By Glenn Baker.
We Kiwis love our pets. Fiona Robertson, a qualified veterinary nurse and teacher, loved her Newfoundland dog Rosie so much that when she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in May 2010, a terminal heart condition common to the breed, she decided to trial a refined human-grade fish oil supplement to improve and hopefully prolong the dog’s life.
Fiona had researched the benefits of fish oil, but because she loves and respects the environment, the supplement had to be sustainable and ethically sourced and produced. It almost goes without saying that she couldn’t find such a product on the local market; so she made the decision to manufacture her own. This is how Newflands animal health supplements came into being.
Fiona’s Newfoundland dogs became guinea pigs for her fish oil product and the results, she recalls, “were nothing short of spectacular”. Coat and skin health improved; Rosie’s arrhythmia became more controlled; and Fiona’s oldest dog, Flame, had increased mobility thanks to improved joint health. The neighbours had also noticed the difference in the health of Fiona’s dogs – so now there was a product and a ready market.
Fast forward to today and Newflands supplements are now distributed around New Zealand through vets, pet nutritionists, pet shops, pet parlours and groomers. Fiona’s top selling lines are Hoki Oil (high in Omega 3, 6 and 9), Newflands Omega-iOil (made from sustainably-grown krill oil), and Newflands Hoki Health Treats (which combine the antioxidant properties of fish oil with the antibiotic and healing properties of local Manuka honey).
Fiona chose the Hong Kong Pet Expo in February this year as the platform to launch her health supplements into Asia. Her decision was made easier by the strong support she had from the Hong Kong Trade Development Corporation, the New Zealand Hong Kong Business Association and Natural Products New Zealand. Plus the fact that English is almost a first language in that market, and Hong Kong is home to some 300,000 cats, 300,000 dogs and 145 registered vet clinics! And did we mention the citizens there dote on their animals like children?
Newflands products stand out in both local and international markets for their sustainability, and the use of human-grade ingredients as much as possible. It’s a premium product which Fiona says was destined for export from day one. But she’s prepared for it to take some four years for the business to get up to speed.
Of course, there is the small matter of strict in-market regulations and compliance requirements to take into account when eyeing up overseas markets, which Fiona says often results in a good deal of ‘treading water’. Complying with regulations, both here and overseas, is also one of the main reasons why they chose to manufacture their products under contract.
Another challenge has centred on raising finance to scale up production to commercial quantities. Fiona says there’s little flexibility out there in terms of funding and she and her husband have had to raise much of the money themselves. However, she has made some progress in organising and leading a pet cluster support group, and believes collaboration is the best way to take on overseas markets. “We must get over this attitude that ‘everyone’s my competitor’,” she says. “It’s a big wide world out there, and we must commit to working together and sharing resources if we are all to succeed.”
Sharing a stand at an international trade show is one way to successfully demonstrate that spirit of collaboration, she says. But she admits that the needs of pet product exporters are all different, which each company at different stages of their export journey. Fiona also knows that many of the smaller businesses are keen to learn from the big export companies.
For now, Fiona is working hard to establish and grow her markets. Australia and Japan are in her sights, and at the time of writing, she was visiting Interzoo, the bi-annual international trade fair for pet supplies held in Germany. Perhaps on the anniversary of her dog Rosie being diagnosed with her heart condition, will come the breakthrough she’s been working hard towards.
Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter.