Denzel’s, the healthy dog snack start-up brand, has received investment from Holly Branson and a handful of strategic investors, putting the company in position to grow 16-fold by 2022.
The business, which has a growing range of healthy snacks for dogs, was founded by millennial entrepreneurs, Nathan Perry (30) and James Lacy (29).
Denzel’s launched in 2018 with initial funding from Virgin StartUp. Within 12 months the brand was stocked in over 1,500 locations and had grown by more than 500% by the end of year two, having also secured distribution in Ireland, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Dubai.
As the first Virgin StartUp to receive funding from Holly Branson and a small number of other private investors, Denzel’s is gearing up to achieve its goal of becoming Europe’s leading sustainable and healthy snack for dogs. The money will be used to expand its product range, build the team and increase brand visibility through social media, PR and marketing, with a heavy focus on sustainability.
The company, which was named after James’ cocker spaniel, Denzel, was inspired by the boom in popularity of healthy human snacks. Recognising that other dog snacks in the category were both unsustainable and unhealthy, James and Nathan spotted an opportunity to disrupt the market by targeting millennial-minded dog owners who are increasingly health and environmentally conscious. Each pack of Denzel’s clearly communicates calories on the front of the pack, whilst educating dog owners with collectable cards inside.
With an initial loan from Virgin StartUp, Denzel’s was able to create a new and unique method of baking in eco-friendly wood chip ovens in the UK, using 100% natural and healthy ingredients sourcing ingredients such as wonky fruit and vegetables from their local suppliers.
Sustainability is as important to Denzel’s as creating tasty, healthy dog snacks. In addition to its letter-box friendly packaging, made from recyclable cardboard, the brand has just brought to market a 100% plastic free, compostable pouch that biodegrades in 30 weeks from throwing away in the normal trash.
Denzel’s visual identity was created by Victoria Hemphill, who was later brought on as a third Co-Founder. Her vibrant illustrations, designed to appeal to millennial dog owners, see Denzel the dog brought to life in cartoon form, designed to be fun, simple, and clear.
Holly Branson, known for working with founders to develop innovative and disruptive products that not only generate financial returns, but also create positive social and environmental change, immediately recognised Denzel’s potential. Having never invested in a Virgin StartUp company before, Holly and the other investors were impressed by Denzel’s unique brand and business model.
Holly Branson said, “Denzel’s is a great brand and has huge potential. They have already proved to be highly successful and I am extremely excited to be part of their future.
I’m a huge advocate for innovative, socially-conscious, sustainable brands that are run by individuals that place as much importance on their positive impact on society, as they do on profit. Denzel’s fast growth and ambition to shake up an established £3.2 Billion UK pet food market by encouraging them to be more sustainable and accountable for the quality of their ingredients, is what has attracted me to Denzel’s.”
James Lacy, Co-Founder of Denzel’s added, “With 26% of UK households being dog owners, coupled with an increasing appetite for healthier and more sustainable living, it makes perfect sense that people will want to give their dogs snacks that are better for them. We have a number of products that are easily accessible, and we have seen a phenomenal response and rapid growth as a result. However, to take our brand to the next level, we recognised that we needed investment; not just financially, but with someone that shared our values and would invest in us as young entrepreneurs. Holly was a no brainer; not only does she have all the qualities that we were looking for but, as our first business loan was with Virgin StartUp, there were already strong synergies.”
Denzel’s multi-channel strategy has also contributed to their rapid growth. In addition to securing listings in supermarkets, health food and pet shops, including Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Wholefoods and Holland & Barratt, it was important that Denzel’s was available to dog owners when out and about. Recognising that the UK is a nation of dog lovers, and that owners take their dogs wherever they go, Denzel’s took the mentality of a lifestyle brand, achieving listings in many hotels, pubs and cafés, including Coppa Club – a dog-friendly chain of hotels and bars.
IT BEGAN WITH A VIRGIN START-UP BUSINESS LOAN
Originally meeting whilst studying Animal Science and Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before holding positions at Lily’s Kitchen and Pooch & Mutt, Co-Founders James and Nathan have been resourceful, quickly building a popular and profitable business off the back of a small Virgin StartUp Loan. It was this success that caught the eye of Holly Branson – an active early stage investor who is passionate about supporting UK entrepreneurship.
Fishburn said, “So much of the success of early stage businesses is in the founding team; how they adapt and pivot their business, the decisions they make and what they achieve when money is scarce. On that front, both James and Nathan have impressed me hugely. Their understanding of brand and what makes a good one is really impressive.
“They knew that this was an important part of their business and they have clearly invested in it – not just financially, but also by making it a focus and ensuring it’s considered and coherent. They have a clear understanding of their market – a growing one at that – and I believe they’re well positioned to become a leading brand.”
Holly Branson added, “My decision to invest in Denzel’s was driven by my faith in the entrepreneurial and sustainable drive and passion of its three founders. James, Nathan and Victoria approach every aspect of their supply chain through a purpose-focussed lens.
“Businesses like Denzel’s make me excited about the investment potential of the next cohort of companies that will go through the Virgin StartUp loan mentoring programme. The UK’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving and I, for one, am delighted to invest in a company that will continue to go on to do great things.”