Industry Profile Forthglade Foods

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Industry Profile: Forthglade Foods
27th January 2016

By Sandra Pearce



It’s been an interesting few years for Forthglade Foods, capped by a multi-million pound investment from a private equity company. Sandra Pearce learns more about the Devon-based pet food manufacturer

Despite Forthglade Foods having recently received a £6 million injection from investment business Piper Private Equity, the team has not really sat back or taken stock of what it’s achieved, says joint managing director Gerard Lovell. “We’re always looking to the future,” he explained. “Forthglade has been around for 44 years now, and we need to make sure that it’s around for the next 44! Piper’s investment is a real endorsement in the brand, and has given us a clear focus.”

It’s been a hectic three to four years, and prior to this investment, the management team had poured £1.5 million into the Winkleigh facility, adding a production line and packing lines, which has resulted in it producing over 500,000 meals each week for dogs and cats. This latest investment will result in further installations in both production and packing at the three-acre Devon site next year.

Forthglade will also be increasing its activity within the independent pet retail trade. “We realise the importance of the independent retail trade and sector,” he said, “and we’re looking at what we can do instore to help the retailer.” Support will increase with more point-of-sale and promotional activity.
Forthglade will also launch a totally revamped website this month, which will include a more sophisticated stockist locator selection. As Forthglade distributes through wholesalers, it does not have a full list of all stockists, and is asking retailers who stock its products to get in touch so their details can be added. “Retailers appreciate the stockist finder function, but it can be difficult keeping it up to date,” he explained. For retailers who are not yet stockists, Forthglade can send a retail pack which contains food samples, leaflets and promotional POS so they can learn more about the brand.



Being in a very rural part of the country – Forthglade is literally on the edge of the spectacular Dartmoor National Park – the company has made attending consumer shows a priority to get its products known. At each show, up to 4,000 samples of its food are given out. “In this last year, we’ve given out in the region of 20,000 samples. Hopefully this stimulates demand in the area,” said Gerard. “And we normally take a list of local stockists to give out. We believe sampling activity works.”

There are absolutely no plans to relocate to a more central location. He stated: “Forthglade was set up here, and we are proud of it being a Devon business. It’s probably formulated some of the brand’s ideals.”

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION

The pet food manufacturer first saw light of day in 1971, producing frozen raw foods promoting a ‘natural way of feeding’. In the 1990s, to cater to the convenience shopper, its then owners invested in machinery and launched Natural Menu wet food, so that all dog owners had to do was pull back the film and serve – yet the core philosophy of keeping things natural was rigidly adhered to.

The company changed owners, but in 2011 it hit a low and went into administration. Small companies have their highs and lows, said Gerard philosophically, but this was its most serious threat. The brand had a fantastically loyal customer base, you could say almost fanatical, and the product range was unparalleled. “Five of us got together, our belief in the company was so strong, and we put together a package and rescued the business.”

Fifty-five jobs were saved in the management buy-out. “In this part of the country, jobs do not come along very often. We were quite a big employer, especially when other manufacturing facilities were closing.”

A number of their staff are now approaching the 30-year anniversary mark, and their expertise is absolutely fantastic, he said. “People rarely move on, and the new team coming in learn so much from them.”

Since then, the team has been constantly investing in the facility and new machinery, expanding rapidly over the last four years – it has since taken on an additional 25 staff. At heart is a shared passion for creating and developing not just the brand, but a legend.

“We love that we manufacture and control what we make,” he said. In addition to the Natural Menu range, it also manufactures the Natural Lifestage range and Natural Lifestage Grain Free. It caters to cats with its very own Natural Lifestage Grain Free range – the team has high hopes for this offering. He said: “Cats are fussier, and you cannot control them – you never know where they’ve been and what they have eaten. Our recipes are formulated to entice the cat, which requires more work. Apart from a high meat content at 85%, we use no sugar, salt or caramel to entice the cat to eat.”

Quality of ingredients is paramount, which are sourced as locally as possible, though obviously some ingredients such as brown rice and sweet potato do have to come from abroad. “Our food always has to be for the benefit of the animal; our ingredients also smell nice as a result of the quality of ingredients and lack of ‘nasties’,” he remarks.

Sweet potato and butternut squash are among the latest ingredients to be introduced to the range, but already uptake has been positive. “It’s expanding extremely well, and we had a great response from retailers at PATS.”

The Grain Free range is a core product and all indications are that sales will grow even faster next year. “It’s really capturing the imagination of retailers.”

Forthglade is currently exported to 10 countries, ranging from Cyprus to Kuwait. It’s an interesting area, but currently contributes less than 10% of the company’s turnover. The team has so far exhibited at Germany’s Interzoo and Italy’s Zoomark, which have been ‘positive, great experiences’. He said: “It was very apparent that we have a brand other countries have not seen. It was interesting to see their cultural reaction – we’ve only had positive feedback. People understand the imagery we use, the dog and green countryside. Our branding seems to cross borders and people’s understanding of it.”

SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE

Consumer shows are a fantastic environment to speak to pet owners. “When you have spoken to, say, 100 people in one day, you get a flavour of their thought process,” he said. Though things can get on the manic side when 20 dogs descend on the stand all at the same time! He also admits to having a bit of a soft spot for the annual Devon County Show. “It was the first one we did as the new company, and I’ve not missed one yet; it’s firmly in the calendar.”



Forthglade has been as far away as the Great Yorkshire Show, and was at last month’s Discover Dogs for the first time. Crufts next year will also be a first. It’s all about getting its message of helping owners to have happy, healthy pets, so a consistent feature at shows is letting dogs try their food. “Quite often owners will say, do not put any food down, my dog is fussy, don’t waste it, but the dog eats it up! It’s always funny to see their faces – they look at each other and highlight their surprise! Consumer shows help educate owners that there is another option, especially if they might never have contemplated anything else.”

It is this talking to consumers that helps drive innovation, which is key for Forthglade, said Gerard. “We are always thinking about natural food, though I have to admit that NPD concepts are not always carried through to production. We look at trends, opportunities and nutritional benefits, and there is always a clear focus on what we want to do, to make an interesting new product.”

Needless to say, Forthglade has a number of new products lined up for next year. He said: “The natural food sector is experiencing a period of high growth and lots of consumer interest, and we are part of that. Consumers are extremely positive about Forthglade, and we expect that growth to continue.”
Crucially, the success of Forthglade lies in its people and the fact that it manufactures the products itself. “We cannot do this without the team; they are so important as they ensure its quality.”



Forthglade is an integral part of the Devon landscape, and has ‘got to be there for the future’. He said: “In 2011, it was not an option to let it fail. We have not got any right to think Forthglade belongs to any one person – we are a collection of individuals with a common goal, who are extremely passionate about the brand and its products. We have to keep focused on its future. We are guardians of the brand.”