Hugo & Celine: Pet humanization driving dog treat sales

This Swedish specialty pet treat company began with dog ice cream, but has since expanded to meet the demands of a growing humanization trend in Europe.

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Hugo & Celine is a start-up pet treat company in Sweden that began in May 2015 with a single idea, jump-started by CEO (and Chief Executive Dog Lady) Sonja Catani’s 10-year-old daughter: ice cream for dogs.

Catani’s daughter initially pitched the idea of making the frozen treat for dogs to a human ice cream company in Sweden, but was disappointed when reception to the idea wasn’t what she’d hoped. Nine months later, Catani still had the idea on the brain, and it came to the front one day in a Stockholm bar. “From where I was sitting, I could see the people coming and going with their dogs on the outdoor terrace,” says Catani. “Then I realized my thinking was all wrong. Why was I thinking about starting at the bottom of the pyramid … I should be starting at the top, selling through restaurants. That’s where the most hardcore dog lovers are, the ones that bring their dogs to restaurants because they cannot stand to be separated from them. Let us try ice cream for dogs on the patios and at dog-friendly restaurants.”


Hugo & Celine began as a pet start-up company with the simple concept of ice cream for dogs. | Hugo & Celine

She found a restaurant that wanted in on her idea, created a Facebook page for her new product (“Hugo & Celine Ice Cream for Dogs”), and woke up the next morning with 50 fans of her page and a message from a dog store wanting to buy the ice cream. The company has been going full-speed ever since.

A specialty product finds a foothold in the humanization of pets

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Hugo & Celine began with a simple idea: ice cream for dogs. In the last year, the company has seen exponential growth and has been able to expand its product line to include a variety of snacks catering to the pet humanization trend. | Courtesy Hugo & Celine

Today, Hugo & Celine has its own factory and interest from all over the world. Its portfolio has expanded from ice cream (which comes in flavors such as Lickin’ Liver, Slick Salmon and Magic Moose) to include Crispy Chips, Crunchy Cookies, Lollipups and Barking Burgers, which Catani says are all selling out as quickly as they can produce them. Products have no lactose, no sugar, no additives and are made from 100% natural ingredients.

One of the company’s driving forces is the humanization of pets, and the resulting effects that trend has had on their food. “We have products like ice cream, crisps, lollipops, burgers and cookies,” says Catani. “We play with humorous names like Crispy Chips, Barking Burgers and Lollipups. Our snacks are 100% natural, just packaged and named in a humanized way.”

Hugo & Celine also finds ways to distribute its product through traditionally human-food channels. “We got a nationwide distribution agreement with the only ice cream van company in Sweden, called Hemglass (translation: “Home Ice Cream”),” says Catani. “They cover 95% of Swedish households with 300 ice cream vans that do rounds every week. It’s a fantastic partner for us, as our customers have known their brand since the 1960s and recognize their distinct melodic signal when the baby-blue van approaches. We even got to use their signature melody, changing it into dogs barking the tune.  Hemglass also has a web shop where customers can order our ice cream for dogs and get it delivered to their doorstep. We could never have managed that freeze chain to all the Swedish households on our own.”

Production: a challenge and an opportunity for a fast-growing company

Hugo & Celine hopes to break even in the fall of 2016, and the company’s next financial goal is a sales estimate of 30 million Swedish Krona (US$3.53 million). Production is both a primary key to growth and a significant challenge, as the company tries to keep up with exponentially growing demand. “We haven’t made one single sales call yet,” says Catani. “It’s totally crazy. We get new resellers every day without making one single outgoing sales call. People just can’t seem to get enough of us. We are struggling with our production, and that’s why we recently moved to a new purpose-built factory (July 2016): to be able to produce more goods and expand our portfolio of products.”

The company also prides itself on being a “friends and family” company, with a close bond to its customers and their dogs—something that will become increasingly difficult as the company grows. “I personally answer every single post on Facebook and Instagram,” says Catani. “We post a lot and our viral community is like a big family to us. We tell our fans all the good news, but we also tell them if we’ve had a setback or something hasn’t gone according to plan. We are transparent and open in our communication and we love our fans. We are very personal and I know around one thousand dogs by name by now."

“One day, it will be impossible to balance being a mid-sized international company and still be personal,” she says. “We will find a way, but as yet I do not know the answer. What I do know is that we can make anything happen.”

