Bella & Duke takes bigger bite of pet food market

Chief executive Mark Scott and chief operating officer Tony Ottley

TWO Scottish entrepreneurs who created a pet food brand following the premature deaths of their dogs are embarking on a sales and marketing push after securing a loan from UMi Debt Finance Scotland.

Chief executive Mark Scott and chief operating officer Tony Ottley founded Blairgowrie-based Bella & Duke with Michael Scully in 2017, and have already grown turnover to £6 million, with a further 50% increase in sales forecast during its next financial year.

Mark and Tony each lost a dog to cancer and began investigating their pets’ diets, leading to questions over whether processed food was contributing to poor health among dogs.

The £100,000 loan from UMi has enabled the company to hire a further two full-time members of staff and two part-time workers at its distribution centre, taking the firm’s headcount up to 34.

The loan will also fuel Bella & Duke’s sales and marketing drive through a mixture of online and print advertising.

Its existing customers have already ordered 9.4 million meals a year between them across the company’s 26 recipes. As well as dogs, the business also produces meals for cats. The raw food is supplied to customers throughout the UK, many of whom have reported health benefits for their pets.

The recipes are developed with nutritionist Rowan Sanderson and vets, while the company also works with dog behaviourist Caroline Spencer.

“We see ourselves as a wellbeing company rather than simply a pet food supplier,” explained Tony, who uses his background in the food industry to source the ingredients for the meals.

“Only three species on the planet eat processed food – humans, dogs and cats. “Humans do it by choice, but dogs and cats don’t get to make that choice. Giving them species-appropriate raw food means they don’t have to eat processed food.

“Even our treats are made from raw meat, so it’s the whole diet and not just the main meals. Dogs are carnivores, so why would you feed them processed meat and grains?”

Exports could be on the cards in years to come, but for the moment the team is focussed on helping dogs and cats in the UK.

Bella & Duke won £50,000 during the 11th round of the Scottish Edge business development competition in December 2017 and has attracted funding from several high profile investors, including its chairman, serial entrepreneur Kevin Dorren, and its non-executive director, Ana Stewart, former boss of cash machine software firm i-design.

“Our accountants and auditors told us about UMi Debt Finance Scotland,” added Tony. “They’ve been fantastic to work with – I would highly recommend them. The application process was so easy to do, and the loan was approved so fast.

“We’d definitely consider using them again.”

Coatbridge-based UMi Debt Finance Scotland was launched in January 2019 to provide loans of between £25,001 and £100,000 to Scottish businesses. Loans are issued for three years and carry interest rates of between 6.5% and 12%.

Tom Brock, fund director at UMi Debt Finance Scotland, said: “Tony and his team are passionate about improving pet nutrition through providing quality products with outstanding customer service, underpinned by a professional business plan and a clear growth strategy. Bella & Duke is a good example of the type of Scottish businesses we want to support – experienced and ambitious entrepreneurs with a clear vision and understanding of their market, and with high quality product and services.  Bella & Duke typifies the diverse range of Scottish businesses we are funding under the Scottish Growth Scheme.”

UMi Debt Finance Scotland was launched in January 2019 to manage a £12 million loan fund as part of the Scottish Growth Scheme, created by the Scottish Government and funded partly by the European Regional Development Fund.

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