Niche dog food that's delivered


Mighty Mix general manager John Walker is enjoying running a dog food products business from Oamaru. Photo by Sally Rae.

Mighty Mix dog food has come a long way from being
whipped up in a high-country kitchen.

A woman’s concern for the health of her working dogs during
extreme weather conditions more than 20 years ago led to the
development of a business which now sells products throughout
New Zealand.

In June last year, Mighty Mix’s head office opened in Oamaru,
the home of newly-appointed general manager John Walker, who
has spent 35 years in the food manufacturing industry, most
recently as site manager for Rainbow Confectionery.

Initially becoming involved as a business adviser, Mr Walker
liked the story behind Mighty Mix and its rural roots.

It was Christine Drummond who, when concerned for the health
of her dogs on a high-country station during the big snow in
1992, took to her kitchen to help them through the extreme
weather.

Using natural ingredients, drawing on her background of
naturopathy and homeopathy, and testing it on her dogs, she
developed the original Mighty Mix product – frozen
concentrate.

It includes meats and fats, salmon, wholegrain cereal, honey,
apple cider vinegar, cold pressed flaxseed flour, kelp,
green-lipped mussels, eggs, garlic and various vitamins and
minerals.

Neighbouring farmers heard about it, word spread and it
”snowballed” and a property was eventually bought in
Blenheim to manufacture the product.

In the mid-2000s, dog biscuits were developed which were now
manufactured under contract in Wanganui, while the frozen
concentrate continued to be made in Blenheim.

Mr Walker first became involved with the business in June
2012 as a business adviser, when owner Colin Drummond, from
remote Erewhon Station in Canterbury, sought some advice.

Last year, after seven years at Rainbow Confectionery, he was
brought on board as a shareholder of Mighty Mix and also
general manager. One of the main attractions of the career
change was managing a business that he had a stake in, he
said.

Having forged a career in an industry that included dairy,
bacon, ham and smallgoods, and confectionery products, dog
food was just another manufacturing process, he said.

With strong ties to the North Otago community, Mr Walker was
not interested in relocating. The office opened in June and
he was later joined by a part-time administrator who worked
15 hours a week.

Mighty Mix is a franchise operation with 21 franchisees
throughout the country and two distributors.

When he started, there were ”a couple of gaps in the fence”
including North Otago. The district was now looked after by
Mr Walker and his partner Susie Scott which had given him
insight and an understanding of the franchisee side of the
business.

”In terms of knowing your business, it’s quite healthy to be
involved in the actual selling,” he said.

While their products were highly nutritious and ”damn good
for your dogs”, they were also one of the cheapest feed
options on a cost per feed basis, he said.

Emphasis was placed on personal service, with orders
delivered to the client’s door, freezer or shed throughout
the country.

”All of our franchisees either ring, email or text their
clients on a four- to five-weekly cycle so it doesn’t matter
if you’re on the northernmost sheep station in New Zealand
… you know if you’re a Mighty Mix customer that every four
to five weeks somebody will be in contact with you somehow to
arrange for your delivery,” Mr Walker said.

A growing part of the market was urban customers and the
company had more than 600 clients in Wellington, while
Auckland was also a big market.

The urban market was becoming increasingly important with the
increased number of dairy conversions and therefore fewer
working dogs.

Dog food was a highly competitive market, he said. There was
a lot imported into New Zealand and some also exported.
Mighty Mix was ”just a very small part of it”, Mr Walker
said.

However, the company was growing – ”every year we move up
another notch or two” – and it had no interest in ”taking
on the big guys”.

”We want to be niche operators with a consistent, quality
product, providing exceptional service to our clients,” he
said.

It had a few retail outlets but that was not a priority.

”We want to stick to our core and that’s personalised
service,” he said.

While the company concentrated on old-fashioned service, it
did have the ”smarts” in the business, in terms of modern
technology for ordering, he said.

Mighty Mix will be among more than 700 exhibitors at the
Southern Field Days at Waimumu, near Gore on February 12-14.

More than 26,000 visitors are expected through the gates at
the 17th biennial event.