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Industry Profile: Laughing Dog
18th May 2016

By Sandra Pearce

Launched in 1936, the premium brand Laughing Dog has gone from strength to strength and has released new products, all designed to keep dogs healthy and happy


Wonderfully Wheat Free Senior uses turkey

At Laughing Dog, it’s all about creating Dog Happy moments, growing a community of dog lovers who are ‘obsessed with their dogs’, which they accordingly treat as part of the family. And what do proud parents like to do? Share pictures of their family! Marketing manager Kate Tarrant said: “We love seeing photographs of our customers’ dogs and they like sending them in, sharing for instance those fun moments they might have captured at the weekend.”

For the Lincolnshire-based pet food manufacturer, its ethos is simple – dogs deserve to be healthy and happy, and deserve the very best in everything, including nutrition (obviously!). A key point for Laughing Dog is that all of its dry food is slowly oven-baked on its family farm. Kate explained: “We believe that baking our dog food helps to better protect our naturally wholesome ingredients, reducing the amount of vitamin loss in the original ingredients, as well as creating a really crisp crunch, which can in turn help to aid dental hygiene.” 

Baked foods also have a unique taste because of the cooking process and so there is no need to add anything after the baking process to make it palatable. “It’s a taste and crunch that even the fussiest of dogs love,” she said.


From left: Renu Keshwara, Kate Tarrant, Taisie Grant, Ben Sawer and Ryan Willey

Taisie Grant, who belongs to the third generation of this family business, added: “We have customers coming to the shows and saying to us, ‘My dog’s really fussy, he won’t eat that.’ Then to the owner’s amazement the dog is nose first into the sample bowl – their reaction is what makes us know we’re onto something good.”

To get just a little bit technical here, baking causes a reaction called the Maillard effect, which is basically a chemical reaction that is often referred to as browning or caramelisation. The crusts of most breads are a golden-brown due to this reaction, but the reaction also releases certain flavours and aromas associated with baking.

Taisie said: “Baking is a more costly way to manufacture food. It is also a much longer process than extrusion, but we firmly believe that it is worth it if it means the very best for your dog.”

Baking is also difficult compared to other cooking methods, she added, especially as many Laughing Dog products do not use traditional binding agents (for example, wheat), so there is a lot of trialling and effort to get the consistencies just right. As such, their complete foods took two years to develop. “There are so many variables with baking,” she said. “Our bakers have to work very hard to ensure we get a perfect mix every time.”


Wet food range was launched at PATS Sandown

There are no artificial ingredients in Laughing Dog’s products, and no fillers such as rice or beet pulp. “Our customers are all very complimentary of the ingredients we use – it’s evident to them that everything is in there for a reason.”

Despite this, Laughing Dog has not priced itself out of the market. Kate said: “We offer the best, but at an affordable price point. We work closely with our trade customers to ensure that Laughing Dog is an attractive product for consumers.”

Taisie adds: “We want to give as many dogs as good a nutrition as possible. We want anyone to be able to buy Laughing Dog.”

The Laughing Dog products are good for dogs with digestive issues or food sensitivities, and having a wheat free and grain free range ticks all the those boxes, Taisie explained.

Kate added: “Our trade customers are very passionate about the brand. We get huge amounts of feedback, and our team of nutritionists work hard to ensure all products are carefully formulated with sensible levels of protein and all the key nutrients required for optimum health. Laughing Dog’s completes are made with no added wheat, soya, dairy or any added artificial colours or flavours.”

Laughing Dog offers a range of Wonderfully Wheat Free and Gloriously Grain Free dry completes, treats, mixer meals, and – because everything is made on the family farm – the bakery can also make special hand-decorated biscuit bones. Taisie is often the nominated decorator, and has spent hours icing these biscuits with a ‘Happy Birthday’ or the dog’s name. “We did hand-decorated Valentine’s bones,” she said. “It’s nice because we have the flexibility to do these spontaneous things. We also made them for Christmas, and it went very well. It’s something else which makes us unique and stand out a little bit more from our competitors.”

Laughing Dog has now launched new products to extend its offering.


