Hound released . . . Topflite general manager Greg Webster and marketing manager Carolyn Webster with their Border terrier puppy Obi as he samples new Hound freeze-dried dog treats. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Oamaru pet food brand Topflite has unleashed its latest project, Hound.

Topflite Hound is a line of minimally processed, freeze-dried meat treats for dogs. The treats were made from grass-fed, low-stress beef and cage-free chicken and were as natural as possible, which aligned with the brand, marketing manager Carolyn Webster said.

The product seemed a “logical next step” for the company, who already specialised in small animal pet food.

General manager Greg Webster had done some research into the market years ago and saw the opportunities in dog treats, so it had been on his radar for a long time.

“Also, being able to source New Zealand meat and a local freeze-dryer was pivotal in our decision to make the leap,” Mrs Webster said.

Freeze-drying fresh meat removed 99% percent of the meat’s moisture, but ensured it retained 97% of its original nutritional value. There were a variety of other freeze-dried dog treats in the market, but Topflite was determined to keep the natural look and elements to help it stand out, Mr Webster said.

“Like our steak bites are a straight bit of beef, just cut up and freeze-dried, whereas a lot of the competition, it’s an extruded product – so they blend it in with other stuff and then freeze-dry it – so it’s more processed.

“We’re trying to avoid processing as much as possible, and just keep it no additives, no fillers, no preservatives. It’s just meat, freeze-dried.”

The company was using a local supplier with a similar mindset, which was vital, Mrs Webster said. The packaging was all sustainable – either recyclable or compostable.

The project had been in the pipeline, with some marketing research carried out prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but then “business exploded” as people stayed at home and directed more attention towards their pets.

Issues importing wild bird feed from the United Kingdom due to Covid led to Topflite manufacturing its own range locally, which also diverted resources – however, Hound remained on the agenda.

“We knew we could afford to get it right,” Mrs Webster said.

“We didn’t want to rush it just for the sake of getting it on the market.”

Covid also disrupted supply chains for things such as packaging materials, making everything just a bit harder and a bit longer, she said.

Trying to execute launching an entirely new product line and brand while running the existing business had added to the pressure, and Topflite was in the process of hiring more staff.

Creating Hound had taught the Topflite team “the importance of following your gut and keeping the momentum going”, she said.

They had also learnt the value of using the right people to help leverage the brand and extend the existing product line.

“So using key contractors that we trust, who understand our brand and our culture, has been instrumental. We made a few mistakes along the way, but we came out stronger in the end.”

Early feedback had been good, Mr Webster said.

“We’ve put it out to retailers in advance and they’ve had the opportunity to get it into stores, and a few of our retailers are into it already.

“They love the packaging and the sustainable angle, it’s definitely something that helps – there’s still so many imported dog treats that are in a plastic bag – just the natural, New Zealand family business, they like all those aspects.

“There’s a lot of competition out there, but not as much that ticks those boxes, from New Zealand.”

While the Hound range was focused on treats initially, further down the track the company hoped to include freeze-dried medallions, which would provide more of a meal, he said.

“Again, we’re not going to be trying to add in artificial vitamins and minerals and things to make it a complete diet. It would be part of a raw diet, which a lot of people feed – but if you’re feeding meat, then you’ve also got to feed some other things to make up for what they don’t get.”

Mrs Webster said it was a relief to finally be able to share the treats with the public and see people’s reactions.

“I’m really excited to see how people are going to react, once they see how much their dogs will love them.”