Industry Profile 2015 Nutriment

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Industry Profile 2015: Nutriment
17th July 2015

By Sandra Pearce



It’s been an interesting two years for Surrey-based raw pet food manufacturer Nutriment. Sandra Pearce visits to learn more about what makes this fast-growing company tick


Top quality Gressingham duck, fresh salmon from Grimsby, the firmest of carrots, dark green broccoli… then throw in some superfoods like coconut oil and kelp; it looks like the makings of a Heston Blumenthal creation. Yet these are simply routine ingredients for pet food manufacturer Nutriment, which makes raw food for dogs and cats. “The meat we use is fresher than the meat you buy in supermarkets,” said owner Suzanne Brock.

To illustrate, poultry from Hertfordshire is slaughtered overnight, arrives at the factory’s Surrey premises in the morning, and the prepared food is then frozen and ready to be shipped to retailers across the country before the chicken breasts and legs are ready to go to Sainsbury’s and Tesco. All Nutriment ingredients are human grade, explains sales director Peter Nicholas. He should know – he’s been known to nip downstairs when deliveries arrive and walk off with duck wings to cook that night.



“We inspect our meat and vegetables every day, and we eat the meat and veg every day ourselves,” confirms Suzanne. “It’s all top quality produce… even the vegetables are restaurant quality. We know exactly what we are selling you; it’s boxes and boxes of goodness.”

The team at Nutriment has excellent working relationships with local authorities, including Environmental Health, Animal Health and Trading Standards, all of whom have carried out inspections and are reportedly extremely pleased with standards.

I mention the dreaded ‘S’ word and Suzanne springs energetically into the conversation: “You’re more likely to find salmonella in dry dog food, and a lot of what you hear about salmonella is scaremongering.” The fact is, dogs naturally have salmonella in their gut.



At Nutriment, food is tested for salmonella before freezing, and there has never been a positive result. “If salmonella is not in the food before freezing, it is not going to be in the food after freezing,” she said. “We’re salmonella free.”

Nutriment is about taking raw feeding to the next level, she added. For owners who want to have the ‘foundation blocks’ to create a complete dog food, Nutriment’s Just range is, well, just the ticket. This complementary range is literally just chicken, duck, turkey or offal. However, Nutriment also offers complete foods for owners who want to serve a meal, and this offering has recently been bolstered with Dinner for Dogs, a range tailored for smaller breeds. “We thought Dinner for Dogs would be a slow starter for the discerning small pet owner, then we sold out at Crufts,” she said. Retailers are reporting strong sales – and appreciate the higher margin.



Cats are not forgotten with beef, chicken and salmon complete meals, and new additions are on the cards.

Nutriment works to small batches, Suzanne says, which helps keep quality high. Peter is not enthusiastic about the term ‘small batch’ – his business background has seen him in the meeting rooms of multi-nationals, where doing things ‘small’ is not an option. “It’s been a complete culture shock,” he admits, “but I have never been happier. And I have never felt so proud of a company or its people.” Funnily enough (or not), he started consulting one day a week for Nutriment, and then before he knew it, he and Suzanne had worked 72 days straight without a break.

There is clearly a synergy between Suzanne and Peter, a balance between the vital business hat and the passion for a pet’s nutrition. “I just want to have happy, healthy dogs, but we met somewhere in the middle and have created this professional business with warmth, offering a professional service. But we will never lose focus on what’s important – the pet,” said Suzanne.



The pet may be important, but how their product is presented is important too. Suzanne is working on a new recipe and has just frozen a 50kg batch. “I can’t wait to thaw it and see how it looks and smells. It’s important that the owners like how it looks and smells… they’re the ones preparing it!”

It may be ‘small batches’ but this is no cottage industry, and both Suzanne and Peter have worked hard on packaging to ensure it conveys a specific message. Owners want to have confidence in the food they feed their pets, and so Nutriment’s packaging is all about assuring owners that the food is good value, professional, with top nutrition.

When life gives you lemons…
Celebrating its second birthday in June, Nutriment produces 160 tonnes every month and is outperforming its original projection. Which is ironic because literally days before the factory was due to open, the bank pulled its funding, stating it did not agree with the projection, which it said was too optimistic. Despite Suzanne and Peter tearing apart the business plan and offering revised figures, the bank was resolute.



