In this article from a recent issue of Women Together, member Claire Thompson shares the secrets behind her successful gourmet pet treats business. If you'd like to meet inspiring women like Claire in Scotland, join the SWI...
It comes as something of a surprise to learn that the woman behind a gourmet range of treats adored by pets is allergic to dogs.
But with a desire to create a healthier version of snacks for pets, animal lover Claire Thompson was determined that the problem wouldn’t stop her from cooking up doggy delights to her four-legged friends.
Her handmade biscuits, cakes and treats went down a treat so she set up a small business venture, operating from her home in West Lothian.
It's not just dogs that Gourmet Pet Treats cater for, it has a range of products specially for cats...and even horses too!
Claire has a dedicated kitchen in her home where she creates her bakes and she’ll happily experiment with different ingredients and ideas to satisfy specific customer requirements.
All are made by hand and only natural ingredients are used – there are no artificial additives or preservatives. This means that they have a shorter use by date and they must be kept refrigerated, a barrier that makes it difficult to have her products stocked in shops or vets.
But it’s because they are fresh and include quality ingredients that make them popular with pet owners. With a growing client base the Christmas period was her busiest ever time fulfilling orders, but she’s still able to create her pet treats around her other commitments.
Claire runs a sales and marketing company and she’s an accomplished sportswoman, having represented Scotland in the Over 55s hockey world masters and being a Scottish squash doubles champion.
Claire attends Harburn Institute and fellow members are among her customers, with the business growing through word of mouth and with the help of her friends, including a local vet and a dogwalker, and attendance at an Institute fair.
As well as cooking bespoke flavours, her products can be personalised to suit the occasion they are being ordered for.
Claire explained: “Sometimes I am asked to put the pet’s initials on a cupcake, and one lady added a candle for her grandchildren to blow out for her dog’s birthday.
“Pets are part of the family and some owners feel that if they are having a cup of tea and a biscuit, they feel their pet should have something too.
“This is a way of knowing that you are feeding your pet something a bit healthier. They should not be fed to them all the time, but these are better as they have natural goodness. They contain nothing that you or I could not eat as just like humans, what you put into a dog affects its health.
“I have loved dogs and animals all my life and when we were on holiday in the USA, I’d always go into dog cafes and delis and take something home for dogs I know.
“On my 50th birthday a friend gave me a pets’ recipe book and she said, ‘that’s what you should be doing’.”
It was a few years later before she decided to give it a go, making carrot crunchies for dogs of her family and friends. The dogs loved them, and she came up with adaptations based on feedback from their owners.
Word spread and five years on and she’s built up a loyal clientele and offers a range that includes treats flavoured with chicken, tuna, peanut butter, and sausage. Horses adore the carrot crunchies.
The sweet products tend to be flavoured with bananas and the icing on top of cupcakes is yoghurt or cream cheese.
Claire added: “It’s not my full-time job but since moving from Killin to Harburn I have more customers as this seems to be an area with a lot of dog owners.
“I had my busiest Christmas yet and I definitely wrapped more dog biscuits than I did parcels for humans!”
Because of her allergy Claire doesn’t have dogs of her own but many of her friends and family do and she never shies away from any of them - in fact she seems to have a kind of canine magnetism that attracts them to her.
“I love dogs and I’ll always pat them if they come up to me, I just have to make sure to carry wipes or wash my hands afterwards or I have a reaction.”