“BEGAN as a small family business here in the rural Norfolk countryside”, says the website of Natures Menu, which goes on to say that the company “is proud to be the leading experts in natural and raw dog and cat foods”.
Any visitor to its main production centre in Watton, Norfolk, will see that, although still very approachable and friendly, the company has grown into a very sizeable business and occupies substantial production premises with further building work under way to expand the facilities.
The firm employs over 100 members of staff – 30 of whom have been taken on in the last 18 months, such has been the pace of expansion.
Previously known as Anglia Meat Products, Natures Menu evolved from a risk considered worth taking. In 2012, MD Craig Taylor led the decision to rebrand a 34-year-old, well-established company and its subsequent product lines.
With the consumer demand for BARF (biologically appropriate raw feeding) increasing year on year, Natures Menu has been investing heavily in producing high-quality complete and nutritionally balanced raw food products for dogs and cats that meet the needs of this growing market, says Caroline Griffith, the firm’s nutrition adviser.
“We live in an age of heightened awareness of what goes into the foods we eat. People are now more interested to know the key facts about what they are consuming and feeding their family and, as a member of the family, they are reviewing the diet of their pet,” she states.
With more pet owners switching to a raw diet, the company has been quick to respond to initial concerns over raw feeding and support both the pet owner and the vet channel. The company has an in-house team of qualified veterinary professionals who provide CPD training to practices on raw feeding and are helping an increasing number of practices successfully stock and sell the range of products and frozen raw meals.
Emily Cannon, Natures Menu’s marketing manager, says, “We recognise the concerns vets may have on feeding dogs and cats a raw diet: will it be a balanced meal and what about safety, health and bacterial issues? That’s why we are keen to educate and explain the concept of raw. In the UK there are very strict regulations in terms of what goes into pet food and in terms of safety and bacterial testing.”
Natures Menu adheres to the strict rules of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association and is proud to be able to say that it hasn’t had any issues of a bacterial nature since the business started in 1981, by adherence to full DEFRA standard.
Caroline adds: “In the EU, regulations require very high standards.
This is unlike the US where such requirements may not exist and where there may have been issues. All our products are deep frozen at minus 18 degrees Centigrade for more than 10 days, which deals with any potential parasite issues.”
On competing with products in the veterinary feeding market, Emily comments that, “Our foods would not provide competition with the specialist diets that vets may need to prescribe for specific pet health conditions. This is a market that will still be met by the bigger veterinary pet food brands.
“What we offer is a natural, wholesome and biologically appropriate range of products that bene t overall pet health. Our entire range is guaranteed free from preservatives, colouring, flavourings, gelling and thickening agents and added sugars.
“Our products are incredibly easy to use and we now have a product that is equal to a kibble in quality, safety and convenience.
“Raw feeding has evolved to meet the requirements of pet owners keen for their pet to benefit from this diet. Whilst we still provide customers who have a preference to prepare meals themselves with the best quality just meat products, we are also offering complete meals which are nutritionally balanced and very convenient to feed.”
In addition to its range of frozen meals, cans, pouches and freeze-dried products, the firm produces a selection of treats and snacks which are growing in popularity amongst the veterinary community: “Our Meaty Treats are made with 95% meat and are ideal for pill administration for dogs and cats,” says Emily.
Caroline went on to discuss the resistance that many vets and retailers have towards feeding raw bones, something Natures Menu encourages as an integral part of the raw feeding diet.
“Bones have a very bad reputation but when we get the opportunity to explain the difference in molecular structure between a raw and a cooked bone we have witnessed complete turnarounds in opinion – one of which resulted in a large corporate group delisting cooked bones from their stores!
“Raw bones are a wonderful source of calcium and are a natural tooth brush – you only have to look at a raw fed dog’s teeth to see this. Cooked bones on the market are sold dipped in fat and represent a real hazard to the dog whose stomach has to digest the fat even before it then deals with the potential consequences of the brittle cooked bone.”
The company aims to continue to produce research and to have peer-reviewed work published in veterinary journals. Its veterinary consultant, Nick Thompson, writes regularly in veterinary publications, including Veterinary Practice, to help spread the message about feeding raw. Last year, this Norfolk-owned family-run business produced in excess of 15 million meals. It continues to grow in the UK and recently began trading in Germany, with other European countries to follow.