Sustainable dog food could help offset the environmental cost of having a pet01/04/2022
Like many business owners, George Bramble was panicking when Covid arrived.
But amid all the uncertainty, his business, the pet brand Beco, was about to get an unexpected lift.
Beco tries to create food and products in a more sustainable way and started with a dog bowl made from unwanted offcuts of chopsticks from Chinese factories. A million of the bowls have sold to date.
‘When we went into lockdown, like any business owner, I was terrified,’ says George. ‘I didn’t know what would happen.’ But what happened was an explosion in pet ownership.
An estimated 3.2million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic.
Sales at Beco are up 50% on last year, partly because of more pets, says George, but also because more people are making a conscious choice.
‘We thought our target customers were 35-plus but we found the market is now between 20 and 32. There were few brands like ours ten years ago. Now the dog and cat market has changed.
More people are looking for brands with a story and the market has moved towards us. People are not so interested in buying just because its cheap or functional, they want to know where it is made, how it is made, what’s the story behind it.’
Beco’s story started in 2009 when George, who studied geography and environmental sciences at university, heard about plant pots made in China from the offcuts of chopsticks.
With just a few thousand pounds he ordered 18,000 bowls to be made and they turned out to be a huge success.
‘We have grown organically, not backed by venture capitalists but rather the old-school route of credit cards and growing sustainably. It was quite hand-to-mouth at times.’
The company now expects to make £10million within the next year.
The range has grown to toys – some made from natural rubber and others from recycled plastic bottles – plus poop bags made from compostable cornstarch, and dog food made from local free-range chicken and wild boar, which has a low carbon footprint thanks to its free, foraged diet. 1% of Beco sales goes to environmental causes.
George admits having a pet is not in itself particularly environmentally friendly. It is thought half of UK adults own a pet and one study suggests an area double the size of the UK is used to produce dry pet food for cats and dogs each year. But small steps can make Fido or Tiddles a bit kinder to the environment.
‘If you have a dog it has an environmental impact, so the question is, how do we reduce that impact? By looking at recycled materials, natural materials and also giving to causes it reduces as much as possible.’
Not every product has been a success, but George is never afraid to try something new. ‘We have had a few non-starters over the years. We originally launched a natural rubber ball with a solid centre made of rice husks. It was like a shotput – I hadn’t thought through how heavy it would be. The boxes were tearing and it was falling out of the packaging. It was like throwing a cricket ball, not very suitable for a park.’
Beco now wants to move into sustainable dog treats as well as creating more cat products and investing in becoming B Corp-certified – recognised as a company balancing profit with people and the planet.
Beco HQ in Wimbledon is not just a place for the team of 30 staff – there are plenty of furry colleagues, too.
‘We have three or four dogs in the office, it’s just the happiest place. It can be chaotic but very happy.’
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