How This Organic Dog Shampoo Is Cleaning Up In a Pooch Mad Market
Having owned dogs all his life, animal lover Peter Francis is well acquainted with the health problems that can plague the average pooch. However, one thing he’s never had to worry about is his pets’ skin.
That’s because for much of the past 20 years, Francis has used his own gentle kids’ shampoos and conditioners from his Eco.kid Organics range on his dogs Louie and Ollie.
“It may seem odd to use human shampoo on dogs, but it was more than suitable considering they didn’t contain harmful preservatives and ingredients and they never had skin problems,” he said. “There really wasn’t anything else out there I felt comfortable using.”
Francis has now fine-tuned his winning formula into an offshoot of Eco.kid called Eco.pup – a range of certified organic and hypoallergenic dog hygiene products including shampoos and conditioners in spray bottles. Since Eco.pup launched this year, his own dogs, along with thousands of others, have been all the better for it.
“I’ve barely ever seen my dogs scratch themselves – certainly no more than a healthy dog would do,” said Francis. “Some dog shampoos have so many preservatives in them, they are horrendous.”
Not only can conventional shampoos make dogs incredibly itchy, they can also lead to blister-like lesions, ear infections, bald patches, obsessive licking, paw biting and other serious issues. “Dogs were never mean to be shampooed,” Francis said. “You’d never see a dog in the wild with a bar of soap, so it can be difficult to get right.”
Debuting in June through Woolworths-owned health and wellness platform, Healthylife, Eco.pup has been embraced by consumers and industry. This year Francis’ pitch about Eco.pup won the Pitch Fest competition at Naturally Good 2023.
The journey began back in 2020 when Francis was approached by a company interested in making a certified organic dog shampoo. Rather than make the product for someone else, Peter turned his focus to researching animal skin care and formulating his own brand.
What he discovered surprised him.
The sensitive nature of dog coats
Dogs typically have up to 20 hairs growing out of one follicle, compared to humans who have one hair strand per follicle. That means each dog follicle is substantially wider, making their skin nowhere near as tough as our own.
Francis also learnt that once dogs become de-sexed their oil production drops from 13.5ml of oil per sqcm of skin to just 2.5ml. “It basically removes all the function that oil has in the coat of a dog. Many owners like to wash their dogs frequently – some once a week. If you’re using a substandard shampoo and conditioner with lots of preservatives, you risk stripping even more oil out and creating skin problems.”
The Eco.pup products were rigorously tested and scored incredibly low on the irritation chart at levels of up to five, compared to some other formulas on the market which scored irritations scores as high as 60.
“Eco.pup is ACO Certified Organic with no synthetic molecules. Most shampoos use really harsh foaming agents which create a lot of bubbles which can be really irritating to dogs’ skin. Rather than bubbling, our product creates a rich creamy lather.”
From humble beginnings to global success
Francis began his career as a hairdresser and eventually became a trichologist studying issues related to the hair and scalp, as well as treatments. In 2002 he founded Eco.kid after finding few suitable products to use on the hair of his own kids Susa, then aged three, and Paris, then 2.
Having successfully built up the company exporting to 13 countries, he sold the majority share of the business in 2015 to Indian-based major FMCG company Emami Ltd. Part of the deal was relocating to Kolkata in India for four years where he started studying Ayurvedic ingredients.
Following the upheaval of COVID, Francis bought back his business in 2020 under the new name of Plantworx and re-settled back into life in his hometown of Adelaide, where he was able to concentrate on developing Eco.pup.
Dog ownership is only growing
Australia currently has one of the highest pet ownerships rates in the world with pet adoption increasing significantly over the COVID period. According to the RSPCA, there are currently an estimated 28.7 million pets in Australia. Almost 50 per cent are dogs with around 13 million dogs in households.
This has led to a burgeoning Australian pet grooming products market which was worth $234 million in 2021 and is expected to grow by 9 per cent up to 2027.
“Dogs have become incredibly important members of the family over the years,” said Francis. “They’re no longer chained up to fenceposts and left to look after themselves. People are spending many thousands of dollars to buy a dog and they bring a real sense of value to our hectic and difficult lives, so they really want the best for them and are prepared to pay for it.”
A winning solution
Eco.pup’s stockists, Healthylife, urged Francis to enter into this year’s Pitch Fest at Naturally Good 2023. “We weren’t ready to exhibit, so I thought entering the competition would be a good way to explain the product to distributors and judges. I was actually quite shocked to win seeing as we were up against some incredible products.”
Pitch Fest judge Christine Pitt, from Food Futures Company, said Eco.pup, which competed alongside Sip Co, Max + Tom, Fierce Inner Strength, and Sensoriam, said had impressed with its innovation.
“A clear problem was outlined regarding the skin problems dogs suffer and an ingenious solution was presented in the product,” she explained. “We also saw there would be traction in the brand and investors would be interested.”
As part of the winning prize, Eco.pup will be gifted a stand at next year’s Naturally Good event.
“We’re now at the stage of considering our next steps quite carefully,” says Francis. “We’ll be looking to connect with more distributors at Naturally Good 2024 and are looking to tell our story. It’s exciting times ahead.”
Find out more about the Naturally Good Pitch Fest here.