Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. In this instalment, we chat with Brits Ryan Black and Chris Lee of Buddy Bites about how they’re keeping HK’s hounds well fed while also helping local dog shelters!
Where are you from and what brought you to Hong Kong?
Ryan: While the accent is dwindling, I’m from and lived in Edinburgh before moving to HK. The move was one built out of stubbornness as most of my friends were moving to London, but I was never that attracted to the big smoke. I wanted to move to a major city, which put Hong Kong and New York at the forefront. A good friend was playing rugby, and working in recruitment at the time in HK, and over a few beers during Christmas 2013, I asked him if he could get me a job. Four weeks later, I was on a plane.
Chris: I grew up in Cheshire. Having gone through both school and university in Manchester, I was keen to make a move and London didn’t seem far enough for the change I was after. I moved here in 2012 with a recruitment agency and loved it instantly. In 2015, work took me to New York for a few years, but I knew I wanted to end up back in HK and have been here since 2017.
What gave you the idea for Buddy Bites?
Chris: The idea came from a conversation over dinner. Ryan and his girlfriend were over at ours and noticed a 15kg bag of dog food occupying the corner of our kitchen. He commented that it must be inconvenient to have to stock up in such a large amount. He wasn’t wrong!
Ryan: I was fresh from completing an MBA and had been looking for an opportunity to set up a direct-to-consumer brand for a little while. The question was, what product would work for that model in Hong Kong? The answer really fell into our laps and we went from there.
Chris: We’re both dog lovers and between us have adopted three dogs from Catherine’s Puppies, so giving back to the local dog community has always been important to us. When we came up with the Buddy Bites idea, we focused on three main pillars. First was convenience through simple online ordering and free delivery across HK. The second was premium nutritional value, partnering with vets and reputable suppliers to ensure the very best quality for our dogs. And third, the ability to give back to the dog shelters of Hong Kong.
Ryan: Our business model is born out of necessity, an issue we’re sure all pet owners have encountered at least once in their lives – running out of food, with no spares ready to go. As the world becomes more focused on convenience, there’s no reason this should not extend to your dog’s food. The subscription element was a no-brainer.
What are some of the products available?
Chris: We will soon launch our fourth kibble flavour, Salmon & Sweet Potato. Currently, we offer Puppy, Adult Lamb and Adult Duck. Our approach is to provide the highest quality kibble available globally, but also to ensure it can be enjoyed by dogs of all ages, breeds, shapes and sizes. All our food is formulated by veterinarians in Hong Kong and produced in Europe – where the most stringent of production regulations are enforced; then the food is third-party tested and packaged here.
Ryan: Aside from kibble, we also offer Dental Sticks and Training Treats, as well as compostable Poo Bags. Complete meals are our core offering, but with convenience in mind, we have a few additional products in the pipeline.
How do purchases help dogs in Hong Kong?
Chris: We support HK dog shelters through a very simple model: for every 2kg of kibble we sell, we donate 1kg; this month, we donated over 1.5 tonnes of dog food across three shelters. Most shelters rely entirely on donations to keep the lights on, and the vet bills are never-ending. To be able to take care of their food every month and free up that money for other things is incredibly rewarding.
Ryan: We currently cater Catherine’s Puppies entirely alongside Hong Kong Dog Rescue, TAILS Lantau and our newest partner, Paws Guardian. There is a true sense of pride that comes from providing our customers with a platform to give back, at no extra cost to them too, as they’re purchasing something they had to buy anyway! On top of this, we try to make the whole experience fun, with extra surprises and gifts for your furry friend that arrive with your order throughout the year.
What have been the surprises and challenges of your entrepreneurial journey in HK?
Ryan: It’s been a welcome surprise how quickly things have taken off! It doesn’t feel like long ago that we were talking about the idea on Chris’s roof over some Stone & Wood beers (received with some cynical eye-rolling from our other halves!); cut to 15 months later and we’re looking to add our second country (Singapore) in the next few months.
Chris: Ryan and I were both in full-time jobs when we set up Buddy Bites, meaning evenings and weekends made way for our second job. Luckily, it’s now at a point that Buddy Bites can support us both full-time – not that our weekends are any less busy now, with all the events and pop-ups, but it really doesn’t feel like work!
What neighbourhood are you living in at the moment, and why did you choose it?
Ryan: Ellie and I are in Mid-Levels; we’re ‘city people’ and love being near the action. With a lot of our customers being in either Sai Kung or Mid-Levels, it’s useful that Chris and I can be on-hand if any issues arise, or to drop off a sample bag.
Chris: We moved out to Clearwater Bay a couple of years ago, having adopted our second dog, Nala. Having the beaches and trails on our doorstep has been great for the dogs and the timing couldn’t have been better, with much more time spent at home for work over the last two years. That extra space has been very welcome.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
Chris: For the longest time, rugby was the centre of everything for us, outside of work. Ryan and I met while playing for HKFC and were the 9-10 duo for the HKFC Drags for about 5 years. I decided to hang up the boots last year – at 36, the physio bills start to get a little excessive! I was introduced to CrossFit Asphodel just as I was winding down from rugby and it’s been a great replacement for the competitive fitness.
Ryan: Similar to Chris, rugby was a massive part of my life for many years, but it involved several head knocks so I was happy to use Buddy Bites as a scapegoat for stepping away last season. I’m unsure as to whether anyone noticed our retirement… let’s hope we’re more successful partnering on Buddy Bites!
Quick questions about Hong Kong:
Casual/local food place…
R: Love a burger from Honbo.
C: Dough Bros. It’s about time they set up nearer to Clearwater Bay!
Favourite fancy restaurant…
C: Carbone. Ryan will think I’m trying to be funny with a dog pun, but I genuinely love that place.
R: Always with the dog puns!
R: Anything alfresco. Winston’s in K-Town. Drinking has taken a bit of a backseat for the last 18 months though.
C: Yeah, anywhere with a bit of footfall. Staz on Staunton Street or there are plenty in K Town/SYP. Big fan of Foxglove too.
Favourite escape in HK…
C: With gyms closing, everyone in HK has started to hike more. A short boat ride from Sai Kung and you can be on any number of islands, all with hiking trails that feel a very long way from Central!
Thing to do with visitors…
R: Hiking. I think tourists are often blown away by that aspect of HK.
Nearby holiday destination (when travel is a thing!)…
C: Really testing my memory here; I’ll say Bali or Tokyo.
New in 2022!
Buddy Bites, has kicked of 2022 with new products, a new shelter partnership and a new one-time purchase option. The new flavour of dry dog food, Adult Salmon & Sweet Potato ($85/kg), is launching soon, and is highly digestible and rich in nutritious omega-3 fatty acids for a better immune system and a glossy coat.
Find out more about this, plus the new subscription option and how the company is giving back at buddybites.dog.
Like this? See more in our Living in Hong Kong section!