The blazing hot summer weather of 2022 was the perfect launch pad for an innovative new pet food business, Doggies Delights' ice cream for dogs.
Recent animal science graduate Abbie Wills, 23, started her Doggies Delight side hustle in June 2022 and is now supplying more than 10 ice cream shops, dog cafes and dog shops in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Beverley, East Yorkshire and surrounding areas.
Sales were stimulated by a summer of record-breaking British temperatures but also by word-of-mouth recommendations and have grown further using social media, with customers attracted by a locally produced, tailor-made pet product that is fat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free and has no artificial flavours or preservatives.
"I initially got the idea when visiting a dog friendly cafe, where the customers were all in line ordering food but also ordering vanilla ice cream for their dogs," said Abbie, who has previously worked with animals including five years with the boarding kennels at Warley Cross between Brandesburton and Beeford, East Yorkshire.
This got the young canine fan wondering why no one seemed to be selling ice cream for dogs. Her strong background in bioveterinary science - with a large focus on animal nutrition - soon made her realise that people buying ice cream for their dogs - but made for people to eat - was a very unhealthy food choice for dogs.
"Ice cream for people to eat contains lots of full fat milk and cream along with lactose which dogs simply can't digest," adds Abbie who, over the following weeks, rigorously researched the best ways to remove lactose from dairy products; this ultimately brought her to add a very specific volume of the enzyme 'lactase' which breaks down all the 'lactose' within dairy products, making it lactose free.
She then researched the best flavours for dogs which were not just healthy but also tasty which led her to opt for banana flavour (using fresh bananas) and peanut butter flavour (using real nuts).
The product testing of the first batch of Doggies Delights banana ice cream was quite literally 'lab tested', on Pippa, Abbie's pet Labrador. "It was classic lab behaviour," laughs Abbie; "she loved it and, of course, she wanted more."
With the product proven in principle Abbie needed to see if other dogs liked it and if the people of Harrogate would be interested in a free sample for their pets. "To my surprise there was a lot of interest with the post getting lots of likes, comments and shares and owners wanting a sample of the ice cream."
That was enough to prompt Abbie to develop a social media profile for Doggies Delights, as she called her fledgling business.
As she was receiving lots of photos of owners with their dogs trying the ice cream this gave her the content for a social media campaign, which in turn has allowed her to build up stockists for Doggies Delights, including The Dogs Bakery and Cafe, Pj's Ices, Castle Creamery, Slingsby's, Crimple and Sophie's Corner Shop, Oh My Dog and The Old Post Office Tea Rooms.
So far customers' favourite flavour is the peanut butter ice cream, which is made with yogurt, peanuts and that essential lactase enzyme in a small but controlled environment in her Beverley home.
"Since I started I have had to enhance my kitchen, and ice cream making space, increasing the number of ice cream mixers I have running, along with buying a second fridge freezer to allow for increased stock."
She is also looking at a separate room to expand the manufacturing space, allowing Doggies Delights to increase the amount it currently produces, up from the 30 packs a day.
One production challenge she has had to overcome is having to use far less fat than normal ice cream, making it turn very hard when frozen and therefore impractical for larger soft scoop tubs which have more fat in the ingredients.