“I want to see people feeling that they’re proud of working for [Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd] and [for them to] put that bit extra in, in terms of the activities we’re engaged in” – John Burns
In the heart of rural Carmarthenshire, South Wales, there is an award-winning farm shop, Parc y Bocs, that serves as a nutrition centre, café/restaurant and family-and pet-friendly community centre with a pet health clinic. It has become something of a sanctuary for the locals to shop ethically, eat well, and relax.
It has not always been like that, starting life as a roadside shop selling eggs via an honesty box. In 2007, local vet John Burns, whose holistic natural pet food company, Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd., sold dog, cat and rabbit food worldwide, bought a smallholding in Kidwelly. John wanted to give back something to the community by providing a hub that the locals and visitors could enjoy. So, in addition to the eggs, in 2009/10 he started to grow and sell seasonal vegetables. By 2013 he had created a social community hub that reared poultry and boasted a well-presented play area and treehouse outside its food store and coffee shop. During 2014/15, the farm shop and café were extended, and a full-time market gardener was employed. An event space, the Cwtch, was opened and became the venue for local charity events and youth groups. During 2016/17, extensive renovations to the café and shop were made, and since 2017 they have been fully operational.
John, now 72, started out as a traditional vet in 1971. In 1976 left his practice and enrolled on a course in human acupuncture as an alternative to antibiotics, and a means to prevent recurring health problems. This led to an interest in alternative medicine, which, he believed, would work for dogs if it worked for humans. So, he began to make his own pet food based on a wholemeal diet of brown rice, vegetables and meat and in 1993, after some 20 years of incubation, he started to manufacture it, selling the two tonnes of dog food he had produced to local vets and pet shops. Today, the business, which employs 130 people, produces 1000 tonnes a week and is worth £24 million. It exports worldwide, including Ireland, Hong Kong, and Portugal, and continues to expand its global presence.
So now, as he says, “I can use the money I’ve made from the company for charitable activities…”. Rather than spending it on conventional advertising and PR, in 2007, John set up the Burns Pet Nutrition Foundation (burnspet.co.uk) to channel money from the company into the community, thereby raising the company’s profile and recognition by undertaking useful work. Parc y Bocs Farm Shop is part of that. Not only does it serve the commercial needs of the local community, but it provides supervised projects for the disadvantaged and those with learning difficulties and offers a minibus service to those unable to access the centre from the surrounding community. This has been complemented, during the lockdown, by a food delivery service for the elderly.
In 2018 they donated £1m to charity to mark 25 years of trading and, apart from organising regular fundraising events, have initiated many grassroots projects. These include donating food to 50 dog rescue centres across the UK and a ‘reading to dogs project’. “Burns by your Side” helps children improve their literacy and communication skills as well as their confidence. As John recognises, “literacy is a huge problem in the UK. One in six million children struggle to read and 12 million adults have reading levels of an 11-year-old. Burns want to change this….”.
Additionally, the company champions the independent retailer through exclusive customer benefits. Burns Pet Nutrition also motivates staff by not only paying them a living wage but offering incentives that include a 10% annual pension contribution, a daily subsidised two-course lunch, an annual sickness bonus and, after two years, a company car. As a result, John says, the “staff are motivated and enthusiastic about working at Burns because they know that they are working for an ethical, transparent company that puts the health and well-being of pets first”.
In 2020, the company came first in a Which? Magazine survey of dog food brands. They have also been named the Best Natural Pet Food Brand 2020 in the Lux Life Pet and Product Services Awards and the Best Dry Complete Food Award winner in the ‘Your Dog Magazine’ Readers Product Awards 2020. Additionally, the business was runner up in the UK 2020 Family Business of the Year Awards organised by Family Business United and voted on by the public. Like most businesses, the company has faced many challenges as a result of the global Covid pandemic, but John is delighted that they “have been able to continue to safely supply our customers with high quality pet food, continue donating to important community projects both in Wales and the UK and grow the business”.
In terms of the UN SDGs, Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd is addressing SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry Innovation and Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 4 (Quality Education) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities). Together, Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd and the Parc y Bocs Farm Shop demonstrate John’s economic, eco, humane and social enterprise and confirm his credentials as a Harmonious Entrepreneur.
1 Literally translated a “cwtch” is a cuddle or hug but colloquially means a safe or comfortable space.
Clements, L., (2020), Vet started dog food business with £72 and sack of brown rice and is now wort £24m. Wales Online.
Gregory, R., (2020), Burns’ bumper year for awards as Carmarthenshire company bucks the trend. W247 (www.wales247.co.uk)
Pearce, S., (2018), Industry Profile: Burns Pet Nutrition. Pet Business World.
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