“We’d secured the leasehold, hired staff, leased machinery, everything. Everything was in place, then they pulled,” she said. It was the worst nightmare any new start-up can face, and she had to totally re-think how to start the company without working capital. If she did not come up with the money, she’d lose everything – and then some. Back against the wall, she re-mortgaged her three-bed home, her mother liquidated her life savings, and with personal guarantees everywhere, she raised the funds. “I had visions of my two kids (now in their early teens) and myself living here,” she said. “I was a wreck… but my daughter had absolute confidence in me.”

When Nutriment opened its doors that June morning, it was perhaps a sign that within minutes, a woman came in and asked, “Have you started making dog food yet?” They had just the one tub, and Suzanne recalls how it was handed over, with almost trembling hands, and given to the woman at no charge. She looked at it and said: “I’ll need more; I’ve got a big dog.”



Suzanne grins: “She called later that afternoon to say her dog had eaten it all, and came back the next day and bought lots more.”

Fast forward two years and Nutriment has earned a place on the Startups 100 index, which recognises privately-owned new UK companies that ‘demonstrate innovation, solid financials, economic impact and growth potential’. It has also won The Toast of Surrey, the Surrey Heath Chamber of Commerce’s New Business of the Year Awards; Crufts’ Best New Exhibitor of the Year; and has been awarded five stars on Allaboutdogs.co.uk.

Winning awards is great, says Suzanne, but nothing beats that special rapport you can build with customers, of whom many have crossed into ‘friend’ category. For example, when Nutriment held its official open day, they expected a few people to turn up. Hundreds came, and a customer jumped in to take control of the carpark, packing cars in like sardines. Others have come forward to help man the stand at Crufts, with others volunteering for other shows. Walk around the factory and chances are you will bump into a staff member who started out as a customer.



It stems from treating people like family and building a community, whether through direct contact or websites like Facebook. At Easter, for example, a machine broke down on Friday and her team was unable to finish production. “I said I needed help to run the production line on Saturday, when the machine would be fixed. That morning, my two kids, mum and Peter turned up. Staff who were able to come did, and brought their family members as well.” In that family atmosphere, they shifted five tonnes of food.

Nutriment also sponsors a number of animals, focussing on individual pets and needs. For instance, it sponsors three-legged Haatchi, who is best friends with Owen Howkins, a little boy who suffers from a disorder which causes his muscles to be in permanent state of tension. There’s Jonesy the cat; Rocky, the Romanian rescue paralysed from the waist down; and a whole pack of Newfoundlands who work to help teach children about water safety. 

“We also help out at rescues with specific dogs that have specific needs, which are almost always weight or skin issues. But we tend not to shout about this; it’s difficult to strike a balance, so we prefer not to say anything and would rather see the healthier, happier pet.”

…make sorbet!
They may keep quiet about their charity work, but Suzanne and Peter are more than happy to shout about their freezers. “Oh, our freezers are a thing of beauty,” she says. She is referring to their latest upright freezer, which obviously has a smaller footprint than traditional chest freezers. More importantly, it works beautifully for the Dinner for Dogs range: “It sells the product for us.”

At the moment, a third of all sales are direct online, though trade sales have increased 40%. “We would prefer to drive all our trade through retailers,” she said. “Everything we do, we ask, how can the trade benefit from this?”



So Nutriment sends out newsletters to online customers, with news and information about their local stockists. Peter said: “Customers who are moving into raw need education and encouragement. If you are going to make a fundamental change in feeding your pet, would you want to go to someone like Piers (Piers Smart, owner of Scampers in Ely) or go to some great big shed that piles it high ad sells it cheap, and talk to someone who started working that morning? Once people understand the product, they tend to stay.”

The business case for retailers is simple, he adds. It means increased customer loyalty; increased footfall; and good, sustainable profit. “The growth of our business will be through the trade and not online sales.”

To help retailers, retailers have to buy a freezer but Nutriment stocks the first order for free, and waives shipping costs for three months, to give them a chance to grow sales to meet the free shipping requirement. “If retailers invest in us, it’s important that we help them,” he added.



So, is a holiday finally on the cards? “I do not see things slowing down for a couple of years,” admits Suzanne. The calendar is packed with growing the ranges and taking on new premises to double production. Not to mention the new-look website which went live in May.

“We’re also exporting, but we need to deal with domestic demand first. We sell every gram we make, and until we have the new line in place, we need to look after our UK customers first,” she added.

Yet no matter where Nutriment goes, Suzanne is determined never to forget where they stared: “It’s all about the dogs and cats.”