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Industry Profile: Peregrine Livefoods
30th August 2013

by Sandra Pearce



Peregrine Livefoods last year celebrated its 25th year, and the company has undergone quite a transformation from when it was first set up. Sandra Pearce visits to see where they are, and where they’re going…




Tim Green (left) has a soft spot for the ProRep Tortoise Feed Growing Kit. It’s a quirky, niche product that does exactly what it says; it is a complete kit for growing edible wild plants to feed to Mediterranean-type tortoises. Yet in a way, this product characterises what Peregrine Livefoods is all about – going above and beyond in sourcing and manufacturing products that enrich the lives of animals.

It is no exaggeration to say that Peregrine Livefoods owners Tim and Dave Perry (Perry-Green, geddit?) have always had their eye on the slightly unusual, which led them down the path of breeding 70 to 80-odd species of reptiles 26 years ago. This led to live food production and Peregrine’s eventual evolution into a specialist wholesaler and manufacturer of equipment and frozen foods, with a turnover last year of £12 million, and still seeing year-on-year growth.

Product sales now form the bedrock of the business, even though last year it produced more than a billion insects, including locusts and crickets – sales of which are still increasing thanks to the popularity of Bearded dragons. And now, a quarter of a century on, Dave has the itch again to get stuck into breeding reptiles, ‘hopefully sometime next year’. They want to look at a mix of livestock, obviously the core species that retailers rely on, but also new, more exotic animals that will generate interest in reptiles and the hobby.

“We want to work with retailers and re-engage with the roots of Peregrine,” he said by way of explanation.

There is also a conservation angle here, he notes, as some species that are either threatened with extinction or extinct in the wild do very well as captive-bred species, including the Crested gecko (native to New Caledonia) and the axolotl (from Mexico). Both become more animated as they talk of the possibility of people keeping insects, such as snails, beetles, stick insects and silk moths, as a gentle introduction to reptiles. “It’s how we started as boys,” remembers Tim. Between them, they have probably kept over 300 species, and in Dave’s office are salamanders, beetles, frogs and ants. Tim is currently moth counting in his garden, and has already identified over 900 species.

But before all this can happen, there is a new building to get on with, work on which will hopefully start this month and be finished in March-April next year. This new build will house a breeding facility, development lab, a warehouse and packing area, and more office and server space. The warehouse has been cleverly designed to accommodate more racking, almost doubling the existing 50,000sq ft warehouse with storage for 1,000 pallets. The lab will be for R&D, focus groups and testing, while the insulated breeding rooms will be state-of-the-art with total adherence to every possible health and safety control. One room will be dedicated to Poison arrow frogs, Leopard geckos, Calci worms and fly larvae. Said Tim: “It means we will be able to consolidate. At the moment, we have an offsite storage and we are constantly shuffling from one to the other.”



When you realise Peregrine Livefoods only moved to its current building in 2007, it puts into perspective how the company is growing. And the owners did not have to take out further loans to finance the new-build, but were able to work within existing financial arrangements.

As mentioned, dry goods are now the core business at Peregrine, and brands stocked include Zoo Med, Lucky Reptile, own-brand ProRep, Exo Terra, Arcadia, Vivexotic, Komodo, T-Rex and the more niche Microclimate, White Python and Blue Bug. Recent addition Blue Bug for instance is a range of reptile gifts, Christmas decorations and cards, and the team is counting on it really taking off this year. Own-brand ProRep was launched as a range in 2010 to complement the products it already supplies. Tim does, however, concede that product sales are hard to grow, what with increased competition and some manufacturers supplying direct to retailers. 

It’s not a case of one size fits all, and sometimes a combination of different lighting systems may be required to meet the relevant needs of a specific species. And sometimes different brands work for different levels of reptile keeper. Lucky Reptile, for instance, is geared towards the specialist, whereas ZooMed has wider appeal because it is a more mainstream product, explains Tim. “How do we grow? By putting the correct brands into the right stores,” he says. Which is why their field sales team are not ‘order takers’, he says firmly. “They are there to bring the technical knowledge; they serve an advisory role and can help retailers identify which products will sell best for them.”

Apart from livefood, frozen food is also growing as the popular Royal Pythons do not hibernate and need feeding all year round. Peregrine sources its frozen food from the UK and EU suppliers.

Peregrine has increased its fleet to seven branded Ford Transit extra-long-wheelbase vans, two up from last year. Based in Essex, Peregrine currently fulfils 38% of its orders (national couriers handle the rest), travelling up to Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, across to Blackpool, South Wales and Ireland, and south-west to Bristol. Its delivery network should expand further over the coming year.



