Vigor & Sage GmbH is a truly international pet food company. Recently evolved from China-based Bridge PetCare (and the company’s primary brand, NatureBridge), Vigor & Sage aims to capitalize on the success of the superpremium NatureBridge brand by blazing its own trail in Europe. The company is headquartered in Germany with facilities in the Netherlands, which are in turn backed by a state-of-the-art facility in Shanghai. Further capitalizing on its international reach, Vigor & Sage’s branding hails from Amsterdam.
“Vigor & Sage is very ambitious, aiming to be the biggest superpremium pet food brand in Europe, with 200 SKUs in the next five years,” says founder and owner Jerry Xu. “We have a team of top international specialists who have already proven themselves to be successful in the highly competitive Chinese market. [NatureBridge now occupies] the number one spot [in China] as a superpremium natural pet food brand, because we provide unique consumer-experienced benefits for pets while offering a higher margin for retailers.”
Vigor & Sage plans to make full use of the successful Chinese pet food team, who are already well familiar with producing superpremium products. “Our R&D and product development departments specialize in creating natural superpremium recipes with the boosting effects from beneficial herbs,” says Xu.
NatureBridge’s sales grew to €70 million (US$77.1 million) annually in five years, and Bridge PetCare’s most recent fourth-quarter sales came in at €20 million (US$22 million)—according to Xu, the company expects to take the number one position in China’s specialty pet food market during its next fiscal year, leading China’s overall pet food market growth. And the market does continue to grow: according to GfK and NBS China data, the country’s developing pet food market has seen double-digit growth since 2013, growing 12.3% in 2015 with a predicted growth of 13.5% in 2016. Specialty pet food within that market has also seen significant growth. “Offline” (meaning purchases made in the domestic Chinese market, rather than via the Internet) sales for natural pet food in the two largest cities in China saw 67% growth when comparing 2015 to 2014 numbers, while online sales saw 49% growth.
China-based Bridge PetCare produces the specialty pet food brand NatureBridge, the stepping stone for expansion in Europe with the new Vigor & Sage brand. | Courtesy Bridge PetCare
More specifically, grain-free pet food saw 202% offline growth year-over-year, in spite of being a relatively small share of the overall market (2.28%, according to GfK). In fact, according to Xu, grain-free is the most expensive and popular pet food product in China, at €30 (US$33) per 2kg.
Tapping into the rapidly growing online market in China, the Internet-exclusive range of NatureBridge products saw 300% growth in the last fiscal year. This comes as no surprise, given overall Internet pet food sales in China grew 36% when comparing 2015 to 2014 numbers, according to GfK data. The country’s overall pet food market saw US$424.61 million in online sales in 2015 (compared to US$803.73 million in offline sales).
Internet sales are both an opportunity and a challenge in the market, benefiting some lines while hindering others. “We are seeing a crisis in the European distribution channels with the rise of Internet sales, which [in some cases] has discounted brand prices over 20%,” says Xu. “You can imagine how offline retailers feel.” Xu remains confident, however, that the Vigor & Sage brand will overcome this obstacle, appealing to customers’ desires for locally accessible specialty pet food.
Vigor & Sage, says Xu, wants to provide benefits both for the end consumer and for distribution channels and retailers. “They will be the real force providing services crucial for market growth and stability,” he says. To that end, the company is focused on high-quality products and responsible market growth in Europe. Bridge PetCare was elected to one of two vice-chairman positions for a special committee of Chinese Pet Food Manufacturers aiming to establish national pet food standards. It’s a responsibility the company takes seriously, and that dedication has naturally carried over to Vigor & Sage. “We would love to see our brand grow, but at the same time we still need to be competent in our specialized field in order to remain competitive,” says Xu.
Competence comes from knowing what consumers want: the best for their pets. “As more and more pet owners become conscientious about what they feed their pets, it is only natural that they want the best,” says Xu. “Anyone who provides the best will have a huge chance of succeeding, but it’s the company with the cutting-edge [products], that can provide even more, that will eventually go beyond the finish line.”
Current challenges for Vigor & Sage are typical of any new venture: Xu says the company is looking for strong team leaders who can invest and share in future growth benefits. But he is also very optimistic about Vigor & Sage’s chances in the European pet food market. “We predict a revolution in the European pet food industry,” he says. “On the one hand, retailers are looking for profitable brands and products to replace low-margin products. On the other hand, consumers are looking for safe, beneficial, upscale brands and products to replace synthetic lab-science brands and product that are outdated. Vigor & Sage will be the hero in this revolution!”