FROM designer dog jackets to animal acupuncture, owners are willing to pay top dollar for their furry family members with one Brisbane business carving a $6 million niche in the pet food industry.
Big Dog Pet Foods espouses the benefits of feeding dogs and cats a raw diet, combining meat, crushed bones, offal, fruit, vegetables and vitamins.
Known as BARF (Bones and Raw Foods or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) the concept is based on replicating the diet of wild animals in nature.
Food scientist Chris Essex developed the business concept while working as a quality assurance manager at Chisolm Manufacturing, a division of Woolworths (ASX:WOW).
Established in 2000, Big Dog Pet Foods has grown 15 per cent year on year and is expected to turn over more than $6 million this financial year.
Essex says more people are learning about the benefits of a raw diet, so it's only natural to want the same for pets as well.
"This type of food segment is growing if you follow the trends and look at the American and European market," Essex says.
"With the internet, people are becoming more educated on nutrition themselves and a dog or cat is part of the family.
"We want them around for as long as we possibly can and the raw diet improves the animal's longevity, health and wellbeing."
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world at 63 per cent of households, according to Animal Medicines Australia.
The Pet Ownership in Australia 2013 report also values the petcare industry at more than $8 billion annually, with food expenditure topping the list.
Big Dog Pet Foods hopes to take a bigger bite out of the sector in the next 12 months, having diversified with a range of animal supplements and even a muesli to replace dried food.
The company also plans to expand its exports to Asia, with distributors secured in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.
The factory in Lawnton manufactures 30 tonnes of raw food each week but has the capacity to more than double production.
Raw materials are sourced from human-consumption accredited abattoirs, while using fruit and vegetables from local and organic suppliers as often as possible.
"We're certainly more interested in exporting to more countries and there are some strategies in place including targeting China," Essex says.
"That's a huge potential market, particularly with the free trade agreement which makes it beneficial for Australian manufacturers.
"The next 12 months will be beating the same drum - working with our existing customers and exporters to continually educate the end user about the benefits of a raw diet compared to a manufactured diet.
"With the consumer being exposed to that information, they'll be able to make a decision and we'll get natural organic growth from that.
"The information is there for them to make an educated decision about what to feed their pet and feel good about it. That's the most important thing."
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