RiRaw was founded 6 years ago now (where did that go!), all based around the ethos of using Irish farmed meat, without the need for any preservatives, fillers grains or nasties. A simply oven dried treat or chew for dogs of all sizes (or the odd cat or ferret). Undoubtedly RiRaw is the minnow of the dog treat world. Thats ok though. We will take over the world by stealth!
Six years on and we are on our 3rd premises, a rather large factory (ex bacon factory) still in Cavan. In need of alittle TLC but a perfect framework for what we need.
I have developed a range of treats and chews which I am proud of, I produce products which other mainstream manufacturers don't produce anyone seen a moo pop anywhere else?. Although I am hindered by what I can produce, for example, RiRaw is not aloud by ledgislation to produce anything with Horn or Fur or Hooves. I am advised by those in the Know (DAFM) that this is just not legal. Although I have yet to be given an answer why other European countries produce them with no issues!
Our ethos of only using Irish meat sourced from a 30 mile radius of the factory will not change.I actually enjoy my weekly jaunts out to the processors. They have watched with interest as my orders have grown from a couple of boxes to now pallets of product. They used to think I was nuts...they still do although can now see that what I am doing actually has a following!
Where do we sell. The majority of our product is for export, 90% goes to mainland Europe and the UK. Brexit has made things more complicated for sure but as long as we send on a pallet, it can be done, and deliveries to the UK now take 10 working days up from a very respectable 48 hours prior to Jan 1st this year (sending pallets also comes with a plethora of paperwork and a rather unweildy EU Traces system to log any pallets out for delivery across Europe. The final 10% goes to Ireland, we have a loyal following of private customers, daycares, groomers and some independent retailers.
So what is the difference then between RiRaw and just about all the other mass manufacturers? Well, our products are all small batch produced, no more than 500KG a time. Compare that to the tons of treats produced in some of the plants and you will understand how we are TINY.
The big manufacturer is also all about the profits and sqeeze as much as they can, even a cent on a KG adds up and therefore many of these are using, cheaper options to make treats. Ever wondered what a derivative was? Well its reclaimed bits of meat that is scraped from bones and floors during processing and sold in bulk to the Pet food industry, other products like meat meals, greaves, bones meals are very cost effective and added to bulking agents, fillers, grains you can see how a meat treat mix can be made to go a long way. Look at the ingredients list, is meat listed as a mian ingredient in the first 3 ingredients? Come to think of it should we be using ingedients. The problem is that in many instances, derivatives can be a mix of different meat types and sometimes the inconsistency in the quality of them can cause issues for your dog. You might feed it fine one time and the next time its does not agree with them. Finally there will be stabilizers, preservatives, enhancers, colours all to make a meat treat. It will likely be presented in a pretty shape or forced into the perfect cube!
These manuafacturers will also have amazingly eye watering marketing budgets to entice you to spend and then lovely packaging to seal the deal in getting you to purchase.
There are a growing number of small brands looking to turn this around and believing in a more natural approach. In our case we want to keep it simple a single "ingredient" meat which we only dry with nothing else. This gives us an amazing product range which taste's great and makes tails wag. We use recognisable cuts which smell fresh and of the meat they are made from. The beauty of this is that if you want beef thats what you get. Not a mishmash of proteins. Furthermore our products are shelf life tested initially for 6 months but it can be extended without adding anything further.
What is the law?
We have to work to the same food standards that big manaufacturers must adherre to. The costs of production are not lessened because your small. Indeed, arguable our cost base is higher because our economy of scale is not maxidmised (yet).The barrier to entry is high, you need deep pockets and a stubboness to keep going!
We work with the DAFM (department of agriculture food and marine). These guys enforce the ledgislation. They will make sure your set up correctly, forget the kitchen with your dog at your feet hooving up leftovers. We are not aloud to have our dogs at work with us at all. You will need a food grade factory and then the fun begins. These are just some of the things RiRaw must comply with:
Drying our products gives plenty of benefits, but it does mean that we loose upto 2/3 in the drying process. To give you an idea 1 kg of meat will dry to approx 350g of finished product. A 100g pack will be made with 300g of raw meat. If you are buying say a kg of chicken breast thats going to cost you €7.50 a KG. So 2.5 bags mean your raw materials are €3.00 before you add power, cleandown, wages, insurance labs, packaging. Its not cheap.
Can we make production cheaper?
Ireland is not a cheap place for manufacturing. The easiest way to make production cheaper is to move/outsource to a cheaper manufacturing base. Thats why so much comes in from countries such as China, India or Eastern Europe. Where labour costs and regulation is less stringent. Although my carbon footprint immediately increases.
Use less quality meats and derivatives! Never, it just is not what I am about. I think my customer base would complain too.
RiRaw is not a mass manufacturer, and this means everything to me. To sacrifice that and our Irish meat really waters down our product and brand. We cannot be compared to a mass produced treat, they are two very different things. Its like comparing fillet steak to budget mince....no comparison. I LOVE RiRaw, its a brand which has huge ambitions to grow and move healthy treats into the mainstream. Moreover I like our traceability and our unwavering stance towards using quality Irish meat. It is hugely satisfying that European Pet Parents are finding our products and liking them, its also great that we have continued support in the UK market too. I LOVE my customers here in Ireland who ping me messages of support . My hope is that more Irish retailers follow and will choose to pick up our brand to share with their customers. For now I also continue to develope new product ideas....the ellusive soft treat will come this year!!!