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Marrying design & her love of feeding strays, this M’sian started a healthy pet treats biz

Kha Mern grew up in a household with parents who’d feed the stray dogs roaming around their neighbourhood every day, even bringing them for vaccinations and neutering at the vet. 

It’s no surprise that Kha Mern began doing the same later on. As a fresh university graduate running a design studio with her friends, she’d feed homemade pet treats to strays, a move that eventually led to her launching ZOKZOK.

A name that calls out to strays

Feeding the strays that roam around her neighbourhood / Image Credit: ZOKZOK

After being gifted a small food dehydrator by an aunt who bought it years ago but left it unutilised, Kha Mern began experimenting with it. First dehydrating some fruits and veggies as nutritious snacks for herself, she attempted making meat jerky for her own dog, Kiwi, shortly after.

At the same time, her parents adopted 2 puppies after rescuing them from the drain at a hawker centre. Now with 3 furry members at home, Kha Mern realised it would be a good time to dive into making more treats for them, mainly to cut costs on such purchases. 

She’d research different fruits, veggies, and meats that could be fed to pets, playing around with the different settings on her food dehydrator. With her 3 dogs and all the strays outside, Kha Mern kept experimenting before she eventually considered the treats good enough to sell; on August 6, 2020, ZOKZOK was launched.

The name ”ZOKZOK” is an onomatopoeia of the sound Kha Mern makes when calling out to stray animals, who’d often approach her upon hearing it.

An outlet for creativity

Using simple ingredients like broccoli, anchovies, carrots, and various types of meat, all of ZOKZOK’s treats are human-grade and contain no additional preservatives.

But, it’s worth noting that the healthy pet food industry in Malaysia is lucrative, which means plenty of other local brands are cashing in on it too, one of the most popular being Barkery Oven, for instance. 

Kha Mern is well aware of this and stated that ZOKZOK is not just trying to run with the big dogs, but also functions as an outlet for creativity amongst her design team. 

Their product photography tells a story / Image Credit: ZOKZOK

Thus, if you scroll through ZOKZOK’s Instagram or website, you’d notice that the product photography stands out by how it paints miniature sceneries. You’ll find tiny cats fishing for giant anchovies, or little dogs climbing a broccoli mountain. 

“We are people who enjoy art and design. We take [this business] as a challenge, as well as a medium to showcase all of our skills,” Kha Mern said. While it’s a unique way to capture customers’ attention, the team also believes that they can make pet treats look as appetising as human food too.

“We love spending time discovering and creating. It’s fun to try all the possibilities for ZOKZOK. The business gives us opportunities to expand our passions; it will be one of our lifetime projects to work on,” she added.

All in the content

As the design studio was already furnished with the production equipment for photography and filmmaking, they could set up ZOKZOK within a tight budget. So, their capital of RM3,000 was spent on building their online store and investing in an industrial dehydrator to make larger quantities at a time.

Starting an online business saved them from the costly expenses of opening a retail shop, but it meant building enough visibility to reach customers wasn’t easy. So the team persisted and focused on building their social media presence. 

“Honestly, it really relies on your social media content. The toughest part for us is to constantly produce good content (posts, stories, etc.) especially during the pandemic where it is almost impossible to reach offline customers,” explained Kha Mern, and she believes that every online seller can relate to her experience.

“Fortunately, we do have some customers who appreciated our efforts, repurchased, and recommended our products to others too.” The graphic designer humbly shared that ZOKZOK’s numbers thus far aren’t too outstanding, but added that they’ve sold about 1,056 packs since September 2020. 

Treats are dehydrated and packed / Image Credit: ZOKZOK

Made-to-order, ZOKZOK’s pet treats are sold at RM5-RM20 per pack. The volume inside each packet can differ, as veggies and anchovies are large in content but light in weight. Hence, veggies are packed into 20g and 50g variants, anchovies in 25g and 60g, and meat jerkies come in 50g and 100g bags.

In the next 3 years, Kha Mern shared that the team aims to provide more healthy treats to our furry friends, and to keep exploring more design possibilities for ZOKZOK.

  • You can learn more about ZOKZOK here.
  • You can read about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Kha Mern, founder of ZOKZOK

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