The Pet Food Association of SA estimates that local pet-owners spend approximately R5 billion per year on pet food, with a 2% growth for 2018 – and Allie’s determined to get her share of this growing market.

Having spent almost 17 years in this industry, she says becoming an entrepreneur was the next logical step. She bought the ailing Cape Town-based, K-9 Petfoods company in 2014 and in three short years, has transformed it into a multi-million-rand business.

“SA imports most of its premium pet food, but K-9 was already established in that space, so I could use it as a base to expand the business and become a local manufacturer. I’d worked with Woolworths previously, so I approached it about becoming its new local supplier for premium pet food,” she explains.

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By 2015, the deal was in place. “It was a bit like a marriage: for the relationship to succeed, both partners must put in the work. It was a little risky for Woolworths to ditch its international suppliers for a relatively small company which, at the time, didn’t even have the facilities to supply the products, but it took that chance.”

When she first took over K-9, her turnover was about R3 million. Now, with the Woolworths contract, she expects it to grow to R45 million by the end of next year and has brought in former colleagues Shireen Davids and Candice Stewart, who’ve each bought a 15% stake of the business.

To source her start-up expenses, Allie invested R2 million of her own money into the venture. She also found funding from the Department of Trade & Industry, the Industrial Development Corporation and Woolworths, who together invested some R56 million into her company.

“I had many doors closed in my face and it took a year to secure funding,” she recalls. “Legislation in SA does help female entrepreneurs, but there’s still a lot of prejudice. There was a general perception that I couldn’t do it because I’m a female. People refused to believe that I was the boss and I was even told that this must be my husband’s idea, because there was no way a woman could tackle such a big task. I was often underestimated, but once I’d convinced people that I know what I’m doing, they became very supportive.”

Paperwork was another challenge. “There were mountains of forms to fill in and boxes to tick. It’s a rigorous process and an eye-opener, but the good thing is that once you’ve done it, you’ve pretty much considered every aspect of the venture,” says Allie.

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She used the bulk of her start-up funding to build a new 36 000m² factory in Montague Gardens, while the R5 million loan from Woolworths went towards working capital.

K-9 has now taken over eight Woolworths pouched pet food lines and by March next year, it will supply the retailer’s entire pouched and canned food range. Its innovative range of gourmet pet food is different from anything else on the market in terms of ingredients and packaging.

“Our packaging is a first in SA. We’ve switched from using pouches and cans to a plastic container. Our machines also use new technology that’s more hand-processed. However, the biggest difference is in the product itself, which aims to humanise pet food. We use proper meat – even fillet steak and chicken fillets, in certain products – rather than just offal, skin and bones.

“We’re going all out to ensure it’s a high-quality product.”