Business North August 2022

78 | PRODUCTION Natural Pet Food Group Leading the way for NZ exporters Kelly Deeks In a year he describes as ‘business as unusual’, and ‘a very challenging time for New Zealand exporters’, Natural Pet Food Group CEO Neil Hinton is proud to feature once again in the New Zealand International Business Awards, with Natural Pet Food Group being highly commended in the Best Established Business category, and its head of global marketing Jo O’Sullivan being nominated in the Inspiring Women Leaders category. “We’ve been in these awards a number of times, I think because we have been very consistent with our growth and our strategy, and every year we continue to execute against our plans,” he says. “We are consistently improving, even though Covid has made things extremely difficult with a lack of ability to get into the market, getting product through the ports, and huge supply chain instability. “Our working capital requirements have had to increase, we need more inventory and even better planning. Business as usual doesn’t exist anymore. Every day it’s business as unusual.” The Natural Pet Food Group brings ethically sourced New Zealand wholefood ingredients to the world with its natural high meat pet nutrition, K9 Natural, Feline Natural, and Meat Mates providing pets with the energy and gut health they need to thrive. Founded by police dog handler Geoff Bowers in Christchurch in 2006, the Natural Pet Food Group pet foods are a nutritionally balanced combination of free-range meat from happy grass-fed and pasture raised animals, the finest seafood from sustainable sources, eggs from cage free chickens, fruits and vegetables grown in fertile New Zealand soils, vitamins, minerals, and oils. Even more important is what isn’t in the products, which are all grain, gluten, GMO, dairy, rice, potato, and filler free. Neil says when a feline or a wolf eats in the wild, it goes for the superfood nutrients of meat, offal, blood, and bone. “So it made sense to Geoff to base a dog’s diet on that of a wolf,” he says. “Dogs and cats are obligate carnivores, and will do much better when they’re fed meat containing natural fat and protein, rather than the high carbohydrate-based diets the large scale commercial pet foods offer.” Twelve months on from being acquired by global investment firm KKR, Natural Pet Food Group now has more global connections and opportunities than ever before. “KKR has connections that have allowed us to go deeper,” Neil says. “We are already in most of the markets we want to be in, and our strategy is to go deeper rather than wider, doing more with our existing customers and growing in these markets we are already investing in.” He says key for New Zealand exporters is working out how your product flows all the way through so you get that second order. “That has been one of the success factors for us as an exporter.” Post-Covid, Neil says there is now a disconnect between different international markets which pre-Covid were quite linked, and the evolution between them could easily be seen. Today, markets are going in completely different directions, so it’s hard to reach all of them with the same strategy and even the same product. “The biggest success factor for us has been having established teams in each of these markets, and then continuing to develop our teams, these markets, and the relationships we have within them. We have a strong and united culture that is based on our New Zealand way of doing things. Pre-Covid our international teams had spent a lot of time in New Zealand with our people and built great trusting relationships with our New Zealand based team. This has allowed us to continue to execute our strategies seamlessly, even though we haven’t been able to travel.” The volatility of the international business environment is somewhat tempered for Natural Pet Food Group by its trusted reputation. “We have a great product and great produce grown here in New Zealand, and these are the things we have to continue to protect with investment into world-class production and world-class growing methods. “We still have access to worldwide markets, and people want our trusted New Zealand grown and manufactured products.” “We are already in most of the markets we want to be in, and our strategy is to go deeper rather than wider...” Major upgrade marks new era of production for Wattie’s Wattie’s has been producing pet food locally for over 50 years and is home to some of Kiwi’s favourite pet food brands including, Chef®, Champ® and export brands such as PureNZPet®. Recent years have seen it positioning itself for future growth while putting a focus on new initiatives. With demand rising for pet food products both locally and overseas, Wattie’s has recently completed a multi-million dollar upgrade of its pet food facility to ensure Wattie’s continues manufacturing its pet food brands in the Hawke’s Bay. The main focus of the upgrade was an investment in its canning and pouch retort capability, designed to increase capacity and productivity through state-of-the-art equipment. The new facility uses Steritech canned retort technology and allows Wattie’s room to add additional retorts, which will increase the production capability by nearly 28%. Neil He er, Managing Director at Wattie’s says the Tomoana facility upgrade is a re ection of our commitment to champion New Zealand made products and the bene ts this brings to the local economy. “Wattie’s is proudly one of the largest producers of canned pet food in New Zealand and we’re immensely proud of our history of manufacturing in Hawke’s Bay.” This investment in our facilities rea rms our commitment to the region, our employees and suppliers and non-pro t organisations like Nourished for Nil.” In supporting Nourished for Nil, Wattie’s donated nearly 1.3 million cans of food and pet food products in 2021 which were distributed to the local Hawke’s Bay community. In addition, Wattie’s has joined the Hawke’s Bay’s arm of the Sustainable is Attainable programme which “aims to develop viable alternatives for the waste and by-products generated during food processing and manufacturing.” The programme fosters collaboration between participating businesses, universities as well as research and development organisations.