Two entrepreneurs who started a pet food company in late 2021 have shifted gears this year. Now, the Kaniville company is feeding Ukrainian troops and helping local supermarkets keep their shelves stocked.
Taras Lysenko worked several years to start production of dog and cat food in metal cans by October 2021 near Kanev, which is in the Cherkasy Oblast in central Ukraine. By February of this year, the war of Russian aggression began.
Supplies were exceeding demand all of a sudden.
“The first week after the start of the war, we were all shocked by what was happening. I started calling customers whom I knew personally,” Lysenko said in a Pravda report. “In two weeks, we did not receive a single order and not even an answer to the question of when new deliveries would be possible. Even in peaceful Transcarpathia.”
Soldiers with Ukraine’s Territorial Defense eat lunch at their defensive outpost in the woods on June 29, 2022 in the Kramatorsk Region, Ukraine. A pet food company in Ukraine called Kaniville is now making human food at its processing plant.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Nearly 100 people worked for the company, which meant payroll was still expected. They worked odd jobs in the plant until one day a partner of Lysenko came up with an idea.
“At the beginning of March, my partner Ihor, who lives in Cherkasy, was going to the factory in Khmilna and saw how free chicken meat was being distributed to people from a truck right on the highway. They had nowhere to sell the goods, they also stopped working usual supply channels,” Lysenko said.
Lysenko and his partners devised a new plan to work with local poultry plants to buy chickens at a discounted price. They developed a recipe, tested the product and soon had several thousand cans ready to ship.
They developed food fit for humans on the same machines they make pet food.
“On the equipment where we made animal feed, you can make canned goods. We had almost everything, except recipes,” Lysenko said, noting that the equipment is “washed in a special way” as they still produce dog and cat food. “In one shop, on one piece of equipment, it is possible to produce canned goods for people and animals according to the norms, but you need to spread the production over time. The equipment is washed in a special way.”
Lysenko said Kaniville receives raw materials and stores them into freezers. From there, workers grind the meat and puts it into a pipeline that feeds it into cans. After beginning production of human food, the requests came rolling in.
“We developed our trademark – Kaniville, made a simple packaging design. Later it turned out that it is very similar to Polish pâté. The Poles wrote that, of course, we Ukrainians love you very much, but why is it so similar? That’s why we changed the label,” Lysenko said.
The initial flavors of human food were chicken and liver pâté. The war intensified through March and April, and it became a problem to procure raw materials. That’s when Kaniville initiated a progressive marketing campaign.
“In March-April, we were saved by close communication with the poultry farm,” Lysenko said. “From May, interruptions began: sometimes beef disappeared and its price increased, then pork. In October, we had a large order for chicken stew, but partners from the poultry farm did not confirm the supply. We were looking for chicken throughout the country.”
Kaniville began finding more chicken, and they also started working with meat vendors. That included the OPOS company, which supplies beef for McDonald’s.
The company produces roughly 2 million cans of human food per month – in addition to the thousands of pet food cans.
Of those 2 million cans of human food, about 45 percent find their way to grocery store shelves, 35 percent are bought by humanitarian and volunteer organizations for free distribution to those in need, and the rest goes to needs of the Ukrainian army.
Kaniville has large generators to keep its plant operational as ongoing threats of Russian missiles and rolling blackouts of the looming harsh winter.