DOG TREATS TIP THE SCALES ON FISH WASTEA clear course for business development from the Fish-X program is helping All Fish For Dogs reach new markets with its eco friendly, organic products
Getting the most value from every fish caught, and from every bit of that fish, is the philosophy that underpins Glen and Selena Murray’s premium pet treat business, All Fish For Dogs.
For 16 years Glen was a commercial fisher, based at Mission Beach in Queensland, and he is all too familiar with the challenges of the sector. Among these are large catches of fish that the market just doesn’t want, and the relatively small proportion of each fish used for human consumption – often only about 30 per cent.
This waste of ocean resources has always troubled him, and when the Queensland Government offered fishing licence buybacks in 2014, Glen decided to sell his licence and do something about it.
And thus, was born All Fish For Dogs, aided and abetted by his wife Selena and the family’s three canine members, Kosmo, Rosie and Minty.
The business takes offcuts from fish species that fishers bring to shore, such as the tails of Spanish or Grey Mackerel along with further trimmings from seafood processors, and turns them into nutritious dog treats. In Australia, this market is worth $185 million. The Murrays also buy fish that are landed despite their low value, which often happens when markets are already flooded with the same species.
“Sometimes when you’re fishing for Barramundi, all you get is Queenfish,” says Glen. “And so does everyone else. So the fish we use is not being diverted from human food; it is fish that would otherwise end up in liquid fertiliser. We’re actually reclaiming it from that, and giving it greater value,” says Glen.
“Anything we don’t use is still sent to make organic fertiliser. So in that way, we’re getting 100 per cent use of the fish, but we’re trying to add the greatest amount of value by using as much as we can for the treats.”
All Fish for Dogs takes these unwanted fish and offcuts and slowly dehydrates them, rather than cooking them. The low temperature preserves the nutritional value of the fish, although it takes four kilograms of fish to produce one kilogram of treats.
All Fish for Dogs is aimed at the premium end of the dog treat market, promoted and priced as a wild-caught, organic product.
CREATING A BRAND
Fish treats often mirror products customers are already familiar with, for example, sharkskins similar in size and shape to pigs’ ears, or rolled mackerel or sharkskins as an alternative to rawhide rolls.
So far the Murrays have a range of 25 products, from training treats to large chews. Their range is sold wholesale, in bulk, and they have two buyers who supply national pet shop chains.
They also now have a retail brand, Fishtastic Dog Treats, sold online in pre-portioned packs. Glen says this development came from strategic planning and advice from the Fish-X innovation program they are part of. Fish-X is an entrepreneurship program sponsored by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
“Creating our own brand helps to develop the value of the business as a ‘saleable’ venture,” Glen says.
The Murrays were introduced to the Fish-X program through a two-day workshop with other fisheries innovators, to evaluate their business direction and practice their ‘pitch’.
Glen says they were encouraged to dream big. “We thought we could use maybe 150 tonnes of waste and produce $1 million worth of dog treats. But we were challenged: why not use 500 tonnes of waste, and turn over $10 million? And then they showed us how that could be achieved by focusing on production efficiencies.
Fish-X also encouraged Glen and Selena to get exposure for their business by entering events such as the Tropical North Queensland Innovation Awards, which they did, winning both the Eco Innovation and the Proven Innovation awards in 2018.
Now they are part of a delegation from Far North Queensland attending the 2019 Queensland Innovation Awards. All Fish for Dogs was also one of only 15 businesses taking part in the Startup Alley as part of the Evoke Ag Conference in Melbourne in March.
These events have brought valuable contacts in government and business, and the ongoing mentoring through the Fish-X program has helped them to “work on the business” as they grow, side-stepping likely dead ends.
Assistance with their business plan has also put them in a sound position to seek finance for their planned expansion later this year. This will include some research and development into the formulation of innovative new products and production systems that can be scaled up – all with a focus on ocean-based ingredients.
“At the rate we are growing, we will need to add a new drier every four to six months,” Glen says.
“In Australia fish is associated with cats, not dogs. It can be a hard sell on the domestic markets, although we are seeing more people providing specific diets for their pets to address health issues such as allergies, skin and joint conditions.
“But in other countries where people eat more seafood, such as Singapore, it’s a more natural transition for them to feed fish to their dogs, too. That’s a market we’re hoping to break into this year.
“This is only year four of All Fish For Dogs, but we have some big plans in terms of where the company can go and what the ocean can offer pets. At the same time, it’s really important to us knowing we are helping fishers and conserving resources by making the most of every fish caught.”
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