1. Who runs Connolly’s RED MILLS?
We are first and foremost a family business, founded in 1908, when Michael Connolly bought the mill in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Over 100 years later the fifth generation of the Connolly family are now at the helm of the business. We take great pride in being a family-run business and stand over the quality of everything that bears the Connolly’s RED MILLS name. Our commitment to developing superior diets comes from the connection our team has with their own animals, and we draw inspiration from the many dedicated and passionate pet parents throughout our company as well as that of our customers.
2. What is the company ethos?
‘Naturally wholesome food, from our family to yours’. We strive to create wholesome products that nourish animals, and help them to live healthier lives. Through our dedicated wholly-owned manufacturing facilities, we combine the highest quality natural ingredients with the latest advancements in manufacturing technology, to create superior products for dogs and cats across the globe. Our dedicated in-house vet and nutrition team have animals at the centre of everything we do. We understand that every pet is different, and our recipes offer a range of options including high meat, low calorie, single source protein, low grain and grain free.
3. Can you give us a brief outline of its history?
It started in 1866 when Michael Connolly, having emigrated to New York during the Great Famine, returned to his hometown in Ireland inheriting the family bakery business. Michael saw potential in a mill to source flour for the bakery, which he bought in 1908, restarting it as William Connolly & Sons Ltd – named after his youngest son, William. When William took over there were four other mills in the area, all producing similar products for the local farming community. To make Connolly’s stand out, he painted the roof red – unwittingly creating a unique brand identity, now known as RED MILLS.
Our pet food ranges were developed in the mid-1980s with Bill Connolly (current COO) and his dogs Caesar, a German pointer, and Pharaoh, a springer spaniel. Finding that a lot of dog foods available in Ireland at that time were full of ‘filler’ ingredients, Bill set out to create a diet for his dogs that was full of natural, clean ingredients that he was able to source from local farmers. The result was a complete food that combined quality meats and wholesome locally grown ingredients with vitamins, minerals and oils in a kibble which was easy to digest and helped Caesar and Pharaoh to grow into happy healthy dogs.
Our first products landed in the UK in 1986 and, with the support and success of our customers, we established a dedicated UK office and field sales team. By 1995, our customers encouraged us to introduce Connolly’s RED MILLS into Europe and USA – we acquired two smaller companies in Ireland – E Morrin & Sons Ltd and Rothwell Grain & Seed Ltd which assisted our domestic footprint. Four years later, our new state-of-the-art pet food manufacturing facility in Gowran opened – just five kilometres from RED MILLS.
In more recent years, we acquired Foran Healthcare. Established in 1974, the company is a market leader in specialised animal nutrition and healthcare, split over four divisions – Foran Pet Care, Foran Equine, Foran Animal Health and Foran Healthcare. Earlier this year we added Carr & Day & Martin, the world’s oldest equine product manufacturer to our family of companies. The portfolio of these businesses enables us to hone our offering of complete nutrition and healthcare packages.
4. The company is known for its equine feeds. What percentage is pet food?
Many customers know us for our equine feeds but over a quarter of our business in the UK is pet; we are seeing continued growth as we invest and develop in our pet team and in our product portfolios. With the addition of Go Native, our high meat, paleo-based, grain free range of foods, treats and dental super food sticks, we have generated great excitement within our team as end users and trade customers alike have discovered the benefits of this offering. This has given us the confidence to also launch Leader, our science and benefit led, all-natural range of food and treats. We are looking forward to getting back out into the market to meet and discuss these ranges with the trade however limited these interactions may be considering covid-19 restrictions. Having said that, we will be exhibiting at Virtual PetIndex and are keen to see whether these types of events will become part of the new norm for the industry.
5. What sets your pet food apart from the competition?
We have a huge range of pet foods at varying price points, something to suit every customer. Our foods are developed by our dedicated inhouse vet and nutrition team, using premium, natural, non-genetically modified ingredients. Just as our love of animals goes back generations, so do the relationships we have with our local farmers who supply us. All our ingredients are fully transparent and traceable, locally and sustainably sourced wherever possible, and farmed by people we know and trust.
