Most people think Icebreaker founder Jeremy Moon has been laying low since he sold his merino clothing business in 2018, but in fact he has been busy at work on his latest passion project.
Over the last two years Moon has been developing and building a pet care business, which is gearing up to launch in October.
The retail veteran, who founded Icebreaker in his 20s and successfully sold the business for $288 million in 2018, himself pocketing $95m from the sale, said his new business, while "kind of different" to his background, has been founded on the same basic principles.
As Moon puts it, he has always been fascinated with the relationship between people, the environment and animals.
The concept for Animals Like Us came about when former Icebreaker creative director and vice-president of product, Rob Achten, approached Moon asking if he would be interested in "doing something" in the pet food space.
Achten introduced Moon to Craig Hickson, the founder of Progressive Meats, and the three of them partnered and brainstormed what the brand could be.
The mid-market dog, and eventually cat, food business specialises in freeze-dried meats and protein. It will launch in North Island New World supermarkets for $20-$25 per kilogram in October. It plans to launch its range of cat food at the end of next year.
"What started off as 'Wouldn't it be great to make really good quality pet food from New Zealand for international markets', actually changed into a much deeper inquiry where we realised that the whole relationship between people and their pets has changed so much in the last 20 years," Moon said, speaking exclusively to the Business Herald.
"We had a look at the food and thought if we're all eating better as people, and nutrition is becoming more important, how come our pets are still being fed versions of the same stuff they were being served in the 80s.
"We dug deeper into it and realised that globally there was a duopoly with two of the world's biggest confectionery companies that run the majority of the pet food brands - it was all low carb, high fat, high fillers and flavouring-type food, so that sparked a real passion to work out how we could make an accessible New Zealand-made product which would be great for the New Zealand market and ultimately enabled us to develop a long-term international business."
Achten is chief executive of the brand and Moon is chairman. Moon and Hickson each hold a 30 per cent stake in the company, while Achten holds a 40 per cent stake.
Moon says starting Animals Like Us was much like starting Icebreaker - but with a wealth of experience and no constraints around capital.
"For me, the question [when starting Icebreaker] was; 'How come the whole outdoor industry which is about connecting people with nature is run by plastic?' and now with this, it's like; 'How come the whole pet food industry is dominated by these chocolate companies?'."
Animals Like Us takes raw meat, fish and organs, cuts them up and freeze-dries them so it is less messy and mixes them with high protein biscuits made of meat and vegetables to form a balanced raw diet for dogs, similar to what they would eat in the wild, says Moon.
"It's more like having muesli for breakfast as opposed to cornflakes with no milk", that's how Moon describes his offering compared to what is already available in the market.
The co-founders conducted market research on their product, including feeding trials with 50 dogs of all breeds and sizes throughout the country.
Getting the business to the position it is in now ahead of launch had cost more than $1 million.
The business is made up of a team of eight people so far and operates virtually with no central office, connected via technology.
Moon has global ambitions for the company, but he's keen to ensure it does not rush into launching into new markets too soon. "Our focus for the first two years will be in New Zealand and extending that into Australia, making sure that we have a tightly run business.
"Icebreaker, I probably expanded into too many markets too quickly, so we're going to embrace local markets [first] and then expand into either China or the United States; and we're going to put all of our resources against winning in one of those two big markets," says the father of six.
"We're not going to do both at the same time. There's a really strong case for both - we're going to wait to see how things pan out in the next year."
Moon says the business was founded to become a large international operation, but like Icebreaker he was committed to it over the long term.
"Craig, Rob and I never do anything in a hurry ... so for me this is a long-term venture. It's very exciting to build something international from New Zealand, but it is hugely exciting building a new category playing to a new emerging customer globally that is growing fast."
Dog ownership in China surpassed that of the United States last year, and like elsewhere in the world, with dogs and other pets increasingly becoming part of the family, treated like children, people are willing to spend more on them.
New Zealanders spend north of $1.8 billion on their pets each year. Globally, the pet food market is estimated to be worth $137b.
Moon says he has taken learnings from Icebreaker and applied it to Animals Like Us: "We're trying to apply back the best practices of a lean, customer-first, design-driven approach to build a new venture and that in itself is very exciting for me coming from a big business like Icebreaker.
"I can see how this is going to unfold, the brand and product we have created is going to be relevant in any market where people have pets. We just need to be methodical and thoughtful around doing each market really well and not over-committing," he says.
"We're not interested in short-term profitability so we're going to pour in whatever is required to make this work. It's about building a long-term business, which is going to create employment and be a world-first from New Zealand."