Industry Profile Pet Munchies



Industry Profile: Pet Munchies
19th December 2017

By Sandra Pearce

Suzanne went to QVC with five core products

There is no such thing as a fussy dog, says Pet Munchies founder Suzanne Rothman, they’re only demonstrating they’ve got good taste. Sandra Pearce meets for a coffee and talk about the rise of the natural gourmet pet treats manufacturer and her plans for the future

Not even 10 years old and the multi award-winning Pet Munchies has carved out a distinct following among enthusiastic dog and cat owners, is a must-stock treat among many pet retailers and has made inroads into the export market.

Although it’s nice to have a successful business – millions of Pet Munchies packets are sold every year, the business is demonstrating high double-digit growth and it is in the top 100 skus in garden centres – founder Suzanne Rothman remains firmly grounded and loves taking part in flyball with her five-year-old border collie Beau. She started flyball about three years ago (prior to that it was agility) and recalls how the class helped the early days of Pet Munchies.

She said: “Oh, when doing agility, I was trying all sorts of different recipes and would rope everyone in at classes to try them. Even today, I go round and ask what they think, what would they like to see in a treat, what kind of flavours, you know, stuff like that. Then when it gets just right, I am sure I am on to a winner.”
This is not just empty talk – the first round of knock-out trials involves her and Beau sampling the new recipe. “I try all my foods,” she said.
“Beau and I will sit and try all the new treats. I see how he reacts as he can have a sensitive tum. If it is all good, I go to my flyball team and see what they think of new variety.”

Suzanne and Beau at flyball

Yes, awards are nice, but that does not come close to the satisfaction of receiving warm feedback and reviews, in addition to the hundreds of pictures of happy dogs and cats eating her treats that have been sent in over the years. “I was once in a pub, and I got talking to this woman who when she realised my connection with Pet Munchies, just hugged me and said that Pet Munchies was the only treat her dog could eat and she just loved them. That really made my day,” she said.

Dogs are her passion, she said. “It’s simple, I won’t give them something that I won’t eat myself, and I wanted something that was all natural, low fat and no derivatives of any kind. I also wanted a treat that used the breast meat of chicken. But there was nothing on the market at that time that ticked all my boxes, so I decided to do it myself. And no, I had no experience in the pet industry whatsoever!”

Copycats used to upset her, now Suzanne takes it as a compliment

Would you like some chicken?
In 2008, Suzanne started Pet Munchies with five varieties using human-grade chicken breast and duck. She recalls her first meeting with a wholesaler when she said the treats would sell for £2.99. “They laughed,” she said. “They said treats would never sell at that price, that dog treats would not sell at more than £1. I said they were wrong, that there were owners like me who are passionate about their dogs and their food.”

Suzanne secured her first listing with Vital Pet Products, and the treats took off almost immediately, mostly through word of mouth. She also visited other wholesalers and distributors, often going in ‘with a bit of chicken’. “I can shout about something if I am passionate about it! I would say to them, ‘taste it, try it’. That’s how the company started…me going round with a bit of chicken.”

She admits she does not ‘think about things the way other people do’. One classic example is how she landed a spot publicising her treats with TV shopping channel QVC in 2012. “I told them they needed a dog on TV eating the treats to show that the treats work, and that’s why previous shows featuring treats did not work,” she said.

Suzanne and Beau on QVC

Then QVC came back with the news that she needed to be on the show as well. For Suzanne, who does not like the limelight, this was the stuff nightmares are made of. “I told them, I cannot go on, they said I had to. I said again I cannot go on TV, but they insisted. I have never been so scared in my life.”
So with butterflies whipping up a tornado in her stomach, Suzanne presented herself to QVC that October morning with puppy Beau – and Pet Munchies sold out within the first few minutes. “They told me they’d not seen anything like that. Since then, they’ve had Pet Munchies on several times and even did a
one-hour programme.”

Momentum continued to pick up and the treats went national. Today, the offering has grown from five to 36 products, using chicken, duck, venison, beef, and wild salmon with a core group of 18. Typically retailers try a few products, but soon double or treble their orders, she said.
“Once they buy in and they know people like it, they have the confidence in the brand. They say the products are great.”

Pet Munchies attends a number of consumer shows including Discover Dogs

Pet Munchies works closely with retailers, offering monthly promotions. “We want to build up the relationship with both retailer and customers,” she said.
The range is also being distributed to the veterinary sector through veterinary wholesalers – the low-fat proposition is appealing to many vets.

The range is being exported to a few countries including Spain, Denmark, Holland and the UAE, and Suzanne will be at China’s CIPS later this month and the next Interzoo in Germany.
“We get many requests from countries that want our brand, but we need the right distributor and our main focus is still on the domestic market as there is still a lot to do here first.”
She added: “I do keep getting approached, but I want to hold back and not grow so fast – this is who we are, and I want to remain true to our ethos. I need to do what is right and follow my gut instinct. I believe in what I do.”

Sampling the treats at Crufts!

Her gut instinct led to Pet Munchies bringing in see-through packaging, which she says was an industry first. The brand also has a big following on social media, namely Facebook and Twitter, with some tweets being re-tweeted more than 100 times. Its online competitions are immensely popular, and as mentioned earlier, hundreds send in pictures of their pets enjoying life and the treats. “We love sharing their pictures, as well as all those from agility and flyball. The bottom line is that we are real people with real dogs and we care.”

Trade shows are important, says Suzanne

The future is…natural!
The business is growing very, very quickly, says Suzanne, which is a good challenge to have. More and more owners want good quality, natural products for their pets, and are willing to pay for premium, human-grade ingredients.
However, too many people still do not look at the ingredients’ listing on packaging, she says, or, worse, do not understand what they are reading.
“We do need greater transparency – half the time we do not understand what the terms mean. How do other manufacturers get away with that? I always tell people to look at the first ingredients on the back. That will tell you a lot,” she said.

Suzanne places high value on shows, whether trade or consumer, as it gives her the golden opportunity to talk face-to-face with pet owners and retailers. It’s the perfect opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t, and get ideas for new products.

One customer visits Pet Munchies and buys all these treats in one go!

“I have so many ideas in my head, my problem is time. There is never enough of it! Once I come up with ideas, I get my list of ingredients and start to work and look at what will work? We have to get to the right place – ingredients, taste, all of it has to come together.”

Eventually, Suzanne would like Pet Munchies to get to a position in which it can do more for charity, possibly with working dogs and medical sniffer dogs, which is a cause close to her heart. “I would really like to bring Pet Munchies to a level and then be able to give back,” she said.
“You know, it used to upset me when people used to copy my treats, but now I see it as a compliment. I must be doing something right! But it means I have to constantly have new products waiting.
“I did not think I would be here when I first started. It’s been such a whirlwind, but truly fantastic.”

BB visits Pet Munchies at Crufts each and every year to say hello and have a munch