Nutreco had also put great efforts into developing its own petfood brand, called Arion.

Anyone making a list of the main European companies involved in petfood production would probably remember to include Provimi of the Netherlands. After all, the group can claim to have 11 members in its petfoods division, most of them operating in west or east Europe. Far less likely is that another Dutch conglomerate, Nutreco, would be put on the list. Nutreco's name is instantly recognisable to those who farm salmon or buy animal feeds in the European Union area, but it is comparatively unknown as a player in foods for dogs and cats.

Change coming

That seems to be about to change, however. Recently I had the chance to interview the Nutreco director responsible for its feed activities. Almost at the end of the interview, he mentioned that a decision to make animal nutrition the main focus of future group strategy also contained a petfood element.

Juergen Steinemann had said the interest of the group in the past had revolved around producing dry dog/cat foods at different plants, on behalf of private-label customers in the countries of Belgium, Spain and Italy. Over the last 2 years, he continued, Nutreco had also put great efforts into developing its own petfood brand, called Arion. The total production from all its sites for all applications worked out at around 50,000 metric tons per year.

The green channel

Now these disparate strands are all going to be brought together under a single European management structure, he revealed. Mr. Steinemann and his fellow directors have decided to concentrate on what they call the green channel, defined by them as comprising petshops, farm stores and garden centres, plus sales to pet breeders and veterinary clinics.

They see their biggest opportunity in supplying specialist stores rather than supermarket outlets and they want to be selling their products in all European countries. I could add, Nutreco certainly has the distribution muscle to achieve these goals. By the time the stockmarket-listed group recorded sales of more than 3.67 billion in 2003, it had become the world's biggest in aquaculture and prominent in European poultry meat and pork. Group members on the feed side include compounders Hendrix UTD of the Netherlands and Nanta of Spain, also fish-feeds company Skretting of Norway and globally active premix supplier Trouw Nutrition.

When taken together, the animal feed operations currently manufacture some 5 million metric tons of complete feeds per year. This annual production is worth around 2 billion in terms of sales value, out of a world market for animal nutrition valued at approximately 150 billion per year.