After baking thousands of dog biscuits in her family home, a Scottish businesswoman is planning to expand her company and open her own manufacturing unit in East Kilbride.
Chris Louttit is the founder and CEO of PAWSitively Natural, a company that develops and manufactures 100% natural and wheat-free baked doggy treats. However, unlike the majority of other dog biscuits, PAWSitively Natural’s are human-grade treats that are oven-baked – a fact that the company’s South Lanarkshire-based owner found to be an unexpected stumbling block in her expansion plans.
“I came up with the concept of PAWSitively Natural because my dog Zola, a rescue Springer Spaniel, had a really sensitive digestive system, and I couldn’t find any dog treats to suit her, so I decided the best solution was to make them myself – and that way I would know exactly what ingredients were in them,” said Chris.
“The biscuits went down really well with Zola and my other dog Jake, so I decided I would do some research into what flavours dogs preferred, and ended up recruiting 100 dogs to do a taste test on the product. During this process I baked 11,000 biscuits for the dogs to sample, and we found that four flavours were the stand-out winners: Cheese, Cheese & Carrot, Honey, and Tuna & Honey.”
Chris initially approached Interface – The knowledge connection for business – to introduce her to an academic partner who would be able to undertake nutritional analysis on the biscuits and to evaluate the shelf life of the products using ethical packaging. Interface assisted Chris with funding options for her company, and was able to put her in contact with experts from the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Glasgow Caledonian University – who all helped at various stages of the development process.
This work, as well as additional support from Business Gateway and Entrepreneurial Spark, led to the product being ‘soft’ launched at the London Pet Show in May 2013. And in November 2013, the company was awarded the Interface Innovation of the Year Award.
“Since then, the orders have been flying in,” continued Chris.
“We now work with two major distributors, as well as 16 independent pet retailers, and are planning to take online orders. And I’ve been in contact with companies in the USA and Japan who are interested in the brand going overseas, so it’s a really exciting time.
“The problem I didn’t envisage when I started this was being able to produce the biscuits on a larger scale. Unfortunately dog food companies are only approved to make wet dog food and kibble, not baked products like ours are. And bakers aren't approved to make baked dog biscuits – so in order to fulfil the orders and grow the company, I had to think outside the box and ended up getting my house approved by Defra as a pet food manufacturing plant. It was a bold move, but I had to do it to keep the business alive, and thankfully that paid off!
“Since I started making my own dog treats I must’ve baked somewhere in the region of 60,000 dog biscuits in the kitchen in the house – but that’s just not feasible anymore, and I’m now in position where I have to move to an industrial unit, and hopefully we can start taking on new staff within the next 12 months.
In August, PAWSitively Natural will be relocating to a 904sqft kitchen in East Kilbride, supported by South Lanarkshire Council, that will allow production of the biscuits to increase exponentially to meet demand.
“I started this company because I simply wanted what was best for my dogs – just like most pet owners do, and now thanks to the belief, help and advice from Scottish universities and business support agencies, PAWSitively Natural has grown into a sustainable business.
“Being able to work with academics from Scottish universities was a real turning point for the business – and had I not approached Interface, we wouldn’t have been able to make those connections or win the Innovation of the Year award.
“This is an exciting time for the business and I’m looking forward to realising our full potential following our move,” she said.
The Interface Excellence Awards recognise the success and achievement resulting from collaborative partnerships between business and academia. Entries for Interface Innovation of the Year, Interface Sustained Partnership, Interface Multi-Party Collaboration and Interface Outstanding Contribution to Knowledge Exchange are now open, with applications available via www.interface-online.co.uk. The deadline for entries is 10th October, and the Awards ceremony will be held in Edinburgh on 20th November.