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New Zealand Trade And Agriculture Minister McClay Opens Ultra-Modern Pet Food Factory

Cats in China and Australia will soon be gobbling products from a state-of-the-art New Zealand factory built to supply rising global demand for premium pet food.

Officially opened by New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Agriculture Todd McClay, the Christchurch plant is tailormade to supply niche markets offshore in a $NZ155 billion industry feeding growing numbers of pets worldwide.

Developed by New Zealand Riverland Foods Limited, the factory has the capacity to make 30 million cans of pet food annually.

“Today is a double celebration,” said Riverland general manager Michael Dance, “as we are opening our factory and we’re signing our first two contracts to make pet food for overseas brands.”

Riverland’s $US21 million ($NZ35 million) plant is a first for New Zealand as it produces exclusively for its clients’ brands, removing a logjam that limited New Zealand as a go-to destination for third party manufacturing, and supporting government aims to ramp up value-add exports.

At the opening, Minister McClay said pet food was an emerging high growth market for New Zealand. Industry data showed New Zealand pet food exports had quadrupled in less than a decade, increasing from $NZ75 million a year in 2014 to $NZ320 million in 2023, he said.

“This state-of-the-art facility - an important new addition to the Christchurch business landscape - will no doubt have a significant economic impact going forward as a global player in our growing pet food industry, helping to bring New Zealand’s high-quality, sustainable, and nutritious pet products to the world,” the Minister said.

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Signing today as inaugural customers for the plant’s output were United Laboratories International Holdings Limited from China and Talentail from Australia.
“We’re thrilled to be able to start a partnership with two well respected companies and we look forward to a continued relationship with them and agreeing terms with further clients in a few weeks,” Dance said.

United Labs is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and one of its subsidiaries specialises in animal medicines for veterinarians and pet hospitals.

“The United Labs subsidiary has been looking to develop its own pet food range and so they've come to us to help launch a range of cat foods, each with a functional component to target a particular nutritional need, which could be for skin and coat, or perhaps gut health.”

Talentail is an established brand in Australia currently supplying dry pet food to their global markets and wants to diversify by adding wet food to its range. While dry pet foods have their advantages, wet foods typically contain higher levels of protein and minerals, aid pet hydration, and typically offer greater palatability. Talentail believes the addition of wet food will create a great combination of high-quality food from Oceania region for their global customers.

“We’re open for business to export to Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, North America and Singapore,” Dance said, adding that all regulatory approvals had been obtained, apart from to mainland China. Approval there is expected soon.

Riverland’s location in Christchurch is a key advantage due to its proximity to sea and rail transport links and suppliers of quality raw materials used as ingredients in pet food, Dance said.

“Canterbury is close to a host of suppliers of raw produce such as red meat, fish, shellfish, and fresh fruit. And its meat products are sourced from animals reared on pasture-based systems and have good provenance, which our customers see as highly desirable,” Dance said.

Being close to the suppliers of ingredients and research and development capability mean Riverlands can do things that other pet food manufacturers can’t.

Dance noted that cat food has been a rising category since the Covid epidemic.

“Before Covid it was more dog focused but we’re seeing more cat inquiries now as you don’t need to take your cat out for exercise,” Dance said.

The next step for Riverland is attending trade shows in coming months to gradually increase the output from the factory, which has been built to enable expansion as more customers come on board.

Minister McClay said New Zealand's pet food sector is known for its emphasis on sustainable practices, catering to growing demand for premium pet food products globally.

“It has been a pleasure to visit and see first-hand the investment and opportunity underpinning this exciting new venture that will no doubt play a key role in expanding and growing our global footprint,” he concluded.

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