Soopa is sniffing around the dog treat market

BACKED by €400,000 in angel funding, Dublin company Soopa is aiming to take a sizable bite out the £420 million (€540m) pet treat market in the UK.

Selling to over 350 pet stores in the UK and Ireland, Soopa offers a range of vegetarian dog chews which are designed to add nutrition to a dog’s meat-based diet.

“They contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are low in calories and low in proteins. Produced to human grade quality, they contain more concentrated nutritional benefits than any other dog treats on the market,” says company founder Barbara Hanley.

Building up sales since establishing the company in 2013, she has, this month, received an investment of €400,000 from the Halo Business Angel Network Food Syndicate. 

This will be used to scale up the business and develop international markets with a view to taking on ten employees over the next three years.

While training as a dog groomer with a view to setting up a business, Ms Hanly identified a gap in the market for low fat nutritious dog treats. 

“I was shocked to see dogs with diabetes, obese dogs, and dogs with skin allergies and a range of conditions caused by poor diet,” she says.

Researching dog nutrition, she began experimenting with fruit and vegetables and came up with a range of options which she trialled at vets clinics and sold to pet shops and at local markets.

In early 2013 she set up the company with the the three products she had discovered that the dogs liked best — papaya, sweet potato, and coconut. 

She sourced packaging in Ireland and found a company in Vietnam to manufacture the products. 

Her target market from the beginning was the UK, the largest pet food market in Europe with an estimated eight million dogs.

“In March I went to PATS, the UK’s biggest pet trade show — it went really well and Soopa products got a lot of press coverage.” 

She signed up Pets Corner, the second largest pet chain in the UK and by the end of the year had around 250 customers, including a number of pet stores in Ireland.

During 2014, Ms Hanly attended more UK trade shows and signed an agreement with a distributor in Germany, Europe’s second largest pet market. 

“We also won the UK Pet Product Retail Association Best Product in 2014 — this was huge.” The following year the company began selling though a distributor to pet shops in Spain and was listed by Wholefoods Market UK, another pet store chain.

“At the end of last year we signed a contract with Pets at Home, the UK’s largest pet store chain. We are rolling out gradually and now have product in 33 stores. We will be in 200 by October and in all 400 stores by January next year, says Ms Hanly.

At present the UK accounts for 85% of Soopa’s sales and the aim for 2016 is to focus on the market there.

“We are planning an aggressive sales push over the next three years and in 2017 will look to develop sales in both Germany and France. In the long term we will also look at the US market,” says Ms Hanly.

This year, Soopa is also targeting the UK multiples which currently account for 67% of all pet food sales there and Ms Hanley is now in discussions with two supermarket chains.

Some of the HBAN funding is being used to hire staff. Soopa currently employs one part time staff member and has just hired a new UK-based sales and marketing manager who starts next month. 

“We plan to build a team; employing customer support and sales and marketing staff and also to use the investment to develop new products.”

The launch of a new dog chew is planned for later in the year. “Part of our plan is to look at using locally-produced ingredients and to outsource production of some new products in Ireland,” says Ms Hanly who is aiming to double sales this year.

Company: Soopa

Location: Sandyford, Dublin

Founder: Barbara Hanly

Staff: Two

Product: Dog chews

Markets: UK, Ireland, Germany and Spain



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