James Lawson managing director of Inspired Pet Nutrition, talks to pbwnews editor Justine Thompson
1. What were the main challenges for the business during the coronavirus pandemic ?
The main challenge was to create a safe working environment, whilst ensuring that all orders were met. Two metre tramlines were painted on the floor to ensure safe working distances were maintained and strict health & safety measures implemented.
No staff at IPN were furloughed and everyone from the CEO downwards pitched in to ensure the despatch schedule was maintained.
Up to 17% of the workforce was off at the peak of the pandemic but, assisted by overtime working, total hours of production actually increased by about 30% overall. In addition, by simplifying some factory processes, such as reducing the number of SKUs being manufactured and making use of longer batch runs, a 15% increase in output per operator hour was also achieved.
2. Could you tell us a bit about the history of the company?
It all began back in 1923 when the current CEO’s grandfather set up an animal feed mill in North Yorkshire. It started to manufacture pet food in the 1980s but by 1990 the business had changed its name to Wagg and focussed solely on pet food production.
The group has grown rapidly – sales recently passed £100 million pa – and it is now the UK’s largest independent producer of dry pet food producing a broad range of pet food and treats for puppies, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. In addition to its successful Wagg and Harringtons brands, the company is also a leading supplier of
own label products.
3. Wagg is such a tremendous brand, and indeed the company was named that for nearly 20 years, so why did the name change to Inspired Pet Nutrition?
In 2016 the decision was taken to change the company’s name as it was felt the Wagg and Harringtons brands had grown to such a size they needed a separate identity from the overall business. Wagg was then – and still is – the volume market leader and with new product launches happening on a regular basis – and the same for Harringtons. It made commercial sense to have a clear distinction between the brands and the company.
4. Which is your biggest selling brand now?
Only 12 years after launching in the UK, Harringtons is now the No.1 brand by value in dry dog food in supermarkets*.
To reach No.1 is a tremendous endorsement for the brand. Its key message of being an affordable premium offering that brings the benefits of natural goodness into the mainstream clearly continues to resonate with pet owners.
Challenger brands, such as these, are now the driving force behind the growth in the pet sector, which is also being fuelled by premiumisation as pet parents demand the same transparency and goodness in pet food as in human food.
5. You joined the company two years ago from GA Pet Food Partners, originally as MD of IPN subsidiary, The Real Pet Food Company. Have you brought any learning from GA to your new role?
At GA Pet Food Partners, I championed the use of high-quality production using fresh ingredients and I certainly intend to keep the focus at IPN on quality nutrition and innovation. One of my responsibilities here whilst being MD is to head up the nutrition and technical teams, who are undertaking plenty of exciting development work which I feel will remain a key point of difference between IPN and its competitors.
I also intend to drive forward our FreshCook technology which uses human-grade quality ingredients that are freshly prepared and gently cooked to give a naturally tasty, locked-in nutrition that’s easily digestible for pets.
6. The company has invested heavily in having the most up-to-date manufacturing plant in recent years. Will this investment continue?
The business has invested some £60million at its sites in Yorkshire and North Wales during the last nine years and this trend will continue. The latest is the £500K investment in our broth and stock plant at our IPN Kinmel Park site in North Wales, which is scheduled to start production about now. This will enable us to fine-tune the nutrition and taste of both our wet and dry food ranges. By using incredibly fresh and tasty ingredients we can make ‘super nutritious’ stocks and broths using human-grade co-products from the food industry that would otherwise go to waste – which is great for the environment too!
7. Do you keep a close eye on what your competitors are doing?
Naturally we are always interested in what competitors are doing, but not to the extent that we lose focus on IPN’s strategy. We believe we have a winning combination here of great nutrition and affordable products, exciting NPD and a skilled manufacturing team and this is where we will concentrate our efforts. However, there are also interesting developments in pet food happening outside the UK – particularly in the USA – and we keep an eye on these, too.
8. What exciting plans have you got for the future?
We regularly review our ranges to see whether they can be improved to better meet consumer and pet needs. Our main news is a major autumn refresh of the Wagg brand. We carried out extensive recipe research and in tests seven out of 10 dogs went for the new version, which has nearly 30% meaty ingredients.
We have also revamped the Harringtons small dog range which now has smaller kibbles and a higher protein content and is due to appear on shelves shortly.
This is all on the back of a major re-launch of our Harringtons Dry Cat range, which has been extremely well received. I am so encouraged by those super comments on our social media and in our ‘Cat Café’! In the future we will also refresh and develop our wet cat ranges to make sure they are even better too.
9. Is it hard to launch new products in the current climate?
It isn’t easy. The pet food market is extremely competitive and covid-19 has accelerated this process. You have to ensure that you are launching genuinely different products that are nutritionally superior for any given price point and I believe we do a fantastic job of doing this at IPN – which is something I am really proud of!
10. The pet food and treats sector is so crowded these days with new brands springing up all the time. How do you keep ahead of the rest?
Fundamentally, we have to provide excellent nutrition more conveniently and at more affordable prices compared with our competitors. IPN has its roots in Yorkshire where lean manufacturing principles are renowned and we have the lowest of production costs. Combined with ‘Great British’ ingredients and our dynamic expertise in pet food, we can provide more nutritional value back to the customer and their pet. I believe this ‘recipe’ gives us an advantage and has certainly been rewarded by our customers making Harringtons number one.
Source* IRI Supermarkets 52wk to 11.07.20 (Dry Dog Sector)