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Healthy dog biscuits, exotic wines
What began as a hobby—baking home-made dog treats for his two pets—has blossomed into a lucrative business for Carenage resident Adrian Cook.
The biscuits are so tasty that even dog owners have been known to nibble on them, Cook said about his treats, the first locally made of its kind to hit the T&T market.
He said developing his unique product goes well beyond whipping ingredients together and baking the treats in assorted shapes, including dog bones and dog houses.
With less than $10,000 in start-up capital, Cook started a business that now sustains local farmers who supply him with fresh produce like sweet potatoes and bananas.
Cook, who runs the business with his girlfriend, explained: “We bought a pack of dog treats at one of the pet stores but when we came home we realised it was just a generic brand that was repackaged. The ingredients weren’t all that and my dogs, Hailey and Dot, weren’t interested in them.
“I decided to make some for myself as I’m pretty handy around the kitchen. My dogs liked it, my sister’s dogs also liking it and my girlfriend also tried it on her dogs, so it went from there.”
The multi-talented businessman—who does woodworking and is also a graphics designer—created the economical brown paper bag packaging and a label featuring his two pooches and branded the treats:
Dotties. Although established just two months ago, the business has already take off as Dotties biscuits are a hot seller at various upmarkets. Online orders have also taken off with Cook’s clientèle coming mostly from west Trinidad.
“We do a lot of deliveries to homes and offices in Port-of-Spain but we have also gone as far as San Fernando and Arima in the East. We try to hit markets throughout the country.”
What makes his treats stand out from long standing imported brands?
Cook said it is because he uses only the freshest ingredients and the treats contain no preservatives, added sugar or salt—key aspects to a dog’s well-being.
“I make my own peanut butter and some of the things I put in are oats, beet root, cheese and bacon. We always make sure we get the best produce from our local farmers and we also source our honey locally.”
However, there have been requests from pet owners for speciality treats for dogs with allergies.
Cook, who also came up with this specific line, said it includes treats such as peanut butter and coconut and using oats as a substitute for flour in the banana and beet biscuits.
“We also make biscuits for our regular customers to suit their dogs.”
The sweet potato, peanut butter and cheese and bacon are the most popular flavours.
Cook’s venture has definitely found its niche in the business landscape but not without some challenges.
One of his main challenges is sourcing capital to expand. Cooks wants to achieve greater storage space as preparation and baking are currently done at home.
“We want to get our products out to groceries and pet stores but because the treats contain no preservatives so there is a short shelf life. The treats have to be refrigerated and we are trying to find out how to match that at a fixed location.
Cook added: “We are trying to find a way to have a longer shelf life in the most natural way. We have done some research and we are experimenting with how it affects the taste.”
Dotties are versatile treats, say Cook.
“One of the biggest difficulties is an amazing story in itself. When we go to the different markets, we have sample bags and one of the biggest problem is people think they are cookies at first and are shocked by the fact that they are dog biscuits.
“But they are very edible because I eat them while baking and I have friends who also eat them,” he explained.
On any given day Cook bakes up to 400 treats. Products are retailed in bags weighing ten ounces at a cost of $40 each. A bag of the speciality treats cost $10 more.
By request Cook is looking into the idea of making cat treats, so within the next five years his eyes are set not only on the increase in availability but producing a wider variety of treats for pets.
Cook comes from a line of wine makers as his father brews intoxicating flavours at his Maracas winery.
Armed with that knowledge, Cook tried his hand at this venture using seasonal fruits and Tucuché Tropical Country Wines was founded.
“My father has been making wines as far back as I can remember, perhaps a couple decades ago.
“We have always pushed him to take it to another level. It was only in January this year we decided to go public with the wines, some which have been ageing three years,” Cook explained.
While wine making is not new to T&T, Cook believes the flavours he incorporates make his product distinct. He said there are certain tricks peculiar to every wine maker.
“We have a flavour and clarity that puts us up there with the best. The experience my dad brings allows us to manipulate flavours. It’s sweet and tasty, not bitter.
“Our pommecythere tastes like you’re biting into a pommecythere, our guava tastes like guava jam with a blend of local spices.”
Again local farmers play an integral part in the process as most of the produce is sourced from the North Coast.
Uncommon fruits such as lay lay are transformed into a drink which has become much sought after by local wine connoisseurs.
Other blends include passion fruit, cocoa, carambola (five finger), mango zabico, noni, banana, pommerac, noni and lay lay, noni and banana and noni and mango.
At $120 a bottle, how does this compete with the domestic $40 wine market?
“We are not going after that market. Our wines definitely have a difference in ageing and clarity, even the body of the wine and finished taste make us unique,” he explained.
“There are a few local labels at the price point we are at and that’s where we are keeping our eyes at, but I believe we can match the imported ones.”
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