Shooting Times and Country Magazine 29 May 2008Many years ago I ate one of my dog’s biscuits. I was driving home late from a long day out and it was the only food I had in the car. To say I wasn’t impressed is an understatement, as the biscuit was dry and tasteless. I was reminded of this recently when Stephen Salter, principal of Salter’s Pet Nutrition, passed me a jar of Salter’s Canine Energy. “Try one of these,” he said, eating one himself. I tried it and had to agree that it was rather good. My spaniels were equally impressed.

You have probably never heard of Salter’s. I hadn’t until a professional trainer friend said that, following a recommendation, he had switched his dogs to Salters from one of the leading brands. He was most impressed with the product. Intrigued, I found out more. I discovered that Salter’s is a small company, based in Saxmundham in Suffolk, specialising in producing dog foods from high-quality ingredients free from artificial flavours, colours and preservatives.

For several years I fed my dogs on a BARF (bones and raw food) diet and have no plans to switch back to conventional dry foods. My dogs do well on BARF, but offering such food is more time consuming than feeding straight from a sack. Moreover it’s always a challenge to provide it when away from home for more than a couple of days. Thus, I’ve long been looking for a suitable back-up, but until now hadn’t found anything that came up to my standards. I’m pleased to say Salter’s does and the spaniels seem equally happy with it, which is just as important.

I took the opportunity recently to meet Stephen Salter and learn about his product. Stephen is a butcher by trade, as was his father and grandfather. When he decided to launch his own range of dog foods 10 years ago, he looked at the existing food available and decided to do something different.

“I’d lived in Spain for a number of years so was well aware of the nutritional value of extra virgin olive oil. I decided that this should be one of the basic ingredients. No other dog food you can buy uses it. I wanted all the other ingredients to be of the same high quality, so everything that goes into Salter’s food is fit for human consumption.’The chicken we use, for example, is the same quality as is used in soups and for pasta sauces, and I got specialist advice on rice from an expert. He told me that there were 437 varieties in the world, but recommended that we should try an Italian wholegrain risotto rice, which we now use exclusively”.

“If you read the small print on a sack of dog food it will inform you of the percentage of protein in each portion, but you’ve got to remember that the quality of the protein is even more important. We really do use the best in our products and haven’t changed the recipe since we started production nine years ago. When the prices of basic commodities go up it’s tempting to compromise, but we never have.”

“A 15kg sack of Canine Maintenance costs £41.65 (Note:- 2008 price), slightly less than some of the most expensive dog food you can buy, but considerably more than the cheapest. However, the daily cost of feeding it to a springer is still only about 70p a day. If you switch to our Canine Energy product for the shooting season your daily cost will only rise by a few pence.”

Salter’s is a small company and, unlike its bigger rivals, it doesn’t have a budget for advertising and sponsorship.
“We don’t do free fleeces or baseball caps as our margins are tight, nor do we take a stand at Crufts or the Game Fair. Almost all our business comes from word of mouth and personal recommendation. If anyone wants to discuss our foods, they aren’t put through to our public relations department because we haven’t got one, they come straight through to me.”

Junk food or dog food?

I have often been surprised by the number of people who are happy to provide their dogs with the cheapest possible food. Dogs are amazing creatures in that they will eat whatever you give them without complaining, even apparently thriving on what is basically rubbish. The multi-billion-pound dog food industry started in the US more than 50 years ago. A bright executive worked out that it was possible to make money by putting food unfit for human consumption in a tin and labelling it dog food. Even today the majority of dog food includes ingredients that you certainly wouldn’t want to eat yourself. Last year, there was a major pet food scare in the US when the company Menu Foods withdrew $40million of products after animals died of kidney failure. The cause was a rodenticide used on wheat in China. The contaminated wheat was used in about 100 brands of pet food, including some of the big names.

Most of the major dog food manufacturers are subsidiaries of huge conglomerates. For example, Eukanuba and lams are part of Proctor and Gamble, Hill’s Science Diet is a subsidiary of Colgate Palmolive and the large French manufacturer Royal Canin is now part of Mars, which bought the company in 2001. Not long before that, Royal Canin bought the British manufacturer James Wellbeloved. Mars also owns Pedigree. Nestle is the other major player in Europe with Purina Pro Plan, Bonio and Winalot among its products. With the backing of multinational companies behind them, these manufacturers can market their products in ways unthinkable to small companies such as Salter’s. Pedigree, for example, is the principal sponsor of Crufts at a cost of many thousands of pounds. How many bags of feed does the company need to sell to pay for such sponsorship? However, there can be no doubt that such investment pays off, as otherwise Pedigree wouldn’t spend its money.

Reproduced with kind permission from David Tomlinson of the Shooting Times
Shooting Times & Country Magazine 29 May 2008

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