Former NZ Wine Growers marketing manager Anne-Marie McKenzie, founder of pet food subscription service Brodie's, explains why so many pet care companies have flooded the market in recent years and how a raw diet turned around the health of her pet dog - the inspiration for her business.
What does your business do?
We sell raw pet food online and deliver it to homes in the North Island on a weekly, monthly or fortnightly basis. We buy raw meat and package it for dogs and cats so they can eat a diet similar to the ancestral diet that pets would of had before dry food was invented. We have weekly menu bags and can customise menus for pets via filling out a profile online and we put together a menu based on age, likes/dislikes, allergies, and activity levels. Brodie's has been running since September 2018 and we source meat from suppliers who process the meat from local farms and licenced hunters into frozen blocks.
What was the motivation for starting it?
The motivation stemmed from two things - a passion for raw feeding, that started about six years ago when we saw the changes in our own dog Brodie, who is really the namesake of the company. He was on dry food for about the first 10 months of his life and he had chronic ear infections, skin issues, smelly stool and once we put him on a raw diet it all stopped overnight, and we've never looked back. The only time we go back to the vets now is for his vaccinations.
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The other motivation was from a marketing perspective, my background, I just thought there was a gap in the market for making raw food more accessible and convenient via online and by delivery. It was a lightbulb moment for me, it was in March 2018, I was in the shop where I used buy his food and I just thought "There's a real need here and we can do this better by having it online and making it easier for people".
How big is the team?
It was just me and my husband two years, and also two teenage children that helped us pack orders, but now I have a driver, a lady who works a few days a week packing and a casual team of three who will do packing as we need it.
Why have so many pet care companies started up over the past few years?
It's down to humanising pets, they are part of our family, more so than they used to be and with millennials, they really are fur babies. They are very much treated as a family member, and so we're willing to spend a lot of money on them. There's lots of area of opportunity. It is an exciting marketplace.
It is a strong market, and New Zealand has very high ownership of pets, but I think people are aware of this and tapping into not only the trends of product offerings and natural products, similarly to the interest with others, but also tapping into online home delivery. In the US, for example, that's the fastest-growing segment of pet food, and most sectors - you only have to look at My Food Bag and Uber Eats.
What challenges you've had to navigate in the past couple of years?
Internally, it is time issues, being a start-up and having the time to work on the business and grow it instead of in it all of the time. With raw food, there can be some misinformation out there surrounding the risks of bacteria, which can scaremonger - dogs can deal with a huge amount of bacteria that we can't, so it's also education. Our dog food sells for $16 a week for a small dog up to $95 a week for a very large dog.
What are your long term plans?
Short term, we want to really build the Auckland market - that's our main focus. With our existing set up, we run from a large garage at home, we've got huge walk-in freezer with a lot of additional freezer space so we've huge scope to grow probably another 100 per cent in the next couple of years; we've been growing at that rate in the last two years, after that I really want to expand. We ship through the North Island so I've got some current hubs already so I'd really like to develop those either by a franchise or our own offices there, that's the long term five to 10 year plan. Our focus is on the domestic market.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Choose something that you are passionate about because you are going to be working very hard and you've got to really look at the market to make sure there is a gap for your business. You have to have a point of difference to meet pain points because if you're just going to be focused on price it is going to be a struggle. Starting your own business is a huge learning curve.