Henrietta Morrison had already founded a successful publishing company but when her dog, Lily, became ill she spotted a business opportunity in a different direction.
‘Lily was really ill and went off her food. I started cooking for her and gradually she got better,’ Morrison explains. ‘I realised all pet food mainly consisted of chunky jelly, with little meat. So I decided to do something about it.’
In 2008 she launched Lily’s Kitchen, a pet food range made from the best of British ingredients, with around £150,000 of her own savings. The company now takes £3m in sales a year and Waitrose has recently snapped up 14 lines of the company’s tins, trays and dry biscuit ranges.
Morrison explains her best and worst decisions along the way.
My best decision was sticking with the best ingredients. I started Lily's Kitchen in November 2008 - the worst time to be launching an expensive pet food business. Retailers were pressuring me to sell my products more cheaply. But it would mean having to drastically reduce the quality of ingredients (60% of the food is made up of fresh meat). I stuck to my guns and it's paid off. Sales were £3m last year and we've grown up to 70% each year.
I financed Lily's Kitchen with almost £150,000, which came from my own savings and a mortgage on my house. You don't need that much (I started my publishing business before with £700) but I took a risk. I was going to just launch tins with three flavours but I added trays and dry food too. Nobody would have taken me seriously with only three products.
Another good decision was growing slowly. The meats in our trays come from 75 different producers, so we spent a long time working with small organic shops. We built up a loyal customer base and Waitrose has just taken on 14 lines in 212 stores, which is a huge deal for us.
All our packaging is recyclable, which is bad from a business point of view. We're the only pet company to have recyclable dry food bags. They're expensive and very difficult to produce; only one factory in the world makes them. It would be so much easier to have plastic bags, but I'd hate the thought they would go to landfill.
We have three warehouses in total and I wish I'd put them near our Hampstead office. Two are in Kentish Town and one is in Norwich. The products are shipped there from our five factories and go straight to the customers. It means I can't personalise the packages and I can't keep an eye on what's going on. And it's something I'll never be able to change.
Starting the business?
If I'd known how hard the process would be I would never have started. It took me 18 months to find the right manufacturers and I saw about 30 factories across Europe making horrible pet food. I gave up a few times. Making the business a success has taken a long time. But it’s very exciting to take on the mighty companies like Procter & Gamble and Mars.