Owen emerges as our local business top dog

Owen Passey with his dogs EV and Murphy and his new line of dog food called Smart Barf
Owen Passey with his dogs EV and Murphy and his new line of dog food called Smart Barf

DOG food entrepreneur Owen Passey is the winner of The Sheffield Telegraph and The Star’s Local Business Accelerators competition thanks to a cracking idea well executed, but don’t take our word for it, the BBC’s Dragons’ Den and Pets at Home are also interested in him - and he’s terrified.

Owen makes SmartBarf, a powdered supplement containing a staggering 50 ingredients - herbs, pulses, vegetables and fruit - which is mixed with raw meat. Together, it is said, they form the best possible diet for man’s best friend and the closest to what their wild cousins absorb from herbivore prey.

The concept of ‘biologically accurate raw food’ - BARF - is fast gaining ground among dog lovers and, Owen explained, the market is potentially huge.

He estimates about one in 200 owners now feeds their dog this way and with 8m dogs in the country that adds up to potentially £250,000-a-month - or £3m-a-year in sales

Another huge plus is the 40 per cent margin Owen makes on every 500g packet.

Judges Richard Wright and Edison John-Lewis were impressed by the margin and the potential size of the market - as well as its shelf life and ease of use - and picked him as the winner.

Then Owen revealed that after featuring in the shortlist of companies published in December he’d had a call from the producers of Dragons’ Den urging him to appear on the hit programme.

And just before Christmas he’d been one of just six people invited to pitch his idea to the bosses of national pet shop Pets at Home. It went well, he said, but he is dreading being given the green light because he simply couldn’t meet demand.

“My product is unique, no one else is making anything like it in the UK. But if Pets at Home do take it on there’s no way I could do it. I’m terrified, what if they say yes?”

At present Owen, who works full time as a reporting analyst, runs SmartBarf from home in Cloonmore Drive, Norton, Sheffield, mixing up the ingredients in his garden shed. Maximum output, he reckons is 300kg a week.

Other potential obstacles to growth include a fear of getting into debt. Owen says he had his fingers badly burned in an unrelated business venture 20 years ago.

He is more interested in serving dog lovers already converted to the Barf concept rather than targeting the mass market of dried or tinned dog food.

And he is not keen to change the name ‘barf’ which has another, unpleasant, meaning.

But if business did take off Owen said his wife would be keen to get much more involved.

He added: “I need advertising to reach people who are already feeding their dogs raw meat and to move into new areas. But so far I’ve done almost everything by word of mouth. I’m very nervous of the business going into debt. So far I’ve always financed it myself.

“I just need a little bit of courage to contact more people. I need to go and see them, it doesn’t work over the phone.”