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How premium petfood could become a $1 billion export industry for New Zealand

Richard Brake is the chair of the New Zealand Petfood Manufacturers Association.

When people think of New Zealand’s export opportunities, they imagine primary products – dairy, wine, meat – for human consumption. However, there’s another lucrative market that some might not be aware of.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, so we’re well placed to spot opportunities when they come along. We’re emotionally invested in our pets, and we want to provide the best for them. And increasingly, global consumers are looking to us to provide exactly the type of petfood product that New Zealanders can make.

We are aiming to grow to reach $1 billion in exports of New Zealand petfoods within the next 3 to 5 years.

That might seem like an audacious goal but in reality, it’s not asking for much. It would equate to just 1% of the global market share. We’re favoured by increasing levels of pet ownership around the world, particularly in Asia. Within that is a strong demographic of pet owners seeking a premium product. We face few tariffs to act as headwinds for market access. Our key markets of China, the United States and Australia are growing steadily – with places like South Korea, Hong Kong, and Canada on the rise.  

New Zealand has so many advantages working for it for marketing petfood targeted at the premium consumer. There is our “clean and green” image that has existed for some time, now overlaid with the good work done by NZTE’s Made with Care programme. New Zealand is relatively disease-free, non-GMO, grass fed, free range and sustainable. These are attributes that global consumers are seeking when feeding their pets, and they’re willing to pay a premium.

New Zealand is blessed with raw material availability and reliable meat production at scale: the proximity and infrastructure of our dairy, sheep and beef industries means we’re well placed to seize the opportunity in front of us. We can trade on our New Zealand specific ingredients with which to build up premium products, such as manuka honey, lamb, flaxseed, venison, green-lipped mussels, and king salmon. Developments in sheep milk, goat milk and deer milk are opening further prospects for petfood producers, who are constantly geared to look for the value-adding opportunities as emphasised by the Fit for a Better World roadmap.

Petfood is often thought of as taking the offcuts or sweepings from the meat industry, but it has got well beyond that. It is a highly technical and highly agile industry that has invested heavily in science and research. We can be confident when we trade on the nutritional benefits of what we’re producing.

Innovation in New Zealand has taken our petfood offerings to a higher level to facilitate the development of premium products. By air- and freeze-drying meats we are able to produce very high meat content formats – like the premium meaty treats that are found on the top shelves of supermarkets around the world.

Global consumers can trust our stories. Because of our regulatory environment, New Zealand’s petfood producers can promote their products with hand on heart because customers can have faith in our industry auditing and traceability of products. 

Opportunities are not without challenges. New Zealand would be exporting more if we could produce more. In that sense, growth in the petfood industry has been constrained by a lack of processing capability and a shortage of labour. But investment will soon bring new plants online, and when that capacity builds the premium petfood industry will increasingly build momentum.