Arden Grange promises top quality nutrition at an affordable price
Arden Grange is an award-winning manufacturer of super premium, natural, hypoallergenic pet foods and treats. We learn about what makes the company tick and where it is headed
“I am German shepherd through and through,” says Wendy Stephens, co-founder of pet food manufacturer Arden Grange and who is now in her 50th year of owning the breed. She adores all animals, but admits German shepherds are very close to her heart. She and her husband Graham, who sadly died seven years ago, had been breeding and showing their highly acclaimed Ardenburg German shepherds (of which they’ve had five champions). She still breeds today, perhaps a litter a year ‘to keep the line going’.
The family-run business began in 1981, when Graham and Wendy bought the site in the Sussex countryside and began a wholesaling business, Leander Pet Foods, building an office and warehouse a stone’s throw from the family home. By 1992, it was one of the largest pet food wholesalers in the south.
The love the couple had for their dogs led them to seek out the best nutrition. “It was a natural progression to make our own food,” said Wendy. German shepherds do have ‘fairly delicate digestive systems’, she said, and ‘right from the beginning, we wanted to feed them the best’. Their extensive knowledge of canine nutrition led to the launch of the Arden Grange range of pet food in 1996, the first product to name human-grade fresh chicken as its prime ingredient. The next year, a range of super-premium dry cat food was launched, because ‘cats also deserve top nutrition’.
Graham and Wendy at Weston Park, 1994. Wendy is today a patron of the German Shepherd Dog League of Great Britain
Today, its biggest seller is Arden Grange Adult Chicken and Rice. “It is a very high quality food,” said Wendy. “We are known for our products’ high quality but affordable pricing. Our price is keen so more people can afford it.”
Owners can get very passionate about their dogs, she said. Sometimes for some people, their dog is the ‘only thing they see all day’. She recalled: “Years ago I took a call from this lady who said that she was very worried about her dog, who was two years old, that had constant loose motions. Two days later she called back and was so enthusiastic, saying ‘My dog has just passed a firm poo’. It’s terribly important to people. Poo can be an indication that something is going wrong with your dog.”
Which really sums up the Arden Grange philosophy – nutrition without compromise. “Quite a few of our products are recommended by vets because they do work. They’re also very good for the skin and coat,” she said.
The company is passionate about new product development and ensuring the absolute best in nutrition. For example, when Wendy started using krill oil herself, she wondered about adding it to their dog food. It took a few more years before Arden Grange was able to source it sustainably in sufficient numbers, but Arden Grange has since become the first UK company to feature krill in all its dry dog food. However, Wendy is adamant that any ingredient used must come out of the extrusion process with a clear benefit to the pet.
At the British Sieger event, which promotes the ‘true’ German shepherd
“Unless it can go through there and come out with a usefulness for the dog, I am not interested,” she said. What is the point in saying you have added this ingredient or that ingredient if it comes out ‘burnt to a crisp’ and with zero benefit, she said.
In the same manner, she can’t abide ‘marketing speak’. “There’s so much marketing speak, I cannot be doing with it,” she said candidly. “Our advice is honest and true, and we never say anything from a marketing point of view. Whatever we say is what we know to be true.”
Arden Grange’s strict attention to detail and pursuit of excellence cuts across all areas of the business – and beyond. For example, the family also runs a boarding kennels (it used to be quarantine facilities before the pet passport scheme rolled out). These were constructed soon after the couple bought the site back in the early 1980s. Graham was in the building trade, and they ended up sourcing material from America that they had seen at the Frankfurt airport. If you’re going to do something, you do it well with no shortcuts and no compromise.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Arden Grange now exports to 30 countries, including Russia, Greece, the Czech Republic and Spain. Its top-selling export product is its Sensitive Ocean White Fish and Potato, which funnily enough, said Wendy, is its most expensive product. But owners are prepared to spend on quality food for their pets, she said. “Because our dogs are subject to a lot of environmental damage in the air they breathe and the stuff they walk on. Dogs are under attack, so they need more and more help as time goes by.”
In 2013, Wendy was awarded the PIF Lifetime Achievement Award
Consumer shows are high on the agenda for Arden Grange, and apart from all the big shows, it also attends some club shows and champion shows. “All have been very beneficial,” said Wendy. “It’s a great opportunity to get to talk to people.”
Arden Grange has an active online presence through its website, Facebook and Twitter, and runs various competitions on social media throughout the year. “We get some lovely pictures of pets from owners,” she said.
The company sponsors the pet exercise areas at Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminals, and on busy bank holidays, deploys a show unit to talk to users, giving nutritional information and handing out samples. It also supports a number of charities. “We do like supporting the smaller ones,” said Wendy, which can be overwhelmed and overshadowed by the bigger ones.
A family-run business – her son and daughter are fully involved – Wendy says its 40 or so staff members all share the same ethics and a passion for animals, are ‘a perfect fit’ and ‘like an extended family’. She herself has been ‘retiring for several years now’, but does not see full retirement on the cards anytime soon.
Sue Hodgkiss has been with Arden Grange for 20 years
Many of the staff have been with the company for more than 10 years, and two have hit the 20-year mark. One of them, Sue Hodgkiss, has been an area manager since Arden Grange launched to market back in 1996. She said: “I have always been in areas of the pet trade, both retail and wholesale. I started off doing in-store demos, promoting the product to customers and explaining it and its ingredients.”
A key benefit in talking to pet owners is how many may not be aware they have a problem with their cat or dog. Sue explained: “It’s only when you ask, ‘Does your dog or cat do this?’ and they say ‘Yes, but he’s always done this, I thought it was normal’.”
The biggest challenge retailers face today is the number of new products being launched and how consumers shop in a different way as a result of the internet. She added: “But when you look at our industry, the pet trade offers a very personal service. Certainly in my area, the customers I have are very focused on customer service, and they have the information they need on products at their fingertips. I have to make sure that they have the tools to sell our product.”
The bottom line, she said, is that when customers trust a food, they ‘want to see improvements’, whether it’s skin and coat, digestion or behaviour.
Cat food is grain-free
With Arden Grange hitting its 20th milestone, are there any celebrations planned? Wendy revealed that there will be ‘exciting competitions’ next year and a number of new launches.
In Spring, for example, we can expect a new launch into cat (which already has a good range of grainfree products), and other products will be rolled out as well. She said: “Our challenge is to get the Arden Grange profile to as many people as we can because we know our products will help their dogs. I believe in the product, and that is why we are here.
“Arden Grange was started off by our involvement with our dogs; our dogs have played a huge part in our lives, this is what we are all about.”