There’s plenty for pet owners – and business rivals – to chew on as startup producer Herbie Wilde takes the lead in a new sector with the UK’s first ethically sourced, plant-based superfood for dogs.
Founder Ella Daines-Smith chose to ignore the negativity when told her product idea was barking and that she could never compete in a traditional industry dominated by big brands and bulk purchasing power.
So two years of development later Herbie, based in Oxfordshire, bounced onto the scene last March selling direct-to-consumer in a UK market with 12 million dogs and worth £1.59billion.
The firm is averaging 15 percent growth a month while forecasting a £5 million turnover come 2027.
The inspiration for Herbie comes from Bertie, Daines-Smith’s French bulldog who became a cast favourite when she worked on film sets.
Bertie’s other claim to fame was less illustrious however with her poor health making her the local vet’s highest paying client.
When work paused during lockdown, Ella – supported by her partner – took the time to explore further what was the trigger for problems such as allergies, intolerances and lower life expectancy.
“I started researching dog food and its standards. The industry seemed to be a long way behind the human food industry. There was an opportunity to improve the offering beyond the European pet food guidelines,” she explains.
With the help of vets, nutritionists and Bertie as chief taster for the recipes developed from scratch in Daines-Smith’s kitchen, “backed by evidence-based research we removed key allergens such as wheat, dairy and cheaper filler ingredients,” she adds.
“Instead of Bertie taking immunosuppressants for the rest of her life, her problems disappeared within weeks.
“It became clear that what’s in the best interest of dogs is a completely meat-free or plant-rich, flexi diet.
“We have many dog parents coming to us and have helped create huge improvements in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflamed skin and impacted anal glands.”
Herbie contains 39 natural and traceable ingredients chosen to nourish every part of an adult dog from strong bones to a glossy coat. The food comes in recyclable bags with biodegradable taping and prices start from £24.99.
Raising the bar in regards to nutrition, sustainability and provenance has resulted in the company developing a distinguished supply chain helping creating trade indirectly for other businesses and over 1,000 workers.
Customers know exactly where ingredients come from and how they are produced.
Among Herbie’s impressive suppliers is a chia seed farmer in Essex with wildlife corridors on their land, a quinoa grower in Suffolk, a seaweed farm with renewable heat dryers in Scotland, and a sweet potato and pumpkin farm in Honduras prioritising women employees.
A laboratory in Italy’s Bologna University tests the food for digestibility and Herbie’s manufacturing partner is in Ireland, after which the product is returned to the UK for distribution.
New products in the pipeline include chews and training treats and then a range of age-specific foods such as for puppies.
With a plan to begin exporting by 2026, the company is open to new partner collaborations and Daines-Smith is keen to receive approaches from wholesalers, retailers and charities as well as a blueberry grower.