The perfect partner

Europe’s leading manufacturer of private label premium dry pet food, GA Pet Food Partners is responsible for creating 500 different types of extruded pet food and has amassed a portfolio of over 1600 partners across the world

When Thomas Bracewell purchased Plocks Farm in Lancashire over 50 years ago it was a mixed arable and livestock farm. It wasn’t until Tom’s son, Roger, began working on the farm that the family decided that the only way to continue to grow cereal profitably was to secure an effective market. In 1992, Roger would go on to purchase a tractor driver extruder to turn the family’s wheat into a simple extruded dog food, and from that GA Pet Food Partners (GA) was born.

To this day, GA remains a private, family-owned business, working with pet food brands of all sizes throughout the world. GA offers these brands what it calls ‘the total solution’ in private label pet food, from concept to launch, and storage to despatch, while also encompassing specialist services such nutritional advice, R&D, design and brand marketing. In doing so, the company partners with more private label pet food brands than any other pet food manufacturer. Not only manufacturing food for what could be called ‘traditional’ pets, such as dogs, cats, rabbits and birds, GA also creates pond and koi foods, angling baits and is able to develop dry foods for more unusual small pets such as ferrets.

“Partnership is what we are all about, and is what has been at the heart of our story since GA began processing wheat for pet food in 1992,” explains John Hewitt, Head of Technical Services. “Our success has always been linked to that of our partners, of which we today boast more than 1600 across the globe, and has been delivered on the back of the core values of quality, innovation and integrity. We deliver quality across the board, from the raw materials we use through to production and logistics activities; our innovative approach allows us to stay at the forefront of the industry, and the integrity we possess means that our partners retain the utmost level of confidence in what we do, from the start of their journey through to the delivery of their finished product.”

Tailored approach
GA offers its partners three ‘routes to success’, individually tailored for pet food brands of different sizes. Route one, or the My Label route as it is called, starts with a commitment to a minimum order of just a single bag, but provides access to over 80 different recipes, packaging, a selection of label templates, and a lead time of as little as five working days. The next step up is the My Brand option, which has a minimum order quantity of one pallet per SKU. Similarly, users of this path have access to over 80 recipes, but in this instance, they can choose their own packaging and design their own branded label or fully printed bag. Lastly, the My Bespoke route comes with a minimum order of five tonnes, and gives the partner access to GA’s team of nutritionists to design their recipe, and allows for the creation of bespoke packaging and labelling.

“These different entry points provide an ideal in-road for partners of all shapes and sizes. Whether they are an online distributor that never has to actually physically touch the pet food or a more hands-on bespoke partner that wants to be intricately involved from day one in developing a recipe and 29designing packaging, we provide a true concept-to-launch approach to meet their individual needs,” John enthuses.

As John goes on to point out, correctly, the health and happiness of the pet being fed is the ultimate consideration when it comes to creating pet food. “Ensuring that the end product our partners receive is wholesome, nutritious and tasty for the pet in question has to be our highest priority,” he details. “This begins with the ingredients we source from farms, growers and other human grade food suppliers, and collect using our own refrigerated transport. Brand owners can have full traceability and provenance of their ingredients, all of which is handled through a human-quality food chain before arriving at our ingredients kitchen.”

The importance of ingredients, and the happiness of the pet in question are perfectly illustrated by a very successful project GA undertook with a pet owner who was not happy with the food they were feeding their own mature dog. They had noticed that it suffered from a skin condition that improved when fed wholesome homemade food. They wanted to develop their own pet food that would produce the same results, and then offer it to a wider market.

Prioritising pet health
With the help of GA’s pet nutritionists, three super premium dog food diets were developed and trialled. The GA team also helped to develop the text and content for the packaging, which was supplied by an external packaging supplier. The first small batches were packed into two different pack sizes and stored at GA’s Distribution Centre (DC) for distribution. This brand is now sold in both pet shops and a grocery multiple, with some product being sold via mail-order, being fulfilled directly by the DC.

Focus on fresh
It is clear that GA welcomes new approaches and is keen to explore innovation in order to stay at the forefront of the pet food market, and its latest investment in this area is named Freshtrusion™. This technology enables the creation of dry pet foods with up to 100 per cent fresh ingredients, improved palatability and better digestibility. Freshtrusion™ allows more fresh ingredients to be used than any other extrusion system in the world, including fresh meat, vegetables, herbs and botanicals (over 700 ingredients are available for clients to choose from – or they are able to source their own). Such is the flexibility of Freshtrusion™ that customers can choose the levels of each fresh ingredient, to optimise nutrition, and target the best marketing positions and commercial price points. It also gives brand owners the opportunity to make powerful on-pack marketing claims to help differentiate themselves, and this is an area where GA is happy to share its 20 years of knowledge and experience, while its clien s decide the pace and level of involvement with their brand development.

“Traditionally, pet food has not always had the best perception when it comes to the use of fresh ingredients and we saw Freshtrusion™ as the perfect opportunity to change this and to meet the growing demand from our partners for freshly prepared meat and other products,” John continues. “To date our primary focus has been targeted towards the meat element, but from here we are now pushing towards our ultimate aim, which is to deliver 100 per cent freshness in our products, something which we believe is very achievable.”

Growth opportunities
The pursuit of self-improvement has led to GA making a significant investment, totally £55 million, across its production and manufacturing activities. This investment has not only resulted in the aforementioned state-of-the-art ingredients kitchen, factory extensions and new warehouse space, but also the adoption of the most technically advanced extrusion plant, making some of the finest super premium dry pet foods available. GA’s adoption of the world’s first thermal twin extruder allows it to include high levels of fresh meat in its products, and with four extruders GA now has a production capacity of 100,000 tonnes of super premium pet food.

“Going forward, our strategy revolves around consolidating our relationships with our existing partners by maintaining the same high level of quality and meeting their changing needs,” John concludes. “As we continue to grow, we will aid our partners own growth by continuing to offer them new recipes, increased innovation and greater opportunities to add to their product ranges. Of course, at the same time, we always welcome new partners with open arms and we are very excited about the opportunities we foresee to grow internationally in the years to come.”