Zuke’s, a pet treat company founded in 1995, expects to grow locally after its sale in December to international giant Nestlé Purina PetCare.
Nestlé Purina has committed to keeping Zuke’s in Durango, and all current employees are staying on, Zuke’s officials said.
“The company’s staying here and growing,” said Chris Meiering, Zuke’s director of marketing.
The sale closed Dec. 20. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Zuke’s has been celebrated as one of a handful of Durango companies that brings in revenue from outside the area. The fast-growing company was honored as part of the Colorado Companies to Watch Program in 2009.
Patrick Meiering, who turns 47 today, founded Zuke’s in Albuquerque after getting the idea to make energy bars for dogs while on a hike in Durango with his dog, Zuke. Zuke became exhausted, and Patrick gave the dog water and an energy bar.
“Of course, 20 minutes later and he’s up and running,” he said.
Patrick Meiering returned to Albuquerque. He went around town buying ingredients, mixing beef, cooking brown rice, “everything you can think of,” to create recipes for doggy energy bars, he said.
He hosted “Melrose Place” parties where friends and family would package and label the dog treats while watching the popular ’90s TV show. He attracted $60,000 from acquaintances to launch the company.
Zuke’s first product was Power Bones, a conscious play on PowerBar.
“There’s all these products available for human athletes, but there wasn’t the same level of quality for canines,” Meiering said.
Zuke’s leashed itself to a trend of pampering pets with high-end, healthy items.
“People were beginning to relate to their pets differently,” he said.
Money flowed into the industry in 2009 as investors sought recession-proof investments. Hedge funds and other large, institutional investors entered the pet products market.
“What happened was lots of copying, lots of replication, lots of consolidation,” Meiering said.
Seeing “the writing on the wall,” he met with venture capital firms and formed a partnership with Encore Consumer Capital. The San Francisco firm purchased a stake in Zuke’s in 2009, fueling the company’s growth.
Encore enabled Zuke’s to withstand a wave of consolidation and shaking out in the industry.
“We had the partnership with Encore and a foundation built for what we wanted to do,” Meiering said.
Zuke’s now stocks its products in 7,000 independent pet-product stores in the U.S. and Canada, including Durango retailers such as Pet Haus. Zuke’s also is on the shelves of the two largest pet-supply chains, Petco and PetSmart, along with smaller, regional chains. Natural-food stores such as Whole Foods Market are another important retail market.
Zuke’s has 25 employees, about half of whom work in Durango. Salespeople are spread across the U.S.
Meiering said he decided to sell to Nestlé Purina in part to provide an international launching pad for Zuke’s products.
“Zuke’s deserves a worldwide platform to go out and be one of the companies that really gets big,” he said.
The Meierings, who are brothers, said they have yet to tap into Nestlé Purina’s product development and research expertise. They’re hoping to expand into Europe but had worried about the regulatory difficulty of getting their meat-based products into the European Union. Nestlé Purina already has jumped through those hoops.
“That’s a massive problem,” Chris Meiering said. “They’ve solved that for us.”
Nestlé Purina, based in St. Louis, declined to comment, referring questions to Zuke’s. Nestlé Purina is a division of Switzerland-based Nestlé.
Patrick Meiering said Zuke’s will expand in Durango. The company’s tiny “world headquarters” at 2257 Main Ave., marked by a small sign, will be augmented by moving into a nearby building across Junction Creek at 2243 Main Ave.
Chris Meiering anticipates embarking on a round of hiring.
“I would expect the workforce in Durango to expand significantly in the next 12 to 18 months,” he said.
Chris said he’s not concerned that Nestlé Purina will swallow Zuke’s into a larger corporate culture.
“They want to grow what we created, not assimilate us into a larger corporation,” he said.