Out of the wilderness —

Scratch below the surface and you invariably find a seam of bright Kiwi companies quietly taking on the world. Chances are you may not have heard of Wilderness Foods or seen ZiwiPeak pet-foods on your local veterinarian’s shelves. Yet.

This feisty 13-year-old family business is about to leap from the shadow of Mount Maunganui on to the global stage in one of the world’s most fiercely fought product categories. No mean feat. Given the deep-pocketed heavyweights that dominate the international pet-food market, it might appear that Wilderness and their new ZiwiPeak brand are in danger of being seriously outclassed.

But proprietors Peter and Kimberly Mitchell have done their homework well. Peter has been involved in export since the early 1980s and he knows the dangers of adopting the commodity mentality that has dogged New Zealand for so long. "If we slogged it out on price and volume," says Peter, "we wouldn’t stand a chance. We have opted for the premium end of the market and have made damn sure that the products we are producing and presenting are more than capable of justifying that premium in the minds of our distributors and end-users."

So logic clearly favours going for the premium end of the market. The latest research in America also shows that 74% of pet owners there choose to pamper their pets with premium quality food. This reflects a demographic shift towards greater urbanisation, more single-sex relationships, more couples opting not to have children and more affluent consumers generally. But catering to pampered pet owners is no simple task. Many of these wellness-conscious owners are fussier about what goes into their pets’ mouths than their own. Peter and his team have spent considerable time working with pet nutritionists to ensure they have products equal to, and in many respects superior to, their international competitors.

Peter knows, because as brand strategists we told him early on in our brand discussions, that going down the ‘selling less for more’ path would not be the easy option. It’s a big challenge for most companies and requires putting considerable time, thought and financial investment into their brand. However, for those companies that are sufficiently single-minded, the rewards are undoubtedly there. Having a respected brand can add on average an extra 19% at point of sale. It’s this premium or higher price point that forms the payback for the initial and ongoing brand investment.

When you’re confronting the world’s top pet-food brands, you need special, stand-apart qualities. One glance at Peter and Kimberly enjoying the exhilaration of the Bay of Plenty’s pristine beaches with their dogs Bear and Max confirms that their ZiwiPeak brand is right at home in a natural New Zealand setting. This ‘natural’ fit, which has been woven into their brand story, allows the company to capitalise on positive offshore perceptions of New Zealand.

In ZiwiPeak’s case, it centres on the notions of New Zealand’s natural purity, healthy growth environment, tight bio-security, and sustainable farming practices. The ZiwiPeak product range spans real-meat treats, with no fillers, additives, preservatives or colours. A complete diet product and supplements are in development. On a pet-food world-stage where large manufacturers use processed ingredients, fillers and grains, there is strength in an ‘all natural’ story.

Attention to detail is another critical factor in achieving ‘cut-through’ in this highly competitive environment. Strategy, product, packaging, display material, and promotional literature have all needed to consistently reflect the brand values and seamlessly connect the ZiwiPeak story, culture and design. Premium brand positioning in the market has been established by offering natural, meat-based products, a method of processing that retains nutrient value, convenient packaging, suitably pitched price points and a consistent high-quality promotional presentation reflecting a complementary New Zealand backdrop. Initial feedback from existing and potential pet-food distributors in New Zealand, America, Europe and Australia on the new branding initiative has been enthusiastic. "They certainly like our fresh approach and across-the-board quality," says Peter. "I know it’s early days but I’m confident we’ll get a healthy return on our brand investment."

ZiwiPeak success factors include:

Believing strongly in the ‘less for more’ business philosophy; Having the good sense and bravery to invest serious time, thought and money into developing their brand in a way that would support a price premium and provide a return on their brand investment.

Thoroughly understanding the international pet-food business and the burgeoning ‘wellness’, ‘good guilt’ and other demographic trends driving it.

Ensuring their products offer distinctive consumer benefits and meet stringent market regulatory standards.Fully utilising international perceptions of New Zealand to support their brand story and heighten consumer and distributor interest in ZiwiPeak’s products.

Joining their brand advisers on insisting on quality, strict attention to detail and consistency across every aspect of this branding project.