Indeed, this is real meat, frozen and then thawed by owners to give their animals a diet closely replicating what they would eat naturally. One man, Dylan Watkins, is convinced raw is about to go big. That’s why he invested everything into his raw pet food company, Poppy’s Picnic.
When you first meet Watkins, charismatic founder of raw pet food business Poppy’s Picnic, you can see straight away just how important his dogs – Poppy, Katie and Slipper – are in his life.
Every business meeting at Poppy’s Picnic includes having a dog on your lap, whether you are talking about growth curves in Hong Kong, or price points for wholesalers.
The three miniature schnauzers nuzzle up to whoever is in the room, wanting to be included in every discussion. That daily cuddling-up with the target market is one reason Poppy’s Picnic is innovating and enjoying success.
Frozen raw food is a growing trend and a focus for the pet magazines, as dog and cat owners are changing their buying habits, changing from highly processed tinned food and dry brown pellets to this alternative, that’s considered a more natural diet.
From home experiment to empire
You often hear stories of innovators who were inspired to create startups from a personal revelation and identifying an untapped market. Watkins is no exception. Poppy was first fed a premium processed food but Watkins’ interest in managing his own healthy diet made him scrutinise the ingredients and nutritional value of the kibble he had been feeding his dog.
He was shocked by what he discovered, so he realised he needed to find a better option. With research, he stumbled on the “biologically appropriate” food movement – advocating raw meat, bones and offal, to mimic the diet the animals were meant to eat in the wild. It was getting good press, mostly from owners saying that the health of their pets had noticeably improved.
“It was that ‘light bulb’ moment. It took time, research and every utensil in my kitchen, but those first meals I created, they made such a difference to Poppy’s health and wellbeing that I knew I’d changed her life for the better,” he recalled.
“In less than a year, from that initial inspiration to give Poppy a healthy diet, Poppy’s Picnic has grown into a successful global business. My personal experience has been corroborated by the praise we get from owners.
“I know Poppy’s Picnic food is changing their pets’ lives and therefore their lives, for the better. What’s more, the loyalty we have amongst fellow owners who use our food is truly breath-taking.”
Raw meat – now catering for vegetarians and vegans
There is now a dedicated tribe of pet owners following every move of the company in the guise of a community of so-called “Poppy’s Picnickers”. They give valuable feedback and influence the development of new products by the brand’s team of vets, breeders and animal nutritionists.
Watkins elaborated: “Our new meatball range is a global first. It’s an easier way to serve as the customer simply defrosts as required that day.
“Another positive, which did take us unawares, was the increasing number of vegan and vegetarian customers who wanted to feed their animals the best natural diet but didn’t think they would be able to raw feed. They’ve found the convenience of our meatballs, which they don’t even have to touch, is a win-win for them and their pet.”
Picking up on owners’ needs
With a raft of new products in development and being rigorously tested, it’s clear that this is not a case of simply putting meat into a bowl. Watkins’ scientific analysis of every aspect of dog care is quickly apparent on meeting him, for instance, he can analyse a dog’s health just by looking at what the animal leaves on the grass verge.
“You would be surprised how much we can learn from a stool. You can find out the quality of their diet, see if they have had indigestible fillers in their food, if they are dehydrated, have a problem with a gastrointestinal bleed or need more protein,” explained Watkins, who is concerned that owners are having to deal with more than they should on the daily walk and clean-up operation.
“Imagine if you were blind and had to clear up after your guide dog – suddenly it makes a big difference for the blind person.”
The biggest motivation for his business starts and ends with animal health, which he believes is an issue being side-lined in favour of margin, by large corporations.
“What we are witnessing in dog healthcare mirrors what’s happening in the world with human beings,” detailed Watkins. “Half the animals treated by vets are obese because they are fed the equivalent of junk food.
“For humans, diabetes is linked to lifestyle and bad diets of highly processed food and is one of the world’s major healthcare challenges. The same is true of dogs and cats. There has been a 900 per cent rise in dog diabetes since 2011. This must stop.
“Never think food is just food. We respect the DNA of the animal, and create food that they are designed to eat. You can’t just undo how pets have evolved and presume they’ll eat any rubbish and be OK.”
Demand for this type of product is up and a shift in the pet food market is evident. It’s a subject that is being talked about widely and as owners educate themselves on natural diets – this is causing the demand for raw food to rise.
Watkins said: “Ultimately, we will break into mainstream supermarkets with freezer space. We have been successful in Hong Kong and China with freezers in shops stocking up the meals and will progress this next step in the UK, while we continually educate owners of the life changing benefits of our food.”
If consumer influence dictates the content on the shop shelf, it might not be long before we see a pet section in the local supermarket freezers. A recent Mintel report highlighted 47 per cent of pet owners wanted to feed a diet closer to what an animal would eat in the wild. With this growing trend, Watkins could no doubt be a pioneering figure in a lucrative sector.
Richard Forsyth is director at Find a Creative Pro