American company Canidae started out 18 year ago with one goal in mind...to make the best pet food possible. Now, through an exclusive partnership with Pedigree Wholesale, dog and cat owners are able to buy the grain-free products in UK pet stores. Pet Trade Xtra caught up with co-founder Scott Whipple to find out what makes Canidae food so special.
Scott (above right) and fellow director John Gordon (above left) flew over from their California base to meet UK retailers at the Pedigree Wholesale trade show in Peterborough last week.
"Our partnership with Pedigree Wholesale is very important to us," said Scott. "And it's a real pleasure to meet so many independent retailers and explain how Canidae can help them to grow their businesses."
So how did you and John meet?
John Gordon was 19-years-old when he bought a bankrupt feed store in California, and I ended up working for him at the age of 16. We both worked from the ground level up. We swept the floors and stocked the shelves.
Why did you launch Canidae?
Eighteen years ago the pet food industry was controlled by big corporations. But we saw the need for a better natural pet food, and decided to do it ourselves. We knew what customers wanted because we sold a lot of products. What the current manufacturers were offering wasn't exactly what the consumer was looking for. Pets were becoming part of the family, they weren't just an animal anymore. So we felt the need to create a better product that was natural, holistic and offered better nurtition. Thus began our journey to create Canidae Natural Pet Food Company. We came out with just one product - All Life Stage Formula. It was unique, it had four different meats in one product, it had whole grains and digestive enzymes. It was very unique to animal feed at the time. We supported independent pet retailers only – we didn't sell to grocery or mass outlets.
Was it hard to break into the market?
Our product was a better, higher end food which took a specialist approach from retail. The retailers had to be educated about the products to be able to talk to consumers, who wanted to know what the difference was between these foods and the rest, and why they should feed one brand over the other. We built it from there and started adding different products as we built our distribution throughout the United States.
How did you break into the UK market?
We're exporting our products to about 40 different countries, and Frank Horn, our vicepPresident of global sales, has been traveling to the UK for a couple of years looking for the right partner. It's important for us to have good partners, and Frank decided to go with Pedigree Wholesale because it had the same core values as our company - family-owned, providing better products and better service. We are very excited about the UK market because it's just starting to build. We've only been here for about six months and the market has been very receptive of our products.
What sets you apart from the rest?
Our philosophy has always been that we don't compete or compare against other brands. We don't need to because we are a specialised brand. We care about the people, the pets, the ingredients of the food, and that sets us apart.
Tell us a bit about your products.
The products we have here are grain-free pure products, they contain fresh meat first and they're made from very simple recipes containing seven to 10 ingredients and they're made from whole foods. Most pet foods are made from fractions or fillers or cheap ingredients that are leftovers from other types of food processes. We buy the whole ingredient and that's what we use in our pet food.
How big can the grain-free category become in the UK?
The grain-free market in the UK hasn't really taken off yet like it has in the States but we feel it will be a very big category soon. These are exciting times because the UK market is where the US was several years ago. This is the beginning of a grain-free market. Grain-free in the States is all that's recommended now so if you walk into a retail store, the retailer is only going to recommend a grain-free product. Here it's still a very small category but we see it becoming huge.
What challenges do you face in the UK?
Our biggest challenge is getting products here. There's a lot of regulations and paperwork - all our ingredients are EU approved. Everyone has to work a little harder and be a little better at forecasting and trying to project what the sales are going to be so that we don't run out of products. That's the biggest challenge.
How many products are you bringing to the UK?
There are five different dog formulas and two cat formulas, all of which are grain-free. This is only a portion of the products we make but we felt we would introduce the best, highest moving, highest quality products first and then we'll build on that.
Visit www.canidae.com for more information on the company behind these grain-free products.