In 2003, Wim Pater, together with his colleague, took over a branch of starch producer AVEBE that was deep in the red.
Less than ten years later, Paragon Pet Products Europe B.V. is healthy as can be and producing millions of plant-based dog snacks per week. This is a biobased success story from the Northern Netherlands.
Paragon Pet Products dog chews are produced in dozens of shapes, from hedgehogs to toothbrushes and sticks, at a modern factory in Veendam. Whatever their shape, they all have wheat starch or potato starch as their main ingredient. About 15 per cent of the chews are produced for the Dutch market and are principally supplied to pet shops, garden centres and DIY stores. The rest are exported to countries around the world, especially its major markets of the United States and Europe.
The success of Paragon Pet Products is due to Wim Pater’s perseverance. In 1991, he graduated in Wageningen as a chemical technician, after which he carried out research in Wageningen for AVEBE into the possibilities of bioplastics. He worked as an external researcher until 1997 and then worked as project leader for AVEBE, with Wageningen University & Research as a research partner. An impressive number of applications were researched but the results were disappointing: both technically and economically, the bioplastics products could not compete with their ‘fossil’ counterparts.
Search for unique characteristics
Wim Pater believes the disappointing results were a result of a lack of focus. ‘We had just barely come up with one application and we were already chasing another one. No one thought about a product’s basic functionality. You have to look for unique characteristics and then take advantage of them. Only then will you, as a producer of bioplastics, have a chance with the Bayers and BASFs of this world.
This realisation was enough reason for Wim and his business partner to take over AVEBE’s unsuccessful biofactory in 2003. It cost him his savings, a second mortgage and a lot of sleep. His wife was also six months pregnant at the time. ‘And in the meantime I had to work like crazy to come up with a concept and design products, because we had nothing yet.’
Wim put the focus on a new application: a fully plant-based doggy snack. It was unique, because a doggy snack did not come from an injection moulding machine. It took a great deal of out-of-the-box thinking to get this project off the ground. Wageningen University & Research Food & Biobased Research supported him with research to find the right formula. ‘My relationship with “Wageningen” has continued. I must say we make a perfect team.’
Wim Pater decided to move his company’s complete production to his own production facility. Now he employs 27 highly-skilled workers at the factory in Veendam, ‘a smart production facility with state of the art machinery.’ Around 50 to 100 people from social enterprises in the region work daily to pack the product. ‘It is going well. I have always believed in this product. A product made of bioplastics needs to be more than a substitute for a product that is made of ordinary plastic, and our product is just that. Since it is plant-based, it has a low fat content. And thanks to its ribbed structure, the dog has lots of grip, thoroughly cleaning its teeth. Not to mention, it also contains a healthy amount of fibre.’
But perhaps one of the product’s most important characteristics is that the snacks look so good. ‘Dogs don’t buy chews themselves; their owners do.’
This customers' story was published in the Food & Biobased Newsletter - April 2012