Export success for pet food manufacturers


Geoff Bowers and Calvin Smith

A unique product and tireless work to get past food compliance issues have turned K9 Natural into a fast growing business.

K9 Natural was founded in 2006 by Geoff Bowers and Bruce Mayhew to offer a dog food that reflects their dietary requirements. The food is modelled on the diet of a wolf and contains 85 percent meat, blood and bone, and 15 percent fruit, vegetables, eggs and garlic.

Bowers’ history as a police dog handler and subsequent research into the biological make up of dogs led to the development of a raw pet food. From there a connection with German Shepherd breeders Bruce and Judy Mayhew brought the product into fruition.

K9 Natural chief executive Calvin Smith describes raw pet food as the fastest growing pet food market, which has allowed K9 to expand to a point where they now export about 80 percent of their product to 19 countries.

Getting accreditation for the pet food has been one of the challenges for K9 Natural, according to Mr Smith, as there are strict and varying requirements for the importation of food across their export markets. To meet these requirements K9 Natural has every batch lab tested and has NZ Food Safety Authority and EU accreditation.

“Essentially K9 meet the same standards required of human food providers,” Mr Smith says.

“The pet food is either frozen throughout its delivery or freeze dried to ensure that the product arrives in its original condition.”

Sourcing raw materials in New Zealand helps with access to export markets as some countries restrict imports of meat from Europe and the United States (due to mad cow disease), and it has also helped to market the product. Low intensity farming with grass fed, free range animals has provided an advantage over competitors in the raw pet food space, with many of the competitors sourcing ingredients from factory farms which use genetically modified grain and corn.

Despite a history as a managing director of Currency Derivatives at Credit Suisse, Calvin Smith has resisted the urge to hedge against currency fluctuation.

Mr Smith notes that, “Sales to a broad range of countries give K9 Natural a natural hedge.”

He describes growth in Japan, where K9 Natural has already had some success, and potential growth into China, Russia and India, where they would like to expand, as significant opportunities for the business.

K9 has recently started taking online sales and Mr Smith sees an online presence as both an opportunity to drive more sales and a marketing tool to build on the company’s already considerable success.