In 1985, Shelley Gunton and her husband Brian Connolly were transferred to Hong Kong by the Royal Bank of Canada. Due to fear of rabies, Hong Kong authorities required that Joey, the couple's much-loved Labrador mix, be held in quarantine for six months.
In quarantine, Joey did not do well on the standard Hong Kong pet diet of table scraps and ground horsemeat. "You could really see a deterioration in his skin and coat, which is when we started our hunt for better petfood," says Gunton.
The couple could not find anything in Hong Kong that was as good as Joey's customary diet, Iams dog food. So they began ordering crates of Iams from a distributor in Singapore - much of which they resold to the other expatriate pet owners they met in quarantine. They ultimately persuaded the Iams senior VP for international sales to give them a distributorship in 1988.
In 1993 Shelley and Brian returned to North America and took over an Iams distributorship in Portland. But when Iams was sold to Procter & Gamble in 2000, they decided it was time to follow their ultimate dream, that of creating their own brand.
After a year of work on product development, packaging, design and strategy, Castor & Pollux Pet Works (C&P) launched with 150 products at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, California, USA. Under a noncompete agreement with Iams, petfood was not part of the introduction but followed two years later with Organix and Natural Ultramix.
The concept? Create a brand pet owners could trust from petfood to shampoos, collars and leashes. For retailers, provide a one-stop shop for the premium, natural and organic categories, complete with fixtures.
Originally envisioned as a pet aisle solution for natural and gourmet grocery stores, C&P soon evolved into a pet specialty brand with the launch of Organix, among the first petfood and treats lines to be certified organic and adhere to the USDA's National Organic Program's labeling regulations.
C&P is now a multimillion dollar company with 150 products, including petfoods, supplements, treats, chews, toys, accessories and cleaning products.
Development of the Organix products required extensive research into formulations utilizing available certified organic ingredients and the rigorous requirements of the USDA's National Organic Program. Debuting in March, 2003, Organix was the first petfood to be made with certified organic, free-range chicken as the number one ingredient in both dog and cat formulas. From seven SKU's in 2003 to the 28 now available, the Organix line continues to expand .
Realizing that not all consumers are ready to commit to an organic lifestyle, C&P introduced Natural Ultramix in early 2004. Natural Ultramix dry food was the first to contain dried raw fruit and vegetable pieces, including carrots, bananas, papayas, apples and blueberries blended with the kibble.
Petco, recognizing the surge in natural and organic product interest, introduced Natural Ultramix in all 850 stores at once, bypassing the traditional slower roll-out approach.
The loudest talk
Asked about his most difficult challenges, Connolly notes that, "As a small company in a large industry, there is always another competitor that has more resources to offer retail customers, to spend on advertising, to have more sales reps or to have a bigger trade show booth. We counter these factors by putting our money into what goes in the Organix and Natural Ultramix products. We think ultimately quality ingredients and quality products talk the loudest."
Corporate headquarters: Clackamas, Oregon, USA
Annual sales: Castor & Pollux is a private company that does not disclose sales for competitive reasons. The company doubled sales in 2006 and expects to do so again in 2007. In 2005, Fortune Small Business magazine estimated C&P's sales to be US$5 million.
Brands: Petfood brands are Organix (certified organic product) and Natural Ultramix (six meat proteins with real fruits and vegetables inside). There are multiple other brands of treats and supplies under the Castor & Pollux umbrella brand. In 2004, C&P entered into an agreement with Discovery Channel's Animal Planet to create dog and cat chews and treats, totaling 35 products, under the Animal Planet brand
Officers: Brian Connolly, president, and Shelley Gunton, vice president.
Distribution: C&P products are distributed throughout the US in natural and gourmet food retailers, specialty pet stores and Petco. Animal Planet is sold at Target, Rite Aid, Petco, WinCo Foods, Lewis Drugs and other grocers/supermarkets.
Exports: Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.
The seemingly endless petfood contamination crisis goes on. And no one is immune. On April 18, 2007 Brian Connolly was part of a panel at Petfood Forum 2007, when he said, "Let's set up an industry-wide crisis fund to help the pets and people affected by contaminated petfoods." At the time he had no reason to suspect that any of Castor & Pollux's products would ever be affected by the contamination crisis, but on May 2, C&P implemented a voluntary recall of four Natural Ultramix Canned Feline Formulas, due to possible cross-contamination with another company's product that contained affected wheat gluten and was produced on the same Menu Foods manufacturing line. Even though their products are not formulated with wheat gluten, C&P implemented the voluntary recall as a precaution. Test results have since shown the products to be free from contamination.
Connolly believes that a crisis fund is best done as an industry and not as individual companies. "The recall has touched all North American customers in one way or another," he says, "and an industry fund to help out immediately with treatments costs, wellness check-ups and medication is a way for us to give back and restore some confidence." He believes that our industry is made up of caring, dedicated professionals and a crisis fund is entirely in keeping with what we believe is doing the right thing
Connolly has spoken to a lawyer who specializes in charitable trusts and 501c3, and he believes there is a way to structure a fund that is separate from the Pet Food Institute (USA), but funded on a voluntary basis by its membership. "Likeanything," he says, "where there is a will, there is a way."
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