Looking to the future of Hugo & Celine

The company is very cost-effective, according to Catani, and very meticulous in how it invests and spends its money. “We have tight budgets and low overhead costs,” she says. “We have serious investors, but all are private investors, and we make sure to keep them happy. Our job is to keep costs low and quality high.”

To that end, Hugo & Celine will continue to focus on local sourcing, complete transparency and high-quality ingredients. “We buy all our ingredients locally in Sweden,” says Catani. “We believe in total transparency and we source organic ingredients as far as possible. Having said this, sometimes it’s better to buy ox liver from a Swedish ox than to buy an organic ox liver transported all the way from Argentina. Sometimes we choose a happy cow who’s danced along the Swedish meadows, maybe eating two grass-straws not proven to be organically grown, instead of importing beef from the other side of the world, not knowing the exact origin or the circumstances of the transport.”


Hugo & Celine focuses on locally sourcing all of its products from high-quality ingredients. | Hugo & Celine

Hugo & Celine’s immediate goals are to expand its product portfolio and begin exporting to other European countries as soon as possible. In addition, the company is working on a new pet food line with Adjunct Professor (Docent) Anna Hielm-Biörkman, PI, DVM, PhD, CVA. “Hielm-Björkman is the only researcher in the world who has studied the effects of raw food for dogs,” says Catani. “Her research spans over 25 years and the knowledge she has, with scientific proof that raw food not only prevents dogs from getting diseases such as arthritis, allergies, cancer etc., but can even cure dogs, is amazing. This research could change the way we look at dog food.” Hugo & Celine is supporting Hielm-Björkman’s independent research at Helsinki University, and the company forms all recipes based on her findings and scientific papers.

The company’s more intangible goal is far more complex: use its position and its products to create a better world. “If we can employ people who are newly arrived immigrants from war-torn countries, then we make a change,” says Catani. “If we can employ handicapped people, we make a change. If we can help shelter dogs find a new home, we make a change. For us, this is important. This is what we do.”


Just the Facts


Headquarters: Stockholm, Sweden
Facilities: New factory opened in July 2016, in Karlshamn, Sweden
Officers: Chief Executive Crazy Dog Lady (CEO) and founder Sonja Catani; Chief Executive Watch Dog (COO) Jakob Wästberg; Chief Executive Doggistic Buyer (CE Logistics) Oscar Zeidler; Chief Executive Doggylicious Designer (CE Design) Helene Stevenberg
Board: Chief Executive Adviser and Doer Anders Wallgren (chair of the board); Chief Executive Doggy Lawyer Lotta Spandel(member of the board); Chief Executive Crazy Dog Lady Sonja Catani (member of the board)
Sales: Expecting minimum growth of 300% from 2016 to 2017
Brands: Ice Cream for dogs, Crispy Chips, Crunchy Cookies, Lollipups, Barking Burgers, Deli Dressing, Hot Dogs for Cool furriends, Pawsome Pizza
Distribution: Web shop and retailers (including restaurants, cafés, pet shops, food shops, veterinarians and 300 ice cream trucks)
Employees: 12 (some are consultants on full-time payment, some are doing work practice)
Website/Social Media:; @hugoandceline on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; hashtag: #hugoandceline


Sweden’s pet food industry trends

Fast-growing market, pet humanization

“In Sweden, a trend market in Europe, the pet food industry is becoming quite attractive and we see many small brands established,” says Sonja Catani, CEO of Sweden-based Hugo & Celine. “We see that it’s a fragmented industry where targeted marketing, transparency and locally sourced ingredients are trending. It’s a far faster-growing market than the US and it will most likely grow quickly for many years to come."

“People are getting more pets than ever, especially dogs,” she says of the growing pet population. “Dogs are the new babies. In a country and in a continent where people have fewer babies and at older ages, dogs become a substitute but are treated as kids. Dogs get more attention, more expensive day care, more toys and hence also better quality foods than many kids.”

Eventual market consolidation

“In Sweden, the Nordic countries and Europe, the pet food industry will grow quickly and the industry will start to consolidate,” says Catani. “Few of the small brands will likely survive; they will either be run past by competitors or bought up by larger brands. There are also many investment companies looking to invest in the pet food industry in Europe; we’ve already been courted by a few, and whether it’s ‘sad to say’ or if it’s an opportunity for smaller, strong brands, there are going to be many buy-outs.”


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