Rob Achten used to be creative director of Icebreaker prior to setting up ‘Animals like Us’ with another local Craig Hickson, and Icebreaker founder Jeremy Moon.
“I sort of had two ideas in my head,” says Rob as he recounts the birth of the company. “The first, was that pet food looked awful. You should be able to see what’s in it. Sort of like muesli.”
I’m about to ask if looking like muesli was really all that important to dogs, or even cats, but Rob is quick to point out that it’s for the owner’s benefit. They’ve done extensive research on this trend called humanisation. “It’s where we treat our pets like people, like part of the family,” explains Rob, hence the Animals like Us name. “We want our pets to eat better too,” he adds.
For cats and dogs this means raw, and it’s taken Rob and the team ages to develop the unique formula of kibble and freeze-dried raw organs that’s not only nutritious for pets, but convenient for the owners. They’ve done more research on this too. With customers, and also consumers, using colonies of cats and dogs located in a specially designed facility at Massey University that measures palatability.
It’s probably this simple fact of doing their homework that has given the company its edge.
In 2022 the pet food market was worth over US$100 billion dollars globally. At this scale, even a tiny product differentiation can have a huge impact. “It’s the supply chain that has proven the most challenging,” he says, that and scaling up, which along with product development is an ongoing process. Freeze dried raw pet food is expensive, but Rob reckons they’ve found the pricing sweet spot for the product that’s made locally in Waipukurau.
“Covid didn’t help” he adds. Sure, but never waste a crisis, right? The pandemic did help them pivot from Asia, where apparently cats are more a thing, often with a young female consumer, and largely due to high density apartment living; to the US market, which Rob, who has just returned from the states, explains is more like New Zealand. “They’re more outdoorsy, and they love their dogs.”
And the dogs, Rob is betting, are going to love Animals like Us.