Spend much time at the Old Mother Hubbard corporate offices and you'll sense a missionary zeal backed by good business practices. I was there in January and met about 30 of the people and pets that work there. They were bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and authentic. I saw enough to think their mission and cultural values are real - not just platitudes suitable for framing.

Says CEO Jim Scott Jr., "Our core competency is teamwork focused on doing whatever it takes to make the healthiest petfood possible." The result is a company launching inspired new products and growing at 20-30% per year.

Recent achievements

All is well with OMH new product endeavors. Since 1997, the company has launched many of its best-selling products. OMH was spun off in 1926 from Hubbard & Sons, a Massachusetts bakery. In 1961, Jim Scott Sr. purchased the business, and in 1992, Jim Scott Jr. became the company president and subsequently CEO. Recent OMH achievements have included:

1997-the launch of the Wellness product line with dry dog food.

2000-2003-the extension of the Wellness product line to include dry cat foods, wet dog and cat foods, treats and supplements.

2004-the Scott family's selection of Catterton Partners (www.cattertonpartners.com) as a financial partner. (OMH is now privately held by the Scott family and Catterton Partners.)

2004-becoming the number one natural food supplier to the US pet specialty channel, according to OMH.

2004-the launch of Wellness Simple Food Solutions, a line of food for dogs with allergies.

2004-2006-recruitment of a top-notch management team.

2005-expansion of manufacturing capacity by appointing two bakeries, a new canned facility and a new extrusion plant.

2006-the launch of WellBites and Pure Rewards, all-natural dog treats.

2006-the launch of Wellness 95% Meat, a mixer or topper than comes in a can.

2006-the celebration of 80 years of product innovation.

Wait, there's more. In early 2007, OMH is introducing:

Wellness Feline Dietary Solutions: Complete Health; Healthy Weight; Kitten Health; and Indoor Health.

Wellness CORE: a grain-free, protein-focused feline diet that addresses key health concerns.

OMH must be doing a lot of things right; the compound annual growth rate for Wellness has significantly outstripped the market for the past five years, at an average of over 30%. President Deborah Ellinger says the company is expecting continued, sustainable growth of 20-30% for the next several years; a pace that would put them among the top 10 global petfood companies.

Mission and values

At OMH, says Scott, "Family is number one and the job is a close second." The company culture encourages OMH people to have these priorities. In addition to the personal meaning of family, Scott talks about a familial feeling at work. He wants his team to work with "cooperation, trust and collegiality."

The OMH mission is "to provide our animal companions with the best-tasting, most nutritionally balanced foods and treats available." The company is committed to a "holistic approach to a healthy, nutritious diet" and to its independent pet specialty store partners.

Says Scott, "We have a fundamental responsibility to do the very best for the animals that provide us with unconditional love, trust and companionship." Other basic values are:

Seeking out natural, preventive health care solutions for pets.

Being thoughtful about what's happening on the inside of an animal, as well as the outside.

Using the very best ingredients, mixed and cooked by people who care about the quality of what they are making.

Making OMH products available in environments where there is a shared dedication to knowledge and to doing what is best for animals.

Eye contact

OMH has now has 11 manufacturing partners. Ellinger contends that it's best for OMH to remain focused on the end result of creating the healthiest petfoods. So, they choose not to manufacture. But, that doesn't mean they don't expect a lot from manufacturing. Management carefully selects manufacturers that can do the job the OMH way. Ellinger recently investigated 16 plants, of which only two measured up to OMH's standards.

The company also believes in a relentless approach to quality assurance. QA manager Karalyn Naiburg, who joined OMH from Starbucks, runs a tight ship. She believes in applying human food standards to petfood, and her team's regular plant audits help keep manufacturers in top form. OMH also has QA inspectors on site at their warehouses identifying areas of opportunity for improvement.

OMH expects that people on the processing line care about the quality of what they are making. Says COO Michael Meyer, "Our vendors are not just manufacturers, but true partners who share our mission and commitment. At the end of the day, it's about people and shared beliefs." One criteria Meyer uses is the question, "Do the people on the line look you in the eye?" Makes sense to me.

Next stop Singapore

Having succeeded in establishing a healthy business in the US, OMH is now looking at the world for business-building opportunities. The company has received numerous inquiries from companies that are interested in distributing Old Mother Hubbard products in Europe and Asia. OMH will be launching in its first overseas market, beginning in the first half of 2007, with shipments to Singapore. OMH will ship direct from its warehouse in Salt Lake City, USA, to a distributor in Singapore. If this initial effort is successful the company will expand into other Asian markets and possibly Europe.

Business basics
Steps for product development

Here is OMH's basic framework for producing new products:

Concepting: market analysis; consumer research; and identify market and product requirements.

Feasibility: project scope and timeline; project team ID; supplier ID/contracts; and supplier and testing scheduling.

Product development: formula development; test runs; and acceptability, palatability trials.

Marketing: creative development; naming; positioning; main packaging (concepts, testing and final); sample packaging; and master carton.

Qualification and execution: packaging printing and availability; raw materials availability; distribution center setup; launch materials and programs developed; notification and training; field sales; consumer services; final forecast; and final cost and margins.

General availability: PR and Web; begin manufacturing; build supply; QA release; and available to ship.

Headquarters: Chelmsford, Massachusetts, USA.

Officers: Jim Scott Jr., CEO; Deborah Ellinger, president; Michael Meyer, COO; Jean Lizotte, VP new products; and Mark Shuster, VP marketing.

Financial partner: Catterton Partners, a private equity firm. OMH is now privately held by the Scott family and Catterton Partners.

Annual sales: The compound annual growth rate for Wellness has been at an average of over 30% in the past five years. The company is expecting continued, sustainable growth of 20-30% for the next several years. Total sales undisclosed.

Brands: Old Mother Hubbard, Wellness and Neura Meats.

Manufacturing: A network of 11 processing companies qualified by OMH.

Employees: 110.

Websites: www.oldmotherhubbard.com and www.wellnesspetfood.com.