Interviews

The healthy pet food brand that’s leading the B Corp revolution in the UK

7 min read

22 October 2015

The phrase hasn’t entered the general business lexicon yet, but we’ll be hearing a lot more about B Corp over the next few months.

Essentially B Corps are to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee. Each must “meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency”, according to B Lab, the organisation that runs the scheme. There are currently more than 1,4000 Certified B Corps from 42 countries and over 130 industries, and the numbers are expanding rapidly.

One of the first in the UK was Lily’s Kitchen, a fast-growing pet food brand. The company started life seven years ago when its founder, Henrietta Morrison, discovered that her homemade meals cleared up the chronic itchy skin complaint suffered by her dog, Lily.

“I spent two years working together with a range of vets and nutritionists as well as a herbalist, to create what I felt would be the ultimate food for pets, containing wholesome, natural ingredients that you could recognise, rather than the ‘Frankenstein food’ offered up by the mass market pet food companies,” said Morrison.

Originally the food was prepared at her home, but Lily’s Kitchen now employs a team of 45, as well as numerous cat and dog tasters, and retail sales are £20m. Based in Hampstead, London, the company has been awarded the Gold Trusted Merchant accreditation from independent review site Feefo, and consistently achieves 99 per cent to 100 per cent scores across the board for customer service.

It’s been the UK’s Number One Ethical Pet Food Company since it launched, and is the only company to achieve a 100 per cent score in the Ethical Good Shopping Guide. The range is currently available nationwide in Waitrose, Tesco and Ocado as well as in Wholefoods, vet surgeries, organic health food shops and pet shops.

Having attended a talk by Jerry Greenfield, of ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s, about how business can be used as a force for good in the world, Morrison was inspired to go for B Corp status.

“I have to admit that becoming a B Corp isn’t easy,” revealed Morrison. “There are hundreds of questions to fill in from how you treat your team to your environmental and social responsibilities. B Corps from across the world, including ourselves, are saying to their peers that there is a better way to do business – one that considers social values and environmental responsibility alongside traditional business key performance indicators.”

From the start

Money to set up the business came from various sources. Morrison started during the recession when banks were not interested in lending to small businesses so she pulled together seed funding by remortgaging her house as well as getting help from family and friends.

When Lily’s Kitchen launched it had three lines: chicken and turkey casserole, slow cooked lamb hotpot and beef, potato and vegetables. The Lily’s Kitchen range of recipes has a high meat content of 60 per cent to 65 per cent and the recipes are enhanced with the brand’s signature blend of 14 botanical herbs, each of which, according to Morrison, brings special health benefits.

“We now make over 50 different recipes,” added Morrison. “In the beginning I went out with my recipes to local pet shops, vet clinics and health food shops. It seemed very expensive to pay £2.19 for a tin of food, in the midst of a recession. But stockists would phone back a week later asking for more as the feedback was brilliant and they’d sold out. Consumers understand that a food made with real ingredients and high levels of meat is going to be more expensive than the usual ‘chunk and jelly’ varieties.”

Read more about the canine industry:

Her first big break came when one of the first stockists, Primrose Hill Pets, came back for a second order after just a week and local vets in Hampstead and the surrounding were very supportive.

“Another big milestone was when I created the first meat meal-free and grain-free dry dog food,” said Morrison. “It makes me hugely proud that we have grown from just me creating dog food recipes in my home kitchen to become an independent, British producer of naturally nutritious pet food that has transformed the pet food category with its delicious and award-winning range of proper food for pets.” 

Having entered the Virgin Fast Track 100 and getting to number 28 in 2014, Richard Branson identified Lily’s Kitchen as a “game changer” when reviewing the companies shortlisted for the Fast Track 100 Award.

International expansion is high on the agenda but, in keeping with Lily’s Kitchen B Corp status, Morrison sees her long-term goal as improving the overall health of pets. This summer the company launched superfood snack bars for dogs, a range of hand-baked natural bars inspired by green juicing, super food and high protein health trends. “Eat your greens”, for instance, contains, apples, kale, spirulina, wheatgrass and mint.
 
However, she went on to say: “Another thing that really motivates me is to shake up an established category that has been dominated by multinationals, with pet food products that are often packed with the cheapest and lowest quality ingredients, including meat meals, fillers and fibrous leftovers and to provide a real product of difference instead.

“This has opened doors to work at a whole new level with retailers, challenging the status quo in an industry that is dominated by three major players.”
 
While that may be the case, Morrison added, “we’re still very much a local company, based in Hampstead, where Lily and her granddaughter Lulu, also a border terrier, enjoy their walks every day on Hampstead Heath.”