Barking Heads

Building a fast-growing omni-channel fun and quirky premium natural dog and cat food brand legend. 

Invested £5m in 2017, exited in 2021

In 2021 we exited to Inspired Pet Nutrition (IPN), a leading independent UK pet food company, who acquired Pet Food UK, including its three brands Barking Heads, Meowing Heads and AATU.

Throughout our partnership with them, we were able to develop the brand into a digital first business. At investment, only 10% of sales in the UK came from digital channels which has shifted to c.60% of sales today. Meanwhile, 30% of revenue comes from international markets.

We were delighted to see Pet Food UK and the team at Barking Mad Mansions (their lovely dog-friendly office) join IPN, who share their values and commitment to the high standards of product quality, innovation and sustainability, and we know the company and its brands will continue to flourish under the new ownership.

Many entrepreneurs are struck by a ‘lightbulb moment’ – a catalyst setting them off on the path to success. Paul Hunter’s came after he and his wife took over a boarding kennel for dogs and cats. The previous owner had left behind cheap and nasty pet food that few animals would touch – those that did would suffer the consequences.

Appalled by what he saw, Hunter tracked down a more expensive and nutritious American pet food brand and the difference was astonishing. Owners picking up their dogs assumed they’d been bathed as they looked more alert with much shinier coats. But it was all due to the food.

When he sold the kennels business, Hunter joined the American brand, where he met Dave O’Regan and Jim Moloney. After a few years, the trio decided to strike out on their own. Their mission? To ‘create a business where the only goal was to make higher quality dog and cat food packed with meat, fish and other natural ingredients’. In 2009, Pet Food UK was born.

Barking Heads for dogs and Meowing Heads for cats are predominantly dry premium natural pet food ranges formulated with the finest ingredients sourced from the UK. Barking Heads was inspired by O’Regan hearing Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime on the radio – a quirkiness which extends across the brand a whole. With highly distinctive and colourful packaging and names such as ‘Fat Dog Slim’, ‘Smitten Kitten’ and ‘Beef Wagginton’, the products truly stand out on the shelves. Cartoon dog Bailey, his feline friend Phoebe and their assorted family act as official brand ambassadors.

In 2015, the company introduced the AATU brand, a super-premium product following the 80/20 rule (80% meat, 20% vegetables), making it the world’s first single protein source dry pet food.

Knowing that the £250m natural pet food market is continuing to grow as consumers have become rightly concerned about what they are feeding their pets, we increased our presence in the natural pet food sector by investing £5m into Pet Food UK in 2017. At the time of our investment, the company’s revenue exceeded £10m and its brands were sold in more than 1,500 UK stockists – from multiples to independent pet food specialists. Based in Hemel Hempstead and employing 20 staff, it was also growing rapidly abroad, with sales across Scandinavia, Ireland, Russia and the Czech Republic representing nearly 30% of turnover.

We had a number of opportunities for investment, but selected Piper because of their deep knowledge and understanding of the sector and ability to help us accelerate and manage our growth successfully.

Paul Hunter, Managing Director

Current investments