractively packaged treats, where the proceeds would benefit good works (which is our business model for LaserMonks and our corresponding sites)that would give consumers a message about us and our mission–we like to call it “commerce with compassion”…we feel when given a choice, consumers will choose the company which sells a product that represents social and ethical responsibility and that donates proceeds back  to communities.”

The Monks, Sarah, and Cindy are looking to build a bakery next year on the Abbey grounds to accommodate growth in the wholesale side of the business, while providing employment for the community.

Wholesale and not-for-profit inquiries are welcome. Benevolent Biscuits are a natural at fundraisers. Stay tuned for new product announcements. You can reach the office at (866) 808-8080 and visit their websites: lasermonks, and lasermonksgreen

If you like Gregorian chants (and who doesn’t?) take a moment to create a peaceful space in your busy life and go to the listening room on their website. Enjoy!

From the book Dog Psalms (also available):

“I Nest

I am dog. I nest. I turn and turn to lie down. I know the basket, the rug, the corner, the couch. I make the place my safe nest. I nest like a bird making sure my place is right. I nest where I can see you, feel you near, hear your voice, guard you. I nest in a ritual of comfort, knowing I am now home.” (publisher, Augsburg Books)


  1. […] Last Summer I wrote about the Order of Cistercian Monks, founded in the 11th century, whose mission is entrepreneurial in nature, and is referred to as “Commerce with Compassion.”  Monks choose work in keeping with a contemplative life, and donate all the profits to charitable causes. They are very much involved in their communities and conduct as much local trade as possible. […]

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