All answers can be accredited to Vera Ferreira, president; Charles Ferreira, executive director; and Stenio Ferreira, vice president of marketing.
Petfood Industry : What new brands, products or packaging have you introduced in the past 12 months (or how many)? Can you provide information on how they are doing in the market to date?
Rush Direct Team: In the past 12 months we have rebranded our two main lines, Ferrera Farms Naturals and Ultra Chewy bones. This brand refresh included packaging redesign, investment in social media and PR and marketing coordinated by our branding agency, Koopman Ostbo Marketing Communications. This included work on new products, such as our Bee The Best line of supplements for dogs using the exotic Brazilian red bee propolis with National Animal Supplement Council accreditation.
PI: What are your company’s keys to growth?
RDT: The factor that most helped us achieve our growth is our relationships in the industry. We work hard to build strong connections with our clients, suppliers and reps, and this involves maintaining a great level of customer support, acting ethically and transparently, and overall just nurturing friendships with the great people and pet lovers throughout the industry.
PI: What would you say sets your company apart from the competition? What do you strive to be known for?
RDT: The three key differentiators in our company are flexibility, speed to market and willingness to try new concepts. We understand that we are competing with talented teams in Fortune 500 companies, so we need to differentiate ourselves by being nimble and by accepting risks. At Rush Direct we love to bring new treats and concepts to the market, and we also enjoy working with our clients in private label programs where, on average, we are able to bring an idea to life in 90 days.
PI: Please provide sales estimates for 2012—or a comment on sales trends.
RDT: Due to the rebranding of our two main product lines and some internal organization, 2011/2012 has been a steady year regarding sales. However, this period has allowed us to establish the platform from where we expect significant growth and new accounts for the period of 2012/2013.
PI: What is the outlook overall for the future of your company? Any projections or possible new directions?
RDT: We will continue to expand in the natural pet specialty and in the mass merchandise markets with Ferrera Farms Naturals and Ultra Chewy bones as our main lines. On both lines we will increase the focus on natural and healthy products—with Ferrera Farms we expanded beyond treats to also have pet supplements, and with Ultra Chewy we are bringing the flavor of the tropics with Ultra Chewy Tropical Bones.
PI: Where do you see your biggest opportunities?
RDT: Our biggest opportunity is our presence in both the natural pet specialty and the mass merchandise channels. This allows us to be in a position where we can be trend setters and bring the latest innovations to pet specialty, like our Brazilian red propolis dog supplement and the South American odor-free bullysticks, and translate the spirit of these innovations to our mass merchandise products. Our vision is to be a company that is able to excel in natural and premium items in pet specialty, at the same time that it is able to decode these gourmet characteristics in treats that fit the mass merchandise channel.
PI: How would you evaluate the current state of the petfood industry?
RDT: Recently there has been a lot of consolidation both in the manufacturers as well as in the pet specialty distributors. We see this as a positive evolution because the petfood industry is becoming more professional, products are becoming safer and pets have greater access to high-quality food and treats.
PI: What predictions do you have for the petfood industry?
RDT: From a manufacturing perspective, petfood/pet treats quality requirements will continue to increase and become part of the new normal, as a result of all the recent recalls and concerns about product safety. From a marketing perspective, the most interesting trend we are seeing is product hyper-specialization as personalized diets, very specific products for niche segments and pet lifestyles. Other noteworthy trends are convenience in packaging and services, as well as an overall focus on pet health.
PI: What are some of the recent noteworthy accomplishments of your petfood company?
RDT: The most recent development in our company has been the increased focus on marketing and branding, allowing a better shelf presentation through packaging redesign and increased demand and customer insights through interaction with our consumers using social media. We are also proud of our WBENC (woman-owned enterprise) certification, which recognizes the efforts of our president and her role in the pet industry.
PI: How has your company changed over the past several years?
RDT: The company has grown from almost an exclusive focus on private label of pet treats into a company with a portfolio of successful brands that also does private label.
PI: What are some of your most difficult challenges? In other words, what keeps you awake at night?
RDT: Like any company, we are always paying attention to changes in consumer preference, production forecasts and employee retention, among other day-to-day concerns. However the main issue that is always on our minds is product safety. Business concerns are manageable, but every pet’s life is precious and invaluable. Due to the recent recalls other companies have had, we keep increasing our product safety measures, which involve requiring quality certifications from our suppliers, traceability of raw ingredients, metal detectors and several other procedures to minimize the risk of a product safety issue. A company should not say they will never experience a product recall since in the end we are humans and failure is possible; however, we try to lower the risk as much as possible to guarantee some of the safest treats on the market.
PI: How have the petfood recalls changed your relationships with your suppliers and co-packers?
RDT: We enforce a higher level of scrutiny and require quality certifications such as ISO, GMP and HACCP from our suppliers, as well as raw ingredient traceability.
PI: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your company?
RDT: In the end it is all about the pets. Everything we do is a labor of love to make great treats available to all dogs. As long as we keep those tails wagging, we will continue growing and having a good time!
By Lindsay Beaton
Pet food safety is top-of-mind all along the production line, and everything from the ingredients to the equipment must offer solutions.
By Debbie Phillips-Donaldson
Many hours, efforts, dollars and brainpower go into pet food companies’ and regulatory bodies’ efforts to ensure that products on the market are safe and healthy for pets.