David Shorthouse, business development manager, Mackle Petfoods, talks to pbwnews editor Justine Thompson
1. Can you tell us about Mackle Petfoods’ company background and heritage?
For nearly 50 years, Mackle Petfoods has been producing high quality petfood at the family-owned business based in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland. It is currently run by John A Mackle who is the third generation to look after the company.
Mackle Petfoods consists of two state-of-the-art facilities, one for production and one for packing. The company has invested £10m in its capacity to produce petfood in plastic trays over the past five years. The production facility has two dedicated manufacturing units; canning and a purpose-built plastic tray facility, which was created in 2012. The annual capacity for production is 50 million trays and 70 million cans.
The packaging facility opened in 2014 and operates a multi-flavour packaging line with shrink wrapper and robotic depalletiser.
Raw materials for our products are bought fresh or freshly frozen from local approved and licensed abattoirs, boning halls and fisheries, where possible, ensuring that the nutritional content of the product is at its optimum.
2. How would you describe working for Mackle Petfoods?
Even though we export globally, there is still very much a family feel to the everyday operation at Mackles, as John is very involved in all aspects of the business. There really is a sense of close inter-departmental relationships, as we all rely on each other.
There is a strong track record of employees being here for decades – over 20 years for most – which is a testament to the company and its culture. During the pandemic, Mackle Petfoods offered extra mental health support to employees, in addition to the wonderful services they already had in place. It is great to feel valued by the company you work for.
3. What is the company’s biggest selling brand?
Naturo Natural Pet Foods. It is the #1 natural wet dog food in Great Britain (Nielsen, 2020).
Naturo is a 100% natural pet food containing up to 60% chicken, turkey, duck, salmon and lamb. These natural ingredients are supplemented with essential vitamins, minerals and oils, with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives added. Naturo was born in 2010 following the growing trend of the humanisation in the pet food market. This, paired with a more health-conscious shopper, has seen a huge interest in the product and the brand has grown from four varieties to nearly 40 in just over a decade.
Trade is extremely buoyant partly due to increased dog ownership but also a great product driving increased category share. The investment within infrastructure has ensured Mackles has maintained excellent availability throughout the increased demand period. 2021 will see further investment in manufacturing and IT.
4. What plans are in store for the Naturo brand?
So far this year, Naturo has released several new products. This new product development will not be slowing down and we have some exciting new ranges for this year and beyond. Watch this space!
New to market in January were three dual protein flavours (pork, turkey and beef with chicken) in
a herb jelly 390g can. These have experienced exponential growth.
Naturo Complete Dry Dog Food will see the range increase to include new varieties; Puppy, Senior and 10kg formats. This is in response to the range’s success so far and to customer demand.
Currently, we have a campaign running in the UK and Republic of Ireland in the form of a TV advertisement as well as digital marketing. This is on the back of two hugely successful digital campaigns in 2020, which have seen over 52 million impressions and a 607% increase in daily sessions on Naturo’s website. Our current campaign still brings home the message of ‘It’s only natural to care’. You can catch our latest ad on popular channels such as ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and Virgin.
5. What impact did the covid-19 pandemic have on the business?
From an online perspective, we saw a 434% increase in online sales during the first lockdown in March 2020. This pattern of peaking in conjunction with a lockdown occurred throughout the year as customers were unable to leave home for supplies and opted for more online ordering.
Customers also began to bulk buy. We released larger pack sizes to accommodate consumer buying habits by bringing out three 12-pack options. The demand for this product was significant and they were a pet specialist only SKU, as well as available direct from our site.
To cater for this larger pack demand, we also released a Senior multi-pack of our 400g trays with a wider choice of varieties in January, and a Mini (Small Dog) 150g multi-pack in February.
In terms of how the business operated, those who could work from home did, and there were stringent protocols put in place in our factory sites to ensure we continued to operate and serve our customers.
We had no recorded covid cases in 2020 due to the diligence of employees adhering to strict guidelines both within the workplace and outside.
There was significant sales growth throughout Quarter One and Quarter Four, matching the pattern of lockdowns in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
6. As a company based in Northern Ireland, has the effect of Brexit been significant?
We forward planned and built our raw material stocks and finished good stocks to cope with increased sales demand due to Brexit. Our in-house Brexit panel was created in 2016 after the announcement, with the sole purpose of ensuring the smooth running of the business through this transition.
Due to this planning, service levels and availability remain excellent for Mackle Petfoods. As a business we are still delivering on agreed service levels and agreed lead times despite challenges the industry is experiencing, with business-as-usual supplying to the UK and rest of world.
We have seen over 85,000 new customers in Northern Ireland come to our website since December 31, following many other petfood companies ceasing delivery here. We are in the unique position to still be able to successfully serve our customers within Northern Ireland.
7. Does Mackle Petfoods produce a treats range?
Yes, we do, Norsh Petfoods, new to the Mackle portfolio. Norsh produces all-natural raw freeze-dried treats with human grade meat and fish and quick-frozen fruit and vegetables.
The products undertake a gentle freeze-dried preservation method to ensure pets are getting a
high-quality nutritious treat. The dog and cat treats are made in small batches by hand. Norsh comes
in two flavours; Raw Chicken with Fruits and Vegetable and Raw Salmon Skin Twirls with 100% Atlantic Salmon. Norsh’s packaging is environmentally friendly, with pouches that are 100% compostable and plastic free, as well as packaging and postage boxes being both 100% recyclable.
8. Why did you decide to enter the pet industry?
I fell into the pet industry at the turn of the millennium when working for a field sales agency representing a pet food manufacturer across independent retail and wholesale. I developed a passion for the category, which has seen significant change over the last 20 years.
9. Do you have pets?
I have two senior dogs, Alfie a 13-year-old miniature schnauzer and Ruby a nine-year-old Frenchie – they have very different personalities!
10. Enough about business, share an interesting fact about yourself.
I have always been an active person, playing football from junior level onwards to veterans, finishing at the age of 40. I also ran my son’s junior team and now watch him play. I’m a family person married 25 years and in May I will gain the title of ‘grandad’, which I’m informed is awesome.