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As consumers worldwide have a growing appreciation for the value of nutritious natural products, K9 Natural is achieving phenomenal growth as demand permeates to four-legged members of the household.

K9 Natural started as a small family business in 2006, after founder Geoff Bowers experimented and observed the great benefits in dogs being fed a similar diet to that of the grey wolf – getting energy from natural protein and fat rather than carbs. 

While Geoff has now moved on to train dogs at his Kuri centre in Christchurch, the company is being taken to new levels, explains CEO Neil Hinton.

“Geoff was a real advocate for the instinctive feeding movement that was developing globally. A dog’s digestive system is no different to that of a grey wolf – so if you want to feed a dog what it’s designed to eat, it should be similar to that diet.

“We’ve invested a huge amount of money into research. Our nutritionist Mark Roberts has done four years at Massey University, along with funding from AgResearch. After completing his PhD this year, Mark will base himself in the US to tell our story, helping to educate the market on scientifically-proven benefits.”

These benefits translate to felines as well, with the company increasing its focus on cat food over the past three years. “The cat food is flying!” says Hinton. “Now when we go into a new market it’s a 50/50 proposition between cat and dog food.”


New export focus

The company’s export strategy has changed significantly. Its first exported frozen product was to Hong Kong in 2008. Taiwan and the US followed, building to 25 countries at its peak.

“We’re now just focusing on the Asia Pacific region,” explains Hinton. “There’s a massive number of challenges for us exporting into Europe. We’ve learnt lessons in the last couple of years. Developing a category yourself from 18,000 kilometres away, when you’re a small business, is very difficult.

“The US is our biggest market, followed closely by China – which we’ve built from nothing to 20 percent of our business in three years. The US understands the benefits of grass-fed meat, and China’s got a burgeoning middle class who are looking for these products.”

People feel good about feeding their pets with the best nutrition possible, and that’s a great emotional hook. To get cut through, K9 markets in a disruptive, quirky Kiwi way. For example, in Seattle it put together a large-scale free event in a park and called it ‘Bone Appetit’.

“We got a celebrity chef to design a menu based around our ingredients – such as New Zealand green lipped mussels and New Zealand lamb – and laid a table for 100 dogs and their pet parents. It was a phenomenal success and we got onto breakfast TV. We’re now rolling out the initiative in other countries,” says Hinton.

“In the 11 markets we’re focused on, we’ve established ourselves as the pinnacle brand in terms of nutrition and quality. We’re the most expensive, yet we’re growing phenomenally in every market.”

Neil’s top export tips

  1. Be strategic about choosing which markets you go into. Then persevere and work hard.
  2. Once in, keep your long-term goal in mind, but take small steps towards it and learn as you go. Constantly adjust your market strategy.
  3. Long-term it’s key to ensure you have a clear channel strategy, and therefore get your pricing strategy right from the start.
  4. Choose fewer markets and do them better – for example, that could mean being in multiple channels in each market. Go deeper rather than wider.

Article by Catherine Beard, executive director of ExportNZ.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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