There’s so much more to business than just the bottom line, says Henrietta Morrison, who set up Lily’s Kitchen eight years ago. She talks about how her company is trying to make a difference to society
Yes, profits and growing sales are great, but making a difference to animals and society is what Henrietta Morrison is truly passionate about. “This is motivation; it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning,” said the founder of pet food manufacturer Lily’s Kitchen.
Last year alone, Lily’s Kitchen helped more than 150 pet charities – of these, 102 were through its Dinner’s on Us campaign, providing 700,000 meals. Launched online, the company asked for nominations and was overwhelmed when it ended up with a final list of 12,000 names. She said: “It was very, very hard to come up with the final list. We wanted to provide meaningful help to 100 or so charities, and in some cases we could supply enough food for six months.”
Lily’s Kitchen has supported several other charities financially including the PDSA, and when thieves targeted an animal sanctuary in Kings Norton and stole a quantity of pet food, it immediately got in touch and sent 26 7kg bags, 624 dog tins, 396 dog trays and 1,296 cat trays, or two full pallets!
Staff volunteered at St Mungo’s and transformed its gardens
It also helps the homeless charity St Mungo’s in London, which provides a bed to 2,600 homeless people and individuals at risk every night. Help included running seminars on topics such as preparing for job interviews as well as fund-raising such as carol singing in tube stations. Every staff member is also given a day off to volunteer at a charity. Last year, their efforts transformed four of St Mungo’s homes as they cleared and redesigned the overgrown gardens, and planted trees and plants as well as providing wooden garden furniture.
“We are a company where doing good is part of our business plan. We have what we call a triple bottom line – profit, planet, pets,” said Henrietta, and to that end she is especially passionate about Lily’s Kitchen membership of B Corp UK, a group of for-profit companies that are committed to using ‘the power of business to solve social and environmental problems’.
On the B Corp website, it describes itself saying: “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee.” Today, there are more than 1,600 B Corps from 42 countries working together ‘to redefine success in business’.
“It’s incredibly hard to become a B Corp member; you have to jump through 800 hoops!” she said. “We are the first pet food company in the world to do so.
Lily’s Kitchen did window displays in the Wimbledon area, ‘Wimbledogs’, with a free tennis ball offer
“Why did we join? It gives us a structure and keeps our aims on the agenda. Being a B Corp member fits the bill of who we are and our ethos. I have a lot of millennials working here, and they feel like they are working somewhere that is making a difference.”
Putting animals first
Anything Lily’s Kitchen does has to be about the animals, she said. “Any product we are going to do, we tear them apart and ask how can we improve this recipe? We are constantly challenging ourselves and constantly upgrading our recipes. “Innovation is what we are about: innovation has to be the lifeblood of any business. You cannot stand still – you work on tomorrow’s product today.”
This ethos is the very bedrock of Lily’s Kitchen, which took shape when Henrietta turned to home cooking for a solution to her Border terrier Lily’s earache and skin condition. Within two weeks, Lily’s condition had improved and Henrietta committed herself to launching a commercial food.
In November 2008, Lily’s Kitchen was born. “Because I did not come from the pet industry, it was very scary breaking into it because it was so heavily dominated by huge multinationals,” she said. “But it helped that I could see things through fresh eyes, and I could see what was missing.”
Henrietta says she was dismayed by the lack of integrity. “I have never met an owner who buys food that they know is bad for their pet. This is about helping consumers make an informed choice – I did not have a clue that the food I was feeding Lily was making her ill.
“Pet food should not be seen as a dark art. It’s about empowering owners who can then make better decisions for their pets. If you do not want to feed our food, that’s ok, but owners should be able to navigate all the pet food choices clearly so they can see transparently what they are purchasing. There is so much transparency in human foods, yet we are still so far behind in pet food.
“But people can see that we have a genuine story to tell.”
By most standards, one would say Lily’s Kitchen has seen meteoric growth – it’s achieved retail sales of £30m over eight years, in two years has grown its staffing levels from 27 to 60 and has plans to recruit 15 or so more members next year. But Henrietta is quick to remind that placed in the context of the total cat and dog pet food market, valued at £2.2b a year, the company is very small. “We are still very much in growth,” she said.
In 2015, Lily’s Kitchen caught the attention of Catterton, a leading consumer-focused private equity firm, which invested in to the company with the aim of targeting ‘key domestic and international markets’. Catterton’s involvement has allowed Lily’s Kitchen to focus more, said Henrietta, and provides a sounding board. “For a small business, it’s all too easy to run in 100 directions in one go. They have really helped us to focus on key areas which has been great. And we love their ‘Can Do’ attitude, which is very much part of the Lily’s Kitchen DNA.”
Cat range was totally relaunched last year
Last October, Lily’s Kitchen launched into Pets at Home, which stocks a maximum 52 cat and dog products out of its total sku of 72. “We did not want to go into Pets At Home very early on in our story, but now we are in a good place,” she said. “We wanted to wait until the business was established with independents, because we understand the needs of the independent.”
Lily’s Kitchen conducts a number of consumer panels, and many consumers could not understand why the brand was not in Pets at Home. Launching into the retail chain is about giving consumers greater access to the range. Tesco only stocks a very limited range, she said, and only in ‘a couple hundred stores’.
At last year’s PATS Telford, Lily’s Kitchen also revealed its revamped cat range. As Lily’s Kitchen does not do things by half, it was a complete makeover and featured a new identity, recipes, flavours, pack designs and formats, and went up from 15 to 30 skus. It was, in short, the biggest launch and marketing campaign in the company’s history. It’s worked as sales have since doubled.
“We worked about a year on it,” said Henrietta. “Cats are known as pernickety, finicky eaters, but we were not going to put wrong things into food to make them eat it. So we bolstered our meat content so the palatability is really high.
“We had to make sure that people are not disappointed if their cat did not like it. Because at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding.”
These free standing display units have just been released
Its wet food recipes are all 65% meat and its dry food recipes range from 68% up to 74% meat.
Lily’s Kitchen has also started exporting and is now in France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Holland and Ireland. Each country has a dedicated team and targeted marketing plan as each is on a different stage in its nutritional food journey. For example, one campaign in Paris saw people riding round on bikes handing out free samples to the public.
She said: “We are starting with these nine first and not going into any others. You have to build up support; it’s building a brand in each country and not about scattering pallets.”
While the export team comprises six members of staff, seven people focus purely on the independent in the UK, with additional dedicated support within the marketing team. The independent is crucial to Lily’s Kitchen, and Henrietta says the company provides as much support as possible. And this can take many guises, whether point of sale such as shelf wobblers, booklets or samples, to floor stands and one-offs such as the Christmas carrier bags. The team will also do window displays for retailers.
“I know how difficult it can be to drive footfall,” she said. “A lot of people do not have time to do window displays, but we can do it for them.
“We have to remember what a pet shop window has to be about: ‘retail-tainment’. We’ve got to try and help bricks-and-mortar retailers get customers into stores and off the internet. We’ve got to create a great experience, and we give tonnes of free samples to hand out to customers. We’ll do everything we can to help the small shops.”
Anything? Yes, Lily’s Kitchen rewards audacious ideas. She said: “It’s about being brave, especially when rest of world is crumbling around us. Being audacious is a very important part of our values and is part of who we are. If we are always acting in our comfort zone, we cannot be innovative or think outside the box. Being audacious and trying out new recipes and formats is very much part of who we are.
“And so this year we have some very exciting marketing campaigns which will benefit the natural pet food industry.” In short, watch this space!