Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Symply is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Founder Edward Milbourne with
Her Majesty The Queen
Director James Milbourne
(centre) with Canagan’s
Chinese sales team
For 16 years, Eddie Milbourne distributed an American brand
of pet food, Nutro, around the UK. Eddie’s distributorship
was immediately cancelled in 2008 when Nutro was
purchased by Mars Petcare. Having built up a network, Eddie,
then aged 50, started to distribute his own brand to pet
stores, not just in the UK, but across the world. James, Eddie’s
son, joined the business in 2014 and tells
The Parliamentary
more about what Symply do and how they only supply
independent shops.
We distribute to around 1,000 pet stores in the UK. Elsewhere, we export to
45 other countries – pretty much everyone in the EU as well as some outside of
Europe, such as Japan, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
Most importantly, we choose not to supply our products to supermarkets, Amazon,
Zooplus – one of the world’s leading online retailer of pet supplies – or other
online-only vendors.
Why only supply independents?
In the 1980s, my dad started out with just a single pet shop in Pinner, near Harrow
in northwest London. The supermarket in Pinner was the first in the country that
began selling pet food – and not only were they stocking the same products as
his store, but they were able to sell it at a lower retail price. This was a trend that
quickly swept the nation – and independent stores soon realised that, if they
»Directors: James Milbourne,
Charlie Williams, Richard
Mock, Aimee Cinderby
»Founder: Edward Milbourne
»Established in 2009
»Based in Wooburn Green,
»Services: Supply of ultra-
premium pet food
»No. of employees: 24
»Symply products are
distributed to 45 countries
around the world
Highlighting best practice
were to be successful, they would
have to supply premium or otherwise
inaccessible products.
With this in mind, we started out just
working with independent stores. In
2008, my dad simply went around
calling on pet stores on the road as
if nothing had changed. Our biggest
domestic breakthrough came when we
were stocked in Pets Corner, a partner
we had previously supplied since 1992
– that was 85 stores straight away.
We are incredibly proud that today we
supply almost 1,000 independent pet
stores across the UK.
When my dad joined the industry,
there were 11,100 pet shops, such has
been the blow dealt by supermarkets
and, more recently, online vending.
From traditional to grain-free
– our range
While our range started with a
traditional lamb and rice product,
we really took off in 2012 with the
launch of Canagan, named after the
ancient Celtic word for wolf. Canagan
pioneered the way for grain-free food
to be introduced to the UK market;
we developed it and established the
brand after visiting retailers and plants
in the US, where grain-free food was
The difference between traditional and
grain-free is not a well-known one,
but it is certainly stark; grain-free pet
food contains a far higher percentage
of animal ingredients, up to 75 per
cent in our recipes, whereas traditional
foods can contain as little as four
per cent. Grain-free foods like ours
therefore have far more meat and are
of a higher quality and standard as a
Canagan was the game changer;
people started coming to us asking for
it rather than us having to sell to them.
The results are demonstrable – from its
launch in 2012 to the present day, we
have gone from shipping to five or six
countries up to 45.
Our ethos and expansion into
mainland China
The way we do business is incredibly
important. We try to remain flexible
and adaptable and think of ourselves
as being pleasant and fun to work
with. It’s as simple as liking the work
you do and the people you work with;
you can still be light-hearted and
productive – the two aren’t mutually
exclusive traits.
Flexibility and adaptability also play a
role in our expansion and diversification
strategy. At the beginning of the year,
we started our foray into mainland
China; our registration process took
two and a half years, and it’s been a
complex journey, but we’re excited to
work there. With access to a market of
1.5 billion people, we’re confident it
will be a huge opportunity.
The benefits of the European
Frankly, we think leaving the EU is a
ludicrous idea. Thirty-five per cent of
our turnover comes from EU countries
– we supply almost every EU member –
and when I hear politicians saying “the
UK will forge its own trade deals”, I
Chou and Butter waiting
to tuck into their
gourmet dinner
We are
proud that
today we
supply almost
pet stores
across the UK
can’t help but consider the fact that
we already supply to a great many
countries outside the EU.
For new export businesses, the EU
provides a great platform to get
started. It introduces you to the realm
of freight forwarding and international
export without requiring adherence
to a number of rigorous compliance
schemes that are necessary for the
rest of the world. Without the EU,
companies who want to take their
first steps into export will find things
immediately more difficult.
The Department for
International Trade
The help we get from the DIT is more or
less non-existent. We had a provisional
meeting with our representative in
November a few years back – he sent
me notes on it the following February.
We’re not aware of any great support
schemes for businesses trying to export.
In comparison, when we opened a
subsidiary in the US, we got a fantastic
welcome pack from the Department of
Commerce. Even though our business
was comparatively tiny over there, we
received federal funding for all trade
shows to cover flights, accommodation
and translators among many other
things. In the UK, where we operate
a £30 million turnover company, our
DIT representative took four months to
respond to us.
On new businesses – more
help is needed
There needs to be more help from
government. My dad talks about
a time where, under Thatcher’s
government, small businesses had
subsidised access to influential
management consultants. When he
was just a single-store retailer, he had
meetings with a top-level consultant
and he said it shaped everything he did
and set him off in the right direction. A
similar system could be really helpful in
this day and age.
The retail sector is experiencing its own
share of difficulties, too. Government
policy on retail is incredibly important
to us considering we only support
independent stores, and the high
street is struggling. Competing with
ecommerce giants such as Amazon
and Pets at Home is a real difficulty
– any policy helping the high street
would definitely be welcomed, be that
online sales tax or reformation of the
unfair business rates system.
Going forward, we will proudly
continue to support independent
British stores. We have no desire to
change that. International expansion is
driving our growth at the minute and it
will continue to do so; we’re working
in China now and will return to the US
in time. Things really are looking up.
We try to
remain flexible
and adaptable
and think of
ourselves as
being pleasant
and fun to
work with
The Canagan range

This article was sponsored by Symply. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.