Petnutrition, the Qormi-based premium pet food maker, is to set up a laboratory in Malta to house its research and development function and to further upgrade its quality control processes.

We have seen our revenues double in some markets

Currently in the throes of rapid client portfolio expansion, Petnutrition – which exports to 15 countries across Europe, the Baltics and the Middle East – is working to position its product among the world’s premium brands in an international industry worth billions of euros.

The laboratory will be operated by a new company, Petnutrition R&D, and will be responsible for the analysis of the entire product range of wet and dry foods, supplements and oils. Petnutrition’s products are entrusted to 13 manufacturing plants located in Europe and Asia.

“In the last weeks we started to export to Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Canary Islands,” managing director Matthew Wismayer told The Sunday Times. “We have seen our revenues double in some markets and to maintain this momentum it is crucial that we have the highest quality control of all the products before they enter the market.

“A team of Maltese analysts will design and assess each product, and manage production lines issued by the factories. Samples from every batch will be tested in Malta before dispatch to customers. Previously, testing was carried out in laboratories overseas.”

Petnutrition, the managing director added, was marketing its product range on the strength of innovative formulations. Its canine and feline brands, Prince and Princess, are marketed with a promise of transparency – all products are free from chemical additives or product fillers.

New packaging set for launch in September prominently declares the nutritional content: the packaging for the two-kilo packet of grain-free Princess cat food, for instance, clearly illustrates it contains one and a half chickens, four whole fish, 1.7 kilos of mixed fruit and 1.95 kilos of vegetables.

Mr Wismayer explained Petnutrition was converting its competitive advantage over the major international brands – significantly lower overheads – into added product value. The ISO 22000 certification audit, which recognises use and quality of ingredients produced in accordance with food standards that are fit for human consumption, is backed by encouraging pet owner feedback.

A line of oils and feeding supplements has now been added to the portfolio to complement the wet and dry food range. The new products are designed to fight allergies, act as insect repellents, and nourish coats.

Locally, Petnutrition operates from modest offices with a warehouse for 550 pallets, a set-up which belies the extent of its international business. A team of 12, and a marketing and export unit of three people, manage all processes.

A strategy for better process and cost management has led Petnutrition to recently take over a warehouse in the Italian Emilia Romagna region to complement a small depot it uses in Frankfurt with its German agent. It is another way, Mr Wismayer added, Petnutrition is seeking to trim overheads further in a bid to go to market with better pricing.

Petnutrition, a Wismayer family business, started out in 1997 importing a range of pet and garden brands. As the market opened up, more businesses ventured into importation and, after five years of operation, the family decided to change tack and develop its own product to penetrate new markets.

A team formulated the Prince and Princess brands, steadily building two ranges labelled Premium and Maintenance. With a Maltese clientele firmly established, Petnutrition drew up an export plan, designing products to meet the demands of different markets.

“The pet food market is just as specialised as any other, and culture plays an important part in consumer demands,” Mr Wismayer explained. “We have succeeded in identifying niches by understanding the market; the challenge is to market to distributors and position Prince and Princess among the premium brands. With Malta Enterprise’s support we recently participated in the Interzoo trade event in Nuremberg, the first Maltese company to be represented and we succeeded in catching the attention of several distributors.”

Over the next five years, Petnutrition plans to consolidate its presence across Europe and to continue to build on its export network in other regions. Mr Wismayer said the company is close to doing business with Russia and the Ukraine, after doubling its revenue in Latvia. It has just started distribution in Lithuania.

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