Chairman of working dog food company Skinner’s talks to pbwnews editor Justine Thompson
1. Can you tell us about Skinner’s background and heritage as a company?
Skinner’s has a wonderful heritage: the original mill has been a traditional part of the Suffolk landscape since 1688 and has been in the Skinner family for seven generations. The mill was originally used for grinding corn for local farmers and later went on to produce a variety of animal feeds. Today, the mill is one of the most sophisticated dog food manufacturing plants in the country.
Our dog food business started in 1971, after I spotted a gap in the market for a quality ‘complete’ dry working dog food. I originally began selling to my neighbours, local farmers and gamekeepers, but Skinner’s grew by word of mouth among the working dog and game-keeping communities. Due to demand, I found myself driving across the country from Suffolk to Devon and then up to Scotland delivering food to my new customers. For me, it was all about customer service, no matter how small the order, one bag could easily become a pallet if the food was good and the service was right.
Later in 1979, an advert was placed in the Shooting Times calling out for stockists, which firmly established Skinner’s as a working dog food manufacturer. I am proud that we are now supported by more than 2,000 independent stockists, all of whom we value very much. The hard work, passion for what we do and unrivalled customer service still runs through the veins of every employee in the
2021 is a very special year for us as we celebrate 50 years of producing working dog food.
In honour of this, we have undertaken a brand refresh and introduced some exciting new products to our much-loved Field & Trial range to include wet food and treats. The success of Skinner’s is a testament to the incredible loyalty and trust of our customers and their dogs.
2. What is the firm best known for and why?
The Skinner’s Field & Trial range is a popular choice for working dogs due to our high-quality British ingredients, customer service and expert knowledge on the needs of working dogs, which are very
different to that of a pet.
3. Are the dietary needs of working dogs really any different to those of pet dogs?
There is a necessity to supplement a dog’s diet dependent on their activity level and working dogs, even off-season, have complex dietary needs that must always be maintained to enhance their ability to perform and be receptive to training when required.
Just like athletes or physical workers, highly energetic dogs need high-quality nutrition to be able to perform at their best. Working dogs that are active throughout the day, such as herding dogs or police dogs, need stamina and slow-release energy, whereas sporting dogs will need higher levels of energy for shorter bursts of time. Some dogs need to stay agile and fast, for some lean and strong. Activity level is everything when it comes to the dietary needs of a dog and food quality remains important and must not be compromised.
4. Where do you source your ingredients?
Where possible we always use British ingredients. For many years, we have sourced our grains from the local farmers and the fields that surround our Mill in Stradbroke. Our new Field & Trial Wet Food range contains locally grown root vegetables and is made up of 60% British meat. Our new treats are hand-baked in Britain by artisan bakers.
5. Has Skinner’s been affected by the coronavirus?
Given our history, we’ve seen many changes over the years in consumer demand, which we have worked hard to fulfil. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is yet another shift. The pandemic has made people more aware of sustainability and their impact on the environment. With this in mind, we have not only updated the look of our popular Field & Trial range, but we’ve also made the packaging 100% recyclable.
6. And has Brexit thrown up any additional challenges?
With covid and Brexit affecting imports, consumers are aware that buying British is more important and cost effective than ever before. Skinner’s takes pride in its production processes and only uses British-sourced ingredients where possible. It seems the trend for ‘British only’ in pet food will continue to rise, as consumers seek to support local and UK businesses.
7. Sustainability is a key issue across the globe… what is Skinner’ stance?
The sector has enormous power when it comes to making positive change and we’re proud to be at the forefront of a shift towards more sustainable decisions and proving that high-quality food can be produced and packaged sustainably. We’re delighted to introduce recyclable packaging across the expansion of our Field & Trial range. Recent data has shown that two-thirds of dog food buyers would choose a brand that uses eco-friendly packaging over one that does not, so we’re conscious to meet both consumer needs and those of the planet. Our packaging on the new Wet Food range is Tetra Pak, which is made from over 70% paperboard and is manufactured on our own site in the UK, meaning we can further reduce our carbon footprint. We are the only UK dog food brand to manufacture and use Tetra Pak on site.
8. We understand you are undertaking a brand refresh. Why now?
As we celebrate 50 years and look back over the last five decades, we have established incredible loyalty, built on our deep-rooted family values, heritage and trust.
To celebrate this milestone, we have refreshed the brand with a contemporary new look, introduced new products and shifted towards the sustainable production of dog food with 100% recyclable packaging across the ever-popular Field & Trial range.
Our new look has been achieved in collaboration with Big Fish, who hold a passion for British
heritage brands, and the talented artist Angela Harding.
We wanted to update the brand so that it not only looks good on the shelf but in the kitchen too – and all while being good for the dog and the planet.
9. Are there any new product launches on the horizon?
We discovered that over half of our customers were feeding a combination of wet and dry food and have met consumer demand with four flavours of VAT-Free Complete Wet Food for working dogs. These are: “Puppy & Junior Chicken & Garden Veg, Adult Chicken & Root Veg, Adult Salmon & Steamed Veg, Adult Lamb & Root Veg.
We have also excitingly launched our first range of treats in three varieties to compliment the diets of working dogs.
Our updated, recyclable dry food packaging is due to launch this month. We’re also launching the very first National Working Dog Day on August 2, in the lead up to the official opening of shooting season on the 12th.
10. Are there any company (or personal) pets who get to test the product?
Our two black Labradors, Becky and Anna, love nothing more than testing Skinner’s products. Our expert taste testing team of canine companions are some of the fussiest eaters, so we know if they like our new treats and wet food, there’s a good chance dogs across the nation will too.