THE first thing you notice is the smell.
Mercifully, it’s not as bad as it might be. It’s as though someone is preparing a chilli rather than dinner for a pack of hounds.
The next thing you notice is the conveyor belts. They’re everywhere you look. Two-and-a-quarter miles of them, conveying cans and meat, cans and meat, cans and meat.
It’s eight years since Butcher’s Pet Care set out to expand into a bigger factory. The Advertiser was among the special guests invited to see its workings up close when the £38m plant in Crick officially opened on Friday.
The numbers are striking. It employs more than 230 people. It turns out 1,200 cans per minute - nearly twice as many as the old site produced. There’s a machine that puts labels on 20 cans every second. The factory covers 260,000 sq ft - that’s 260 Wembley-size football pitches. Its warehouse holds up to 1,924 pallets; on the day the Advertiser visits, 650 are due to go out. And there’s plenty of space for more equipment still.
Although it wasn’t immediately clear what would be gained from a tour of a dog food factory, visitors can’t help but be impressed when they step out on to the factory floor. Factory manager John Monkman has been with the company for over 25 years including during the site’s previous use as an abattoir. “It’s a great family company to work for,” he said. “My son now works here - there aren’t many people that decide to leave. The problem is that they will have to spend a lot of money on watches as more and more people clock up 25 years of service.”
The majority of the meat is locally sourced. It is stored at around -2 degrees celsius. The rest of the meat is stored in a giant freezer room kept at an unbearable 22 degrees below. From there it is minced and put into cans; it’s then weighed to ensure it has been evenly distributed before gravy or jelly is added. Robot arms stack the cans into baskets ready for a shuttle to take them into one of the ovens where they are cooked for a couple of hours. Once cooked, the cans go through a labelling machine which can process 950 cans a minute at full speed, before they are stacked onto pallets ready to be stored in the warehouse until they are delivered.
The warehouse is a an ocean of racking and pallets with dog food and ingredients as far as you can see. Forklift trucks whizz around stacking pallets with products still warm from the production line and picking orders ready for delivery.
John said: “The site has been operational for nearly 12 months, it’s a been a gradual process of migrating people from the old site to come over and train on the new machines and then pass their knowledge on to the rest of the team.”
Butcher’s Pet Care can trace its history back to 1948. Its chairman is Graham Baker. “We’ve been lucky as the pet food industry has fared very well in the recession,” he said. “With our new headquarters, we can continue to grow in the UK and in Europe.”
And he’s keen to play up the firm’s links to its locality. He said: “For the last 25 years, local people have helped us grow the business. Their support will be vital if we are to achieve our ambitions in the next quarter century.”