Worcestershire, beautiful county in the heart of England, may be best known for the famous sauce by the same name. But thanks to the impressive, rapid and truly international growth of Worcestershire-based petfood company Fish4Dogs, will the region soon be known for something else?
In the six years since it launched, Fish4Dogs has created a place for itself in the global pet market and consolidated the positive perception of its distinctive feature: using omega-rich fish as the main ingredient in all its products. “This feature provides a clear of point of difference with other brands of petfood,” says Jill Angell, current marketing director and a company co-founder, “and allows Fish4Dogs to stand out in the crowded marketplace.”
The company and brand name very clearly describes that point of difference, which stems from the professional history of Angell and her husband, Robert, combined with their shared love for companion animals. Fish4dogs was the brainchild of the couple, both former consultants for more than 15 years in the human grade seafood processing industry.
The Angells started by making treats for their elderly Great Dane, baking fish skins in their own kitchen. Seeing how much these treats helped their dog’s mobility and coat condition, they realized the potential for a dog food based on fish. In 2004, they, along with several other private shareholders, formed the company.
“There are a number of advantages to fish in a dog’s diet,” Jill Angell explains. “Fish is naturally high in nutritionally essential omega-3, which is an important aid to coat and skin condition as well as a way to maintain joint mobility. Our products, based on total or very high inclusion of high-quality fish, show an amazing impact on the overall look and outward health of the dog even within a short period.
“Fish protein is also a high-quality, easily digestible protein, with around 80% digestion compared to 50% to 60% for some low-quality meats,” she continues.Â “This ease of digestion makes fish an excellent food for dogs with delicate digestions as well as senior dogs whose digestive systems are starting to slow down.”
Good news spreads fast. Soon the new fish treats were in demand in pet stores all over the UK and then around the world. In late 2006, the brand went from the kitchen in the Angells’ house to the factory, extending from just treats into complete food line, still retaining the core defining ingredient of fish.
“One of the key drivers behind the rapid growth of Fish4Dogs has been the power of word of mouth,” Angell says. “An important characteristic of our products is that the high level of omega-3 gives fast and visible improvements to the dog’s coat and mobility. This visible effect proves to the owner that these products work as promised, a message that consumers are more than happy to pass on.”
The company has also relied strongly on people it calls opinion leaders. “One of the characteristics of the pet market is the amount of research and communication that goes on between dog owners, and we have benefited greatly,” Angell explains. “This is why we invest heavily in promoting through the breeder and show community, with a major stake in championship shows and breeder clubs. These key opinion leaders have become powerful ambassadors for the brand.”
She adds that going forward, Fish4Dogs plans to continue to involve this opinion leader community not only at shows but also increasingly through engagement with Internet forums.
The second key driver to growth has been geographic expansion. From its very early days, Fish4Dogs has supplied both its domestic market and exports, with the export business really starting to take off in early 2008. Today, over half of Fish4Dogs’ business comes from sales in Europe and Asia—a total of 30 different countries.
“We started six years ago with only two and a half staff,” says Angell, “Recently, a new CEO, Graham Smith, has been appointed by the board, bringing our staff total to 25. Graham has many years’ experience in international sales marketing and general management, and we are all confident he will enjoy being a part of Fish4Dogs at this stage of further evolution.”
In late 2007, Fish4Dogs went into partnership with Norwegian farming cooperative FKRA, which provided investment support for the company’s development. In 2010, FKRA took a controlling interest as Robert Angell stepped down from the business. FKRA’s deeper involvement is intended to bring its significant manufacturing experience to bear, including a new 12 million Euros (US$16.6 million) state-of-the-art production facility for petfoods based at its headquarters in Stavanger, Norway.
Expansion is not over, as the company plans to open up new markets and intensify its presence in underserved territories such as the US (including foods in addition to the treats currently sold there), Eastern Europe and Australia. Also important in the company's strategy is working more closely with current distributors and investing in additional international sales managers, Angell says.Â
Fish4Dogs has gone through rapid growth over several years, with sales more than doubling every year, and expects to continue growing thanks to FKRA’s extra involvement. “Now the challenge is to absorb this growth while maintaining the high level of personal, friendly customer service, delivery efficiency and agility that we’ve achieved so far as a smaller business,” Angell says.