EAST LONGMEADOW, MASS. and PHOENIX — With more than a century of product development know-how, W.F. Young is well positioned to benefit from a heightened focus on pet health and wellness aided by functional formulations. The company decided roughly five years ago that a co-manufacturing partnership was the best route forward to bring its pet supplement product concepts to fruition. And so, reaching from its northeastern roots to the southwestern United States, W.F. Young teamed up with a specialized manufacturing partner that shares its functional focus and reflects its stringent quality and safety standards.
Massachusetts-based W.F Young is a family-owned and -operated company that has been in business for 130 years. This milestone came in August 2022, and the company capitalized by rolling out a comprehensive rebrand designed to emphasize its growing position in pet care and commitment to equine health and wellness.
Jaime McKinley has held several roles at W.F. Young over the last 30 years, during which time the company developed more than 25 new products and completed several acquisitions. McKinley was appointed president in 2021, through which she has continued to drive strategic growth for the company.
Earlier in 2022, W.F. Young received two awards from the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) — the NASC Visionary award, which recognizes founding members of the NASC, and the Visibility award, which recognizes outstanding promotion of the NASC Quality seal.
W.F. Young has a team of six working in operations, quality assurance, purchasing and planning for its pet supplement business. The company offers roughly 25 SKUs in over 15 formulations under The Missing Link moniker, shipping between 300,000 and 400,000 units annually, according to Dale Keifer, vice president of operations at W.F. Young.
The company prioritized capabilities and capacity, rigorous testing of inbound raw materials, packaging flexibility and supply chain security in its search for a symbiotic co-manufacturing partner to help meet increasing demand for its functional pet supplements. Phoenix-based Precision Science, a pharmaceutical and supplement manufacturer with 33 years of experience, answered the call in 2018 and has been partnered with W.F. Young ever since.
Precision Science has a global footprint, with all products manufactured in Phoenix using a functional approach, according to Bryan Vincent, president at Precision Science. The co-manufacturer currently has 15 clients, with many on the larger side. Vincent noted these larger pharmaceutical and supplement clients necessitate highly rigorous quality standards, which in turn benefits W.F. Young. Precision Science does not own any of the brands it produces, which is one of the reasons why its partnership with W.F. Young is such a good fit, Vincent added.
Precision Science offers cold-processing capabilities, as well as automated filling and vacuum sealing for packaging, both of which are processing priorities for W.F. Young’s The Missing Link brand. Reliable raw material supply, cost optimization and flexibility were also top priorities for W.F. Young, and Precision Science has delivered on all fronts.
“We have three bag sizes, dual languages and 15 formulas,” Keifer said. “Our supplier needs to be able to respond to shifts in demand driven by consumers or channels.”
W.F. Young and Precision Science work closely together to bring new and existing products to market. W.F. Young handles brand management and formulation, while Precision Science is tasked with manufacturing The Missing Link products in adherence with specifications set by W.F. Young. This separation of powers is underpinned by a deep level of communication and collaboration, while ultimately giving each business the authority to do what they do best.
“We are very well aligned around what we do and what W.F. Young does, and we don’t step on each other’s toes,” Vincent said.
W.F. Young’s The Missing Link portfolio includes both soft chew and powder supplements for dogs and cats, but a majority of the products are powdered. The company has seen the highest demand for its Hip & Joint, Skin & Coat, Kelp and Senior supplement formulas.
Powder supplements are easy to digest, highly bioavailable to the animal, and water soluble, noted Neil Beaudette, quality assurance manager at W.F. Young. They provide pet owners with feeding flexibility because they can be added on top of an existing diet, dissolved in a pet’s water bowl, put in yoghurt or peanut butter — the possible vehicles for powder supplements are virtually anything a pet already likes to eat or drink.
On the front end of the process, Precision Science assists with product development by sourcing multiple raw material suppliers for each ingredient used in The Missing Link formulas. W.F. Young validates and approves the raw material suppliers from which Precision Science can source ingredients. Those ingredients are inspected upon receival as part of the co-manufacturing quality agreement, according to Beaudette.
Upon arrival, all ingredients go through a hazard analysis risk assessment to ensure quality and safety specs are met. Products are cold-processed, then filled in nitrogen-flushed packages to preserve freshness before samples are sent out for third-party testing.
W.F. Young and Precision Science also employ an environmental monitoring program to ensure equipment is cleaned properly between product changeovers, especially when switching from a non-organic to USDA Organic formulation, or from species to species, Beaudette added.
“We have a high commitment to quality, which is synonymous with how W.F. Young operates in the marketplace,” Vincent said. “We treat everything more or less like a drug because we are a GMP FDA facility, and I think that adds a lot of value to W.F Young’s confidence in their product line.”
According to Vincent, Precision Science’s centralized manufacturing and global raw material procurement process became critically important during COVID-19, when supply chains entered a flux period and some ingredients — especially those used in functional supplement formulas — were suddenly harder to find. Although these challenges persist today, secondary and tertiary raw material suppliers identified by Precision Science and W.F. Young during the pandemic have allowed the companies to secure reliable ingredient supplies for The Missing Link products.
“It’s really a hand-in-hand partnership,” said Bryan Vincent, president at Precision Science.
The companies stay in close contact through biweekly production calls, annual in-house quality assurance audits performed by the W.F. Young quality team, and business review and on-site visits throughout the year.
When asked about the key benefits of working with each other, both W.F. Young and Precision Science pointed to the ability to jointly celebrate in the success of the brand, as well as the sharing of best practices, which has proved mutually beneficial for both businesses, Keifer and Vincent said.
“Our next phase will be to work with them on optimizing their pricing,” Vincent said. “We’ve also helped them decrease their packaging costs, so it’s really a hand-in-hand partnership.”
With five years of productive partnership under their belts, W.F. Young and Precision Science provided advice for other pet nutrition brands seeking to establish lasting co-manufacturing relationships.
Investing in manufacturing, product development quality assurance and the like are no-brainers in today’s competitive pet nutrition market. At the same time, brand investments should always be backed with investments in the people behind the product. In other words, the human element of a business relationship should not be discounted, Vincent noted. In fact, establishing rapport and facilitating clear communication from the get-go is paramount for any business relationship.
“You have to have built those relationships early in in the integration process so that, when there are issues, you are able to work through them effectively,” he said.
Aside from maintaining clear and transparent communication channels, Vincent also noted it helps to have a designated point of contact between companies.
“You can have the greatest systems in the world, but if you don’t have good human relationships with people, it’s really tough when issues arise,” he said. “We set up early how planning is organized and who makes decisions so we are completely transparent and efficient.”
Keeping track of performance metrics on both sides of the equation, including forecasting, quality assurance, cost optimization and service, is key to maintaining a symbiotic co-manufacturing relationship, Keifer said. He also shared the importance of preserving close communication, learning from past experiences, and having a clear understanding of accountability, as well as “embracing a spirit of continuous improvement for both the customer and the supplier.”
“The most important thing is to sit down around a table and understand what the driving factors are for each person’s business, and understand the strategic direction of each organization,” Vincent said. “First and foremost, determine if those are in alignment.
“It’s important to be candid with one another about what the goals and objectives are, and to determine if they’re reasonable,” he added. “Having a long-term strategic plan is critical to the relationship.”
Read more about leveraging strong co-manufacturing relationships.