The farm has wildflower borders to encourage wildlife

Wonderfully Wheat Free Senior uses turkey, because this is a lean meat and an easily digestible protein. “We have developed it for the more mature dog who wants to live life 100% happy,” said Kate. The food also contains sweet potato, oats, and other key ingredients including the natural antioxidant rosehip and glucosamine to help aid the health of the joint cartilage.  
 
At PATS, Laughing Dog launched its Gloriously Grain Free Mixer Meal. “This has been a long time in coming, and has involved a lot of R&D and trials. Our trade customers have been asking us for a grain free mixer, but we had to get it just right.  As far as we are aware, nobody else makes a traditionally baked grain free mixer meal in the UK, so we are hugely proud of what we have achieved.”

PATS also saw the launch of a brand new wet grain free complete dog food range, Laughing Dog Farm Kitchen, again in response to customer requests. “It’s what we’re being asked for,” Kate added.
The wet food range is available in three flavours, chicken, duck and lamb, and also contains a unique blend of botanical herbs, as well as nutritious vegetables such as sweet potato and peas. Although the wet food is not made onsite at the company’s Boston facility, it is being made in the UK.


Harvest time on the farm

Taisie said: “People who buy mixes have set ideas about what they mix with it. Our trade customers were going elsewhere for their wet food, so it made sense to introduce a wet range and bring our Farm Kitchen and Farm Bakery brands together. Laughing Dog now gives our customers the option to buy all they need in one go.”

COMPLETE TRACEABILITY
Laughing Dog has been around since 1936 and is part of Fold Hill Foods. For three generations the Grant family has been making dog food at their family farm.  Family patriarch Ted Grant (who was awarded an OBE for services to agriculture) decided to bake a batch of dog food following one year’s abundant harvest. Reaction was good, and it became a means of diversifying and adding value to what the Grants were growing in their fields.

Taisie said: “The factory was built on our farm. Grandpa was a big entrepreneur and a philanthropist. His whole ethos was to give back to the local community wherever he could; in the winter on the farm when things were quiet, he would grow flowers so the men had something to do. Then he started looking into dog biscuits. He felt he had a great responsibility to the land around him, and saw himself as caretaker for it, coupled with a huge commitment to the local community.”


Not many pet food manufacturers can look out their window and see their ingredients growing

Fold Hill Foods is one of the biggest employers between Boston and Skegness, and employs about 145 people – that’s a lot of lives in your hands, says Kate. This sense of responsibility is shown in the company’s commitment to the environment, such as with the installation of a solar farm that now provides a quarter of the energy it uses. All around the farm, birds, bees and butterflies are all encouraged with wildflower borders. The company also has ties with local schools and colleges by providing apprenticeships.

Taisie said: “We try and source as many local ingredients as possible, as well as using our oats and barley grown on the farm. Very few companies can say they look out the window and can see growing what is also going into their biscuits. In our industry, there are not many people who can say that they get their product from their farm!


Solar farm provides a quarter of the energy it uses

“When it comes to traceability, we know exactly where everything comes from and are very proud to fly our Made in Britain flag. Every bag of our dry food can be traced back to the baker who made it and even the oven it was baked in.”

Exports are growing, though at the moment this is mainly to Europe, Malta and Iceland, says sales manager Ryan Willey. “It’s about finding the right distributor and partner – there is a lot of interest for Laughing Dog, and we will be at Interzoo in May.”

Laughing Dog does sell online, but this is done at RRP. He added: “We always encourage customers to buy from their local pet shop; our online sales are really there to provide a service for the dotcom shopper.”


Grain-free mixer meal is believed to be a first in the UK

To support their new launches and independent retailers, there are plans for more consumer advertising and shows to further develop awareness of the brand. There is also a new point of sale range, including pavement signs, banners and a POS display stand. “We have a very dedicated marketing and sales team and can respond quickly to retailer requests,” said Ryan.

Everyone at Laughing Dog is kept in the loop about what’s going on with the brand. There is a dedicated area where pictures of customers’ dogs are put up, along with customer letters and testimonials, as well as ongoing product development. “It gets people involved and let’s them see what we are doing,” said Taisie. “This way, everyone – including the person taking in the barley and oats –gets to see the results. It keeps everyone involved, and helps instill a sense of pride and belonging.”

Laughing Dog is clearly about growing a community.