News Industry Profile Westland Horticulture



Industry Profile: Westland Horticulture
15th October 2015

By Sandra Pearce

In four short years Westland Horticulture has become a major player in the wild bird, pigeon and indoor bird and aviary sectors with its brands Peckish, Bucktons and Nature’s Feast – and it has big plans for each…

With more than 80 years’ experience producing pigeon, wild bird, and indoor and aviary bird food, specialist brand Bucktons is having a makeover. Which is probably the understatement of the year. This is not just any makeover – this is about offering new ranges, new packaging and a new brand positioning.

Justin Heaton, divisional director at Westland Horticulture, said: “Bucktons is a specialist brand and well-known to the trade and professionals; it’s all about top specialist nutrition and the formulation. We have overhauled it, given it new branding and packaging, and are launching it to the trade at PATS Telford.”

Aviary is the starting point, and the brand is now strongly focussed on the hobbyist consumer and aims to stand firmly at the forefront of the sector. At the trade show, Bucktons will reveal a range of small bird – Canary, Budgerigar, Parrot, Finch, Cockatiel and Lovebird – in bright new packaging.
In addition to the aviary range, and with an estimated 28 million households feeding wild birds, the Bucktons’ challenge in this sector is to raise the enjoyment factor, he said. “How do you make this a more positive experience? How do you use a brand like Bucktons to move that forwards?”

Again targeting the consumer, the packaging places the wild bird centrestage, while in the background are evocative scenes of a typical family garden: there’s washing hanging on a line, a pair of wellies… To clearly convey the message of quality, a huge transparent window shows the product, a tactic used across most of its products.

Bucktons is also launching energy balls in a large format of 150 balls, giving it VAT-free status, and therefore better value for money. “It’s good for retailers looking for a value proposition,” said Rachael Dickinson, senior marketing manager. “It does away with the problem of customers ending up with so many tubs that they do not know what to do with them. It’s a specialist offering, but also has lovely packaging to make it more a consumer offer.”

Crucially, Bucktons is looking at the bigger pet picture, and will at some point launch new food products across multiple pet categories; its long-term mission is to build ‘a better kind of bird and pet food brand’.

Green roots
Westland Horticulture began life in 1990 in County Tyrone producing compost, and is one of the fastest-growing horticultural companies in the UK. Offering growing media, lawn treatments, lawn seed, plant food, pest control, fungicides, weed killers and mulches, the privately-owned company has seen turnover grow from £15m to £100m over the last 15 years.

Seeing an opportunity to grow its business by moving into wild bird food – a sector worth £260
million – in 2011 it launched its Peckish range. Rather than investing further money into the Cambridgeshire site, in 2012 the owners purchased Cranswick Pet Products, which had state-of-the-art facilities for producing wild bird food in Driffield, Yorkshire, for £18 million. The acquisition brought the Bucktons and Nature’s Feast ranges to its stable.

Westland Horticulture is investing heavily into the three brands, building up this pet specialist division, said Justin. The pet division runs as a distinct team, as the needs of the pet trade and how one communicates within it are different to the garden sector.

Each brand has its own identity, and the three (between them they have over 200 products) complement each other. Peckish, for instance, targets newcomers, and is positioned at the fun, innovative end. “Every person in this country has the opportunity to feed wild bird and get real enjoyment out of it,” said Justin. “Peckish is the vehicle by which we can accomplish this.” A winter Peckish communications campaign is on the cards to encourage more people to feed wild birds.

Nature’s Feast emphasises the natural message, and is a more specialist brand. Targeting the more discerning consumer. “It’s about picking what’s right for the audience, and what’s right from a consumer and marketing point,” explained Rachael.

Then there’s Bucktons and its relaunch to the trade this month. The brand is a specialist range exclusive to the pet trade and also has a reputation for its feeding mixes for racing pigeons, and is a principle sponsor of all key events such as the annual British Homing World Show of the Year.

“There is different positioning for all three brands, and each has its own investment and communication strategies to appeal to different consumers,” said Justin. “It’s a very exciting time, especially as we have three brands as vessels to deliver our messages.”

Top of the class
The Driffield site has for five straight years been awarded an A-grade rating by The British Retail Consortium, making it the first and only wild bird food manufacturer to attain this status in the UK. To meet the requirements of The Global Standard for Food Safety Version 6, the site’s manufacturing process had to meet 12 fundamental key areas, which covers over 350 clauses, including Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, hygiene and full traceability. For instance, a sample of every batch of raw material and finished product is kept for its shelf-life. This, says Rachael, gives retailers and consumers confidence in full traceability.

Although raw material is sourced from over 50 countries (you can’t grow peanuts in the UK!), the company sources from local suppliers as far as possible. As such, almost 100% of all wheat is sourced from within 30 miles.

The production process is stringent and full of process control checks, from start to finish. Crops are checked when still in the field as the company works closely with farmers and employs an agronomist. Raw material is inspected for moisture content and purity at delivery, and along the entire production line, material is constantly aspirated to ensure it’s dust-free. Absolutely nothing is left to chance. It’s all about quality, consistency and safety, explained Justin.

Such high standards are evident everywhere, and Westland Horticulture places strong emphasis on product innovation and adding value, said Rachael. “There is always an excitement for newness from the two owners. They are passionate about it.”

For instance, the three new Bucktons pigeon foods launched earlier this year feature Quorum Sensing Technology, a scientifically-recognised pellet unique to Bucktons, which supports immune systems, stimulate natural enzymes and prevent bacteria. Its new indoor bird feeds include Spiralife, which is a unique blend of vitamins and antioxidants to enhance plumage and boost health.

When you produce seven million units a year, which use over 40,000 tonnes of food, you have to be top of your game. The Driffield site has seven production lines – one of which recently hit a milestone by producing its 30 millionth bag – and recently added two fat-ball lines in a million-pound investment. The site now has the capacity to make 200,000 fat balls a day. These use beef tallow, and most definitely do not include any unnatural ‘fillers’, as can be found in some budget products.

Spreading the message
The wild bird food market is challenging because many customers shop purely on price point. However, cheaper foods contain more grain and fewer seeds, and therefore attract fewer species (apart from the larger birds such as pigeons and doves). Retailers need to educate customers, or they’ll remain selling on price, said Rachael. Once customers try a quality product, they’ll see the benefits and chances are they will become loyal customers, making repeat visits to the store.

“We need to work together to put across the messages of quality and the health benefits to the birds of feeding a better product,” she explained. For example, some species are susceptible to respiratory disease that can be triggered by products that are not dust-free.

The business relies on its experts, nutritional technologist Lorron Bright and vet Matt Brash, and is putting together an in-depth training plan for both wild and aviary birds, which it will then use to train retailers. “Then they can in turn talk to their customers with honesty and integrity,” she added.

Further support to retailers comes in the form of specialist POS, specific to each brand, which can include headers, shelf talkers and interactive online material.

Bucktons has also changed some of its packaging to encourage customers to visit stores more regularly; its latest indoor range comes in sizes that would feed a pair of birds for roughly a month. “We want to keep people coming into stores regularly, so why sell seed in big bags? Big bags keep people away for longer periods of time,” said Rachael.

It’s all about customising unique propositions for each of the three brands. Added Justin: “There is so much going on, it is a really exciting time, and we want to do everything we can to help retailers.”