Setting a benchmark
Constantly keeping an eye on efficiency and output, with customer service a priority, Tim and Dave decided to go for ISO certification (a number of their customers like their suppliers to be ISO certified) and this year attained the ISO 9001 standard. In official speak, the ISO 9001 standard is ‘the world’s most popular standard for quality management’. But as Tim says: “It means we do what we say!” Which, as Dave elaborates, means there is now ‘a framework of what to build our quality around’, with an internal audit to make sure areas are performing according to standards. “Retailers won’t see a massive change, but it will bring more consistency,” said Tim.

Having such systems in place also means Tim and Dave can leave more of the day-to-day running of the business to their management team, so they can focus on growing the business. “ISO drives quality and awareness right down to the bottom so that everyone is aware of what you are trying to achieve,” said Dave.  It is a way of moving forward because even before they decided to go the ISO route, as a company they were always constantly upgrading and moving with the times, improving their customers’ experiences and keeping an eye on emerging trends. Needless to say that Peregrine has a bespoke order processing, accounting and stock control software linked to a state-of-the-art order management system. Said Dave: “We upgrade and customise our systems all the time. People can now email in an order, in a particular format, and it’s all in our system… everything is linked, including our warehouse.”

A key aspect of customer service is good communication, and Peregrine has started a weekly newsletter which updates everyone on what’s going on at the company, and emails its retailers weekly livestock updates. It is also dabbling in Facebook, and plans to grow this considerably over the year. The website is undergoing a transformation, with the aim of making it a resource for both the retailer and reptile keeper.

“Although we do not supply the end-user, they will be able to download information, such as product manuals. We can also channel them to our customers, the retailers,” explained Tim.
 
What lies ahead?
Although on balance the reptile market is still growing, says Tim, this is much slower and certainly not in the double-digit figures as seen in its hey days up to about 2007 and 2008. He says Pets at Home has helped stimulate growth by making reptiles more accessible to new hobbyists.

In Europe, the reptile market is structured completely differently, they say, and is generally serviced by lots of smaller suppliers. Specialist retailers tend to be larger than those in the UK and act as distributor, and it is not uncommon to find species-specific shops, so perhaps one retailer who sells nothing but frogs and relevant products. Although such fragmentation and specialisation may never come to these shores, there are other trends that could catch on here, such as interest in new species and possibly planted tanks. “In the UK, all we see are plastic plants. But in Holland, it’s all natural. On the continent, they have a lot of experience in growing their plants, and the unusual plants are more common,” said Dave. Tim adds: “It’s a different type of keeper, and although we do sell sets of live plants, we do not hold them in stock all the time.”

It is more than possible that new species will continue to arrive, and increasing colour variants in snakes, for instance, keeps the snake enthusiasts happy. “A good new species is hard to find,” says Dave. “Perhaps a smaller Bearded dragon?”

Legislative issues and the anti-reptile crowd pose challenges to the trade, they say. Belgium already has strict lists of what one can or cannot keep, but such restrictions can smother the industry as new species fuel interest.

Although the partners are keeping an eye on international and national developments, much attention is focused on the local retailer. Explains Dave: “A big part of our job is not just about providing products, but to improve the retailer’s business.”

Tim adds: “We work with some struggling retailers, who have shops rammed with lots of display vivariums, containing high-end items that tie up a lot of their cash, or those who concentrate on livestock. This is more their hobby, not a business.” Peregrine works with these retailers from a financial standpoint, showing their true margins, identifying which products sell well and in what quantities to stock. Tim is pleased to note that their help has helped turn a few businesses around. “We show them where successful businesses focus their attention and a model of what a good mix of products looks like.” To back up their retailer support, Peregrine has a range of support services, partners who provide EPoS and shopfitting solutions.

Adds Dave: “Our reps are good at merchandising a range in-store. We have huge amounts of data so we know which products sells. In reality, one brand cannot meet every need for a retailer.” This can include product positioning within a store, such as the best location for live food, and whether certain products sell better if placed by the entrance.

The company also runs training days for customers, and will run one by UV lighting specialist Frances Baines later in the year. These training days provide practical advice with product selection and use, pass on reptile retailing techniques, and explain principles of reptile keeping and husbandry. There are also Product Training Days that focus on products. “It’s all about educating our retailers, who can then pass on this knowledge to their customers.”
It’s the total package.