We pride ourselves on developing and manufacturing all our products in house; nothing is outsourced. Our state-of-the-art pet food manufacturing facility is just five kilometres away from the mill. More recently we’ve developed our facilities so that we can manufacture all our treats and dental sticks as well as having our own clean rooms to produce veterinary grade products and premixes for our foods. Our on-site testing laboratories quality test every ingredient upon arrival and all finished product before dispatch to the market.
We support all our pet trade customers with a bank of marketing content for them to use on their own social media and marketing platforms. Covid-19 has shown, perhaps more than ever, the need to stay in touch with customers digitally. Videos, images, blog articles, brochures and web banners are all provided, giving our trade customers access to content that is relevant and informative to their customers. We also provide prize packs of RED MILLS products in-order to offer giveaways and competitions for their social media platforms.
6. You have a number of ranges for cats and dogs, which is your most successful?
We’re known for our pet performance brands, Racer, Tracker, Xcel and Engage working dog, but over recent years we have developed our retail pet offering. These include our high meat, paleo, grain free range of food and treats, Go Native, and our science and benefit led range of food and treats, Leader. We’re very excited about these ranges, which are available direct to store only, with small minimum order quantities and great margins to support the trade. As we provide exclusivity to the independent pet retailer, we’re starting to see exciting growth with both brands and excellent feedback from end users.
7. What countries do you sell into and how easy is distribution?
Our foods are currently available in 80 countries around the world, from Ireland and the UK to the rest of Europe, the Middle East, Far East and North America. Distribution is an ongoing challenge but one that our team has embraced. Quality standards such as BRC, UFAS, USDA, FDA and ISO 22000 have enabled us to set very high-quality assurance systems for all our facilities and for our products. Transparency and traceability with locally and sustainably sourced ingredients cooked to the safest standards has also ensured we meet the strict and stringent requirements of international regulatory bodies including the UK and Europe. This combined with close working relationships with our customers assists us in getting over the difficulties in distribution to many international markets.
8. Coronavirus is obviously the issue of the moment, have you been doing anything differently since it hit?
We have had to change certain procedures in our facilities to ensure the safety of our staff, such as splitting into different teams with separate workstations and work areas to maintain social distancing. We grounded our field sales teams before lockdown measures were enforced in the UK in order to safeguard them and their families as well as our stockists and customers. Office staff are all working from home, bar a skeleton crew for jobs that cannot be done at home, and the teams are all staying connected through video calls. I live about 700m from the factory so myself and other family members are here every day as a management team. The technology available to us now has been great at enabling everyone to stay in touch with each other and the way everyone has pulled together has been fantastic.
9. Have sales been impacted – either positively or negatively – by the virus?
Like many businesses, we initially saw a significant increase in order volumes across the complete range of foods as a result of end customer increased purchasing. Initially the challenge was the volume of ordering and the spike in demand, but the team pulled out all the stops to meet the challenges. After the initial uplift at the end of March, sales have now returned to their normal levels.
Looking back over our 112-year history, we’ve experienced many challenges such as two World Wars, foot & mouth and BSE. No one can be prepared for a situation like this, but we have a saying that has been passed down through the years ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst and try and be ready for the recovery’.
10. Before coronavirus there was Brexit: how is the company coping with the changing environment?
Frankly, Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding it continues to be a concern for many. For us, the UK market remains our largest and most important export market. With a dedicated field-sales, technical and marketing team based in the UK, we are committed to supporting our customers regardless of what is thrown at us. Our experience in dealing with international markets and our willingness to embrace regulatory restrictions will have somewhat prepared us for some of the uncertainty should there be further restrictions put in place, however, I hope that government officials on all sides can come to some agreement for the mutual benefit of all.