News Industry Profile Ga Pet Food Partners



Industry Profile: GA Pet Food Partners
16th June 2014

By Sandra Pearce

Lancashire-based GA Pet Food Partners is keen to help retailers bring an own-label pet food product to market. Sandra Pearce visits and learns more about the family-run business

If I said there was a link between a pink flamingo and the independent pet retailer, you’d probably say I’d had one too many glasses of the red stuff. But GA Pet Food Partners makes an own-label pet food range for the independent, and occasionally produces a flamingo food for zoos as well!

The family-owned GA Pet Food Partners is Europe’s largest super premium dry pet food manufacturer, with a turnover nudging the £60 million mark. Its four production lines have a capacity of 75,000 tonnes of food a year, a large chunk of which ends up wearing the packaging of the big, and not so big, pet food brands. Easily 40% of these products end up being exported, and with such volumes, it is no surprise to learn its Chorley distribution base in Lancashire is housed in a 200,000sq ft warehouse (approximately four-and-a-half football pitches), with a capacity for 14,000 pallets. Manufacturing is carried out 10 miles away in the village of Bretherton.

Yet despite popular myths, production at Bretherton is not a case of one-recipe-fits-all. There are, in fact, over 500 different recipes, plus the ability to create bespoke formulas for individual clients.
And therein lies one of the reasons the company has been so successful, reaching such stratospheric proportions despite having only started making pet food about 20 years ago. It may be a prominent player on the world stage, but this is a company which does not snub the small order and is able to produce smaller runs than some other own-label manufacturers. And now, GA Pet Food Partners is ramping up its service to the independent pet retailer and veterinary practices.

Introducing GA Direct
You’ve probably heard of GA’s Platinum service, in which retailers and vets can have their own-label pet food for dogs, cats, fish, rabbits and ferrets in just seven days. Well, this has been re-branded GA Direct as it was felt the new name more accurately describes the real nature and benefits that independents experience, with all the connotations that the word ‘direct’ brings with it. Whether it is direct support from the nutrition team, the ability to deal direct with the manufacturer or have direct access to new product launches.

Giles Bracewell is director of GA Direct, and along with his brother Roger, who is chairman, the two co-own the family business. Giles says the service was born out of a plan to help the independent enter the market with an own label, super-premium food. “There are massive costs in producing your own food before you even fill a bag,” he explained. “But we do all this for you and develop your own label. You can choose your own design, and you get the loyalty from your customer as they keep coming back.”

Profits are enticing, as he explains: “The margins that you can make from selling a single bag can be 100%; our partners can make £12-15 a bag.”

In true GA style, this is not a ‘You can have any colour so long as it is black’ situation, and retailers can choose from over 45 different recipes in ranges such as Super Premium and Naturals. Quality is key, says Giles, and using the ‘best raw materials’ with the ‘best technology’, GA Direct can deliver ‘some absolutely cracking products’. “They are better than some well-known brands,” he says.

With over 1,200 retailers on board, all new customers are given £1,000 credit to ‘get the ball rolling’, and can choose different products to make up a mixed pallet for greater variety in-store. A retailer can also choose to just try one bag. “We are totally flexible,” said Giles. “It’s an opportunity to grow your own brand and get the increased margin as opposed to lesser margins.”

Retailers also have the option of drop shipping: a customer can order a bag of food from the retailer, who in turn arranges for GA Direct to ship direct to the customer’s home using a next-day service. Which means retailers can choose not to carry bulk bags, freeing up valuable space, and offer the entire range without having to display every product – all without the customer ever being aware of GA’s role.
“We are always introducing new products, keeping up with what’s going on in the market,” Giles adds, revealing that retailers will soon be able to access a grain-free and a high-meat diet.

Top quality, 24/7
The family has its roots in arable farming, but two decades ago, farm manager John Blackett (now retired) and Roger realised that they needed to diversify and add value to their wheat crops in the face of potential falling prices. So in 1992, the family began processing wheat through a dry extruder, driven by a tractor, in a converted sheep building at Bretherton. Three months later, they installed an electric motor.

Things started to move quickly when in 1995, they bought their first wet extruder from America’s Wenger Inc, which meant they could now add wet ingredients such as oils and fats to make a complete food. The company continued to invest millions in research, manufacturing and packaging technology, all the while resisting any temptation to develop their own brand, guided by the simple philosophy that the business is a partner, not a competitor, to its customers.

In 2012, a new chapter opened when the company commissioned a Wenger Thermal Twin 3630, meaning they are now able to manufacture up to 80% fresh meat into premium dried pet food without using dry meat meals. This wet extruder, the proud occupier of latest production Line D, is the only operating extruder of its kind in the world – others are yet to be delivered. All fresh meat and fish arrives freshly prepared, under strict hygiene protocols to eliminate any possibility of salmonella. A new laboratory has been built, which enables tests to be carried out on-site.

Quality control dictates every level, from tests on raw materials as they arrive to tests during and after manufacture, as well as on the final product. Samples are kept of everything for the shelf-life of each product, and everything is bar-coded. It is no surprise that GA Pet Food Partners has been awarded the highly coveted, stringent BRC Food Grade Standard Grade.
“We can trace everything back to its source,” said Giles. “Eventually, packaging will enable customers to trace which farm the meat came from. It’s the way things are going.”

With so much pet food being made at Bretherton, you’d expect to sniff a little whiff on the wind. But there is nothing. It turns out the company has invested heavily in a state-of-the-art environmental management facility which cleans and recycles all air and water on site. The odour abatement facility, for instance, comprises a complex system of filtration, including three massive biological filters, and a high-pressure water curtain. Water treatment works recycle water, which although could technically be released into the adjoining River Douglas, is re-used entirely on-site. The eco-friendly theme has extended to the planting of 10,000 native trees and shrubs.

The Bracewell family and most of the senior team live in very close proximity to the Bretherton site, which is actually a small village close to a Designated Biological Site of the River Douglas. Agriculture is a prime employer, rural themes dominate. When talking of who lives where, it’s not a case of being ‘x number of miles away’ but is counted in fields.

Many staff members have been with the family for years, and though the company is big, friendly, family values are stressed. “It’s an open door policy here,” says Giles. “We want to offer a personal and immediate response to all our customers. It’s all about service.”

With GA Direct, for instance, the country has been divided into four areas, each having a travelling field account manager and an in-house account manager. These managers are able to provide nutritional advice about GA Direct products, provide POS material and help provide data for web pages. “We want people to know there is a friendly face at the end of the line,” he explained.

Open Day
GA Pet Food Partners organises regular Open Days for retailers to visit and get to know the company better. The next is scheduled for Sunday, June 8, 2014, in which visitors will be given a personal tour. For more information or to register, please call Georgina Bracewell on 0800 032 6031.