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Christchurch business K9 Natural on doing business in China

Breaking into a foreign market is no easy feat, even when selling a top-of-the-range product from clean, green New Zealand. So how did Christchurch pet food company K9 Natural crack it?

We catch up with CEO Neil Hinton about their success ahead of the 2019 South Island Lantern Business Forum on Thursday 21 February, hosted by ChristchurchNZ.

China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and New Zealand’s largest goods trading partner. In 2018, trade between New Zealand and China was valued at more than $27 billion.

But doing business in China, even understanding protocol, can be tricky. Is there a market for my product in China? How might the current geopolitical climate affect my exporting capabilities? Why are signing ceremonies so important? Who are the players I should be in touch with?

The South Island Lantern Business Forum is taking place on Thursday 21 February. Hosted by ChristchurchNZ, the city’s economic development and promotions agency, the forum is designed to answer your questions about the Chinese market and decrease your barriers to entry.

Christchurch natural pet food company K9 Natural attended the first forum in 2017 and credits learnings from the event with breaking into the Chinese market, which now accounts for 20 per cent of their business. They’ve been to every forum since.

K9 Natural chief executive Neil Hinton said the forum was the best way to keep up with the “fast-changing Chinese market”.

“The Lantern Business Forum played a part in helping us shape our approach and we’ve attended every year since,” Hinton said.

K9 Natural started producing natural pet food in 2006, from their home base in Christchurch. They have since expanded into 25 markets globally and are sold in hundreds of retailers. They currently trade under The Natural Pet Food Company, with three brands under their umbrella including K9 Natural.

Leveraging New Zealand’s reputation for quality ingredients and a slick supply chain, K9 Natural began exporting to China soon after the 2017 forum. They were already selling to North America, Australia and other Asian markets.

“Since then China has grown to be over 20 per cent of our business,” he said.

“We’re very conscious that success in China requires constant adjusting of our model, and we’re always trying to keep abreast of what’s changing. That’s why we’ll be at the Lantern Forum again this year.”

Hinton said creating and maintaining personal and professional relationships was an important factor to success in the Chinese market.

“In that sense the forum has also been very useful in helping us build and establish new relationships with people succeeding in China, and to share war stories with other exporters who, like us, are learning as they go,” he said.

Richard Sandford, ChristchurchNZ General Manager of Innovation and Business Growth, said while China was a lucrative market, it can be “complex to navigate”.

“The forum is the perfect opportunity to gain a deep understanding from business leaders about china,” Sandford said.

“It also provides practical tips and tricks that can be applied to your business.”

Limited tickets are still available to the South Island Lantern Forum, at The Piano in central Christchurch on Thursday 21 February.