As a childhood canine companion fell ill, Mike Halligan devoted time and effort into researching canine hygiene and food bought off supermarket shelves. He is now helping consumers revitalise their dog’s diets with Scratch Dog Food enjoying swift success since 2018, surpassing $10 million in annual recurring revenue in 2022.

“Our intention is to make the healthiest dry dog food possible. About 70% of dogs consume dry food as part of their diet but it’s typically mass produced with a focus on profit over product quality with little improvement made in the last few decades, and often ingredients change batch to batch to suit factors like seasonal changes and pricing,” Halligan told Retailbiz in a recent interview.

“About five years ago, I had two sick dogs that passed away as I came up with the idea for Scratch Dog Food. I started paying more attention to dog food and how a better diet could’ve helped them. I was doing research online to better understand ingredients and what was available to support the medical conditions my dogs had but it was so hard to tell what was actually in the food.

“Food is so important to a dog’s wellbeing and transparency of choice matters so Scratch Dog Food was created to provide a healthier dry dog food alternative and offer complete transparency on what ingredients are used.”

Building the brand

In the beginning, Scratch Dog Food connected with like-minded people who were disillusioned with the pet food industry, saw it as a profit-making machine and were frustrated by the lack of transparency.

“We started the brand with customers who wanted food that was convenient and affordable, while offering peace of mind and the ability to make a more informed decision. They simply valued the transparency and honesty from our business,” Halligan said.

“From there, we continued to grow with more customers, including those with dogs suffering from chronic skin and stomach conditions. They told us our products made a huge difference and shared their experience on social media, creating dedicated Facebook groups. The dogs who experienced major health transformations from our food helped power us along and attract around 2,500 customers.

“Even more consumers started hearing about us and posting photos with their Scratch Dog Food bag or box on social media so we’ve ended up with a lot of brand advocates.

Overcoming the challenges of Covid

The biggest challenge during the pandemic for Scratch Dog Food was keeping up with demand as people were spending more time at home and noticing more of their dog’s behaviour and wellbeing.

“Our business really boomed, despite a slow start when lockdowns were new to everyone and there was a lot of uncertainty. A few months in, people had more time to research and discover things about their dog’s health while others adopted dogs to keep them company during lockdowns which is when our new customer numbers saw huge growth,” Halligan said.

The focus for Scratch Dog Food in 2023 is increased reliability and overcoming supply chain pitfalls to ensure no dogs run out of food. 

“We only use Australian produce and whole ingredients, so our supply chain is impacted by floods, interruptions to travel, which put our ability to deliver food at risk. We try and make the food more frequently and it’s far fresher than store-bought food.

“Our focus is on being as good as we can be and our business has grown to over 25,000 dogs eating Scratch from loyal customers that recommend us. We know if we do right by the customer, our customer will be good to us. Looking after our customers is the name of the game while the supply chain is so crazy.”

The demand for Scratch Dog Food has been so high that the company has had to limit customer growth. “Over the last 18 months, at least one of our recipes has not been available to new customers just in order to reserve that supply for the dogs who already rely on it. We’re a subscription dog food model and we promise to offer the best customer service and product availability so we will always prioritise existing customers. We’ve also opened new warehouses with six locations around the country for more local delivery options and less reliance on air freight.”

Embracing a sustainable business model

Scratch Dog Food is Australia’s only B-Corp pet brand – and fifth in the world – and from the beginning the brand has donated 1% of its revenue, which has doubled to 2%, to help climate action and improve dog welfare.

“Being a sustainable business, including the way we treat our employees and suppliers, is a huge part of what we do. We have good mentors and leadership, with Who Gives A Crap as one of our investors, to help us engage in a different way of doing business. We have a roster of 10 partners who we donate to every month,” Halligan said.

“On the transparency side, we’ve introduced software that documents any changes we make to our recipes so our customers can follow the historical status of the ingredients used on our website.”