Supreme Petfoods is one of the UK’s leading pet food suppliers for small animals. Its operations stretch back 25 years to when it launched the first specialist pet food in the UK for what it terms ‘small furries’ – rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and other small mammals kept as pets.  

The first product produced by the brand was aimed specifically at rabbits and went by the name of Russel Rabbit, featuring a cartoon version on the front of the packaging. Since then, the brand has gone from strength to strength, expanding its range and catering for more and more species, embracing names such as Charlie Chinchilla, Gerty Guinea Pig and Reggie Rat in the process.

The success that Supreme Petfoods has experienced in the past quarter of a century has seen it become one of the top three pet food suppliers in the country. But rather than rest on its laurels and enjoy the fruits of its labour, the brand wanted to revamp its image to inspire further growth.

Claire Hamblion, Marketing Manager for Supreme Petfoods, explained: “Having reached a certain point, we realised that the requirements of both pets and owners had changed considerably during the period we’d been in operation. We knew that change was required, despite Russel Rabbit being almost a heritage product, if we wanted to capitalise on our market share and continue to progress.”

As part of its planned development, the products were reformulated to reflect the changing requirements of pets. Claire said: “One thing that people often don’t realise is that pets’ palates adapt over time. The foods they like and need now are different from when we first started out, meaning we’ve had to change our processes accordingly. Part of this has seen us completely reformulate the way our food is produced.”

In order to keep costs down, many firms opt for cold pressed pellets mixed with molasses. But despite the attraction of these low costs, Supreme Petfoods wanted to avoid using sweeteners due to the health problems associated with high sugar consumption. The alternative solution was extrusion. This cooks the food, making it more palatable in the process whilst also helping to solve the problem of selective feeding, which can be an issue with muesli style products.

Claire said: “First and foremost, we’re about animal welfare. We want all of the food that we produce to be beneficial to pets. The extrusion process helps ensure this is the case.”

As well as an overhaul of the production methods, Supreme Petfoods wanted to explore the ways in which it could reinvigorate its appeal through on-the-shelf presentation. In order to explore the possibilities, the brand undertook extensive research to gather consumer opinion. This included mounting cameras in the food aisles of pet stores to observe the shopping habits of pet owners. The team soon came to realise that a lot of time was being taken in the process of choosing a product. Why was this? Did it suggest that small pet owners were particularly picky? The length that it took shoppers to walk away with a product was perplexing.

Claire said: “We were confused as to why people were taking so long to make a decision, so felt extra research was needed. It soon emerged that it wasn’t only us who were confused – the customer was too. The shelf layout in store is often done via species rather than brand meaning that customers were struggling to find the required product, with so many options to choose from per pet. We saw an opportunity, realising that if our brand products were strong enough, they would stand out, making the choice easier for consumers in the process. As an added bonus, as shopping sped up and they were less pushed for time, people would then be more likely to shop for further products in the store, which would benefit the retailer too.”

Whilst Supreme Petfoods is a well-known brand in its own right, there was a slight risk that consumers would come to associate with the individual products, such as Russell Rabbit. In order to avoid this, the team wanted the Supreme brand to be clear and easily identifiable.

After much consideration, the team hit upon the idea of Tiny Friends Farm. This would bring all the individual character-named products together under one brand umbrella, making it easier for consumers to identify with. The Tiny Friends Farm icon was realised and subsequently registered as a trademark.

Design work began in earnest. Claire commented: “When it came to the pack’s visual design, we kept it simple – sticking with the colours of the iconic foods such as red for Russel Rabbit and blue for Gerty Guinea Pig, and changed the animals on the front from cartoons to real animals. We did however, give each animal a quirky element, for example Gerri Gerbil has a handbag. The overall idea was to create the right colours and shapes that the consumer identifies with, whilst making sure it sticks in the mind.”

She continued: “For instance, we know that the majority of the time it’s the logo that stands out, not the name. In the case of Tiny Friends Farm, it’s a brown barn on a yellow background – that is what’s imprinted on the mind and we wanted to ensure that it was memorable to pet food shoppers.”

For the realisation of its packaging, Supreme turned to Tyler to provide the answer; Form Fill and Seal plastic film bags. With the two businesses having worked with each other for several years, the relationship was long-standing and both parties understood each other’s needs and capabilities.

Claire said: “One of the biggest requirements for us was a quick turnaround. We wanted to get our re-launched products onto the shelves as quickly as possible. But we also wanted the packaging to do full justice to the work that we’d put into the rebranding and reformulation. We looked to Tyler to deliver our expectations.

“The knowledge of Adam, Tyler’s sales and technical director, is very in-depth, both in terms of their packaging capabilities and our own operations. He knows exactly the right substrate and what would work for us, so understands what it is that we specifically need. That kind of knowledge is invaluable.”

Despite the existing relationship, Supreme Petfoods didn’t just assume that Tyler was the right packaging option for them. The rebranding and subsequent re-launch was hugely important for the pet food specialist and they wanted to ensure that every process was the best that it could be. Claire said: “We did explore different packaging options. Despite working with Tyler for a number of years, we couldn’t afford to just presume that they were the best option for us, so we did look to other packaging firms to see what they had to offer.”

But despite taking into consideration several other prospective packaging partners, Supreme Petfoods soon realised that sticking with Tyler was the right option for them. Claire explained: “We discovered that with film manufacturers, inflexibility is often an issue. However Tyler’s approach is completely the opposite. They are always extremely accommodating to our needs and are willing to adjust to our requirements, which was certainly beneficial to us with the necessity of a quick turnaround. The speed with which they were able to deliver our order was superb.”

As part of the production process, Claire was invited to visit the Tyler factory where she was able to directly witness the first run of the Tiny Friends Farm packaging as it was being produced.

“The whole operation was very impressive,” she said. “Watching the full process in the factory was fascinating and really brought home Tyler’s level of expertise. I was able to witness the film being made first hand, watching the plastic extrusion as it occurred. The film extruder really was incredible and I was amazed by the size of the printers. It was a remarkable experience and I certainly gained an appreciation for the packaging process.

“One of the main positives that I took away from the visit was the passion and enthusiasm of the guys that worked in the factory. They really took a pride in their work and their industry experience shone through.”

When it comes to results, it’s too soon to reference specific figures about the success of the packaging. But the early signs are fantastic. Claire said: “So far the feedback from the pet food industry has been entirely positive. Pet retailers and grocers have all been really impressed with the examples that we’ve shown them. Our industry is a nice one to work in, but there’s often an air of cynicism around new products as the majority of us have worked in the sector for a long time, so have developed a keen, critical eye. With Tiny Friends Farm though, the feedback has been universally positive which is certainly a rarity. And in the first few weeks of sale, it’s actually broken all sales records at Supreme. With this kind of beginning, we’re extremely excited to see how things progress from here.”

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