Managing director of local Mackle Petfoods on the changing pet food market, staff wellbeing and their £2m investment
Naturo, which is now the fastest growing natural wet dog food brand in uk supermarkets, was a brand new departure for the company when it launched in 2010.
Mackle Petfoods, founded in 1972 and based in Co. Armagh, is one of the leading pet food manufacturers across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The family business originated from a family history in the canning industry when John Mackle Sr followed his father into the canned fruit industry and soon identified an opportunity in canning, and in particular, pet food.
Based outside Moy, Co. Armagh the availability was there from local meat suppliers which ensured the idea would get off the ground.
The company is ran today by John Sr’s son John A. Mackle, Managing Director, who reveals: ‘‘The pet food industry, along with consumer habits, has changed a lot over the past 47 years.
‘‘Canned pet food was available in the 70s and was viewed as a product of convenience.
''Dry food was also available, however a lot of households still fed leftovers to their family pets.
''In the following years, pet owners became more aware of nutrition and quality, which has shaped the trends we are now seeing in the industry today.
Changing consumer demands
‘‘The pet food industry is continuously growing to stay ahead of consumer demands. Europe is considered as one of the leaders in the industry, generating around 30 per cent of the total pet food and pet care sales worldwide.
‘‘Pets are increasingly viewed as a member of the family and are an integral part of the everyday routine for pet owners.
''The humanisation trend in the pet food market has continued to gain momentum with pet owners increasingly humanising their pets. Pet parents are also reluctant to cut back on spend for their pets and as a result, the pet food and care categories are rapidly evolving with new, innovative products.’’
With trends in the human market now clearly seen in pet food and a focus on natural, free-from diet with high-quality ingredients and clean labelling coming to the fore, John explains the inclusion of fruit and vegetables offers a ‘cleaner’ image to pet food.
John’s insights come as it was recently revealed the Mackle Petfood’s Naturo range, which is nutritionally balanced with up to 60 per cent meat and contains no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, is now the fastest growing natural wet dog food brand in UK supermarket.
Available province-wide as well as globally, it is sold across the likes of Great Britain, Europe, UAE and even South Korea.
Since it launched in 2010, the Naturo range has increased from four varieties to 31, a result of constant innovation and development in response to customer feedback and market trends.
‘‘As a nation, consumers were becoming more aware of healthy eating and the ingredients that go into the food they eat - this soon crossed over into the pet food market.
‘‘After all, pet food is bought by the pet owner, thus perception and healthy attributes became front of mind,’’ John says.
‘‘The canned pet food market was in decline as customers moved to pouch packaging. Consumers were also becoming more aware that some commercial pet food included a low percentage of meat along with artificial nasties, thus paving the way for a new pet food product in Mackle Petfoods’ portfolio.’’
Naturo dog food was a brand new departure for the company, introducing a premium, high quality natural dog food, packed in a 400g plastic tray and made with 100 per cent natural ingredients.
With the knowledge more dogs are being treated by their owners as ‘one of the family’ this trend led to customer demand for super premium products as pet owners wanted to purchase food for their dog with the same values as human food:
‘‘Dog owners demand clean labelling, natural, healthy products, human grade materials and no artificial nasties - but not at the expense of taste,’’ John explains.
‘‘In 2013, Naturo was listed with Tesco UK and this began our journey into the top four supermarkets across the UK.
‘‘The Naturo range caters for dogs at every life stage, from puppy to senior, taking into consideration some of the specific conditions they may suffer from – sensitive skin or stomach (grain free) and overweight (light with 40 per cent less fat). Naturo is part of our premium pet food range, the key growth driver in the pet food industry at present.
‘‘For all our brands, we constantly seek to improve the quality and palatability of our pet food. How a product feeds is always a concern for pet owners and most importantly, pets themselves!’’
Preparing for Brexit
John adds that the success of Mackle Petfoods can be attributed to a number of factors, including: ‘‘product quality, market leading innovation, professional customer service and team culture.’’
He comments: ‘‘The business is continuing to grow even during these challenging times of Brexit and the uncertainty it presents. We are encouraged that in spite of the uncertainty within trade our local and global markets are responding so positively to our range of products.
‘‘There is a dedicated Brexit Committee within the company, who engage with relevant government bodies to help prepare and plan for the future.’’
Focus on staff health and wellbeing
Mackle Petfoods have doubled employees and maintain a low staff turnover with a focus on health and wellbeing, career progression and employee schemes.
The company has recently provided a new health benefit: Health Shield, in which all employees now receive a health benefit which can help employees in certain medical crises. This is in addition to smaller incentives, including encouraging staff to eat healthily by providing free, fresh fruit on a daily basis. It has also teamed up with Health Matters. Funded by the Public Health Agency, the programme focuses on the health and mental wellbeing of staff.
‘‘In the past five years Mackle Petfoods have doubled employees and maintain a low staff turnover,’’ John reveals. ‘‘As a company, Mackle Petfoods believe we have a high number of employees, who like to work here and are happy to stay because we offer a unique and innovative employment that not many others do. We are proud to be a diverse employer, that offers employees schemes to further their careers, education and wellbeing.’’
The family business has also recently announced a £2million investment in new state-of-the-art packing equipment. It currently employs 203 people across two production sites in Moy and Moygashel, with each site benefiting from multi million-pound investment in recent years to facilitate the production of larger volumes of pet food.
‘‘The investment is a result of increasing demand from the top four retailers across the UK, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as the number of countries we now export to,’’ John explains.
‘‘Mackle Petfoods produce over 70 million cans and 30 million trays annually, including our trusted brands Naturo, Brandy and Cat Club and a range of own label products for major retailers.’’
Made using only 100 per cent local meat, Brandy is fully traceable from farm to bowl has a strong local heritage dating back to 1972. Currently the number one locally made dog food brand, Brandy continues to perform strongly in the market, which John enthuses is ‘‘testament to a reliable, trusted local brand and appeals to customers looking for value but not at the expense of quality.’’
Meanwhile, Cat Club, which is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, is ‘‘proud to be the number one local-made cat food brand,’’ continuing to hold its own in a challenging and competitive market. Also made with the finest quality, locally sourced meat, Cat Club is fully traceable from farm to can. ‘‘Cat Club is comparable to Brandy in that it appeals to customers looking for value - but not at the expense of quality,’’ John explains.
As a local business who has found success both locally and nationally, John had the following advice for anyone thinking of launching their own business:‘‘Just go for it! Surround yourself with the best people, take on board the best advice and stick to your principles.
''Differentiate from your immediate competitors and last but not least - work hard!’’
Visit: macklepetfoods.com for more information on the Mackle Petfood range and stockists.