Substantial pipeline of products for expanding firm - Veterinary Practice
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Substantial pipeline of products for expanding firm

Vetinary Practice visits Alstoe Animal Health to find out what makes the firm tick

AT first glance, Sheriff Hutton in North Yorkshire looks to be an unlikely place to find an industrial park, let alone a rapidly growing veterinary supply company.

Set in the picturesque village of just over 1,000 residents who rest in the shadow of the impressive castle ruins, dating back to the 14th century, it also has a 900-year-old parish church.

While many inhabitants commute to York or Leeds to work, an increasing number are finding employment on the rapidly expanding industrial park, where one of the first companies to take up residence was Alstoe Animal Health in 1994.

After steady expansion it moved into a larger building on the park in 2000 where its offices are currently located and it has recently extended the offices to accommodate new staff.

The founder directors, who still run the business, John Nellis and Dr Ian Ryder, both had extensive experience of the animal health industry before deciding to take up the challenge of their own enterprise.

John Nellis commented, “The challenge of competing in an industry dominated by fewer and fewer large pharmaceutical multi-nationals is a daunting one. We decided to meet that challenge by offering a smaller portfolio of products designed specifically to meet the needs of our customers. We have deliberately sought innovation and improvement to keep us away from the competition – and this policy is bearing fruit.”

In 1996 the directors recruited Niall McFerran, another man with considerable experience in animal health, to help the company’s expansion into the veterinary market and to assist as well with international expansion.

Gleptosil, an iron injection for piglets which is the company’s major brand, is now sold in more than 40 countries, the latest one recently added to the list being Poland.

Not long after, Alstoe became a veterinary partner with Antec for its market-leading product Virkon, a broad-spectrum virucidal disinfectant, for veterinary practices in the UK. Alstoe was instrumental in persuading Antec to develop a new tablet formulation for Virkon and this is now the most popular form of Virkon used by veterinary practices.

Alstoe now has eight territory managers covering the UK and Ireland to market these and the steadily increasing range of products for which the firm has the distribution rights or which it has developed itself or with partners.

Long-term arrangement

Vetergesic, an opiate analgesic, is a typical example of the way Alstoe works. The product was developed by Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare,aglobal multi-billion pound company. Alstoe came to a long-term arrangement with that company to develop the product for the veterinary market and, following substantial investment, sales have increased 10-fold.

“Our development programme is keeping us one step ahead of generics,” says John Nellis, “and our new veterinary pack has been very successful. We will be launching this in the major European markets, including France and Germany, in the autumn and subsequently into the rest of Europe.”

Alstoe this year has introduced VetPet, a new range of rabbit and guinea pig diets including a rabbit diet containing glucosamine, as reduced mobility is a potential problem in older rabbits. The diets will be sold only through veterinary outlets; they are made in the UK and Alstoe believes they will help practices improve client retention.

According to Mr Nellis, veterinary surgeons want products that are acceptable to their clients and patients and therefore increase owner compliance. Consequently, Alstoe has been working to develop a large portfolio of flavoured and palatable products.

Flavoured pharmaceuticals

The most recent launches in this programme have been three flavoured pharmaceuticals, Dolagis, Xeden and Therios, based on carprofen, enrofloxacin and cefalexin. These incorporate a four-way easy-break tablet system, allowing practices improved dosing flexibility.

One of the firm’s most successful introductions of the past few years has been EaseFlex Chews. This joint nutrient product which uses “a soft chew technology” has, says Alstoe, helped many practices to significantly increase their sales of this type of product through improved compliance and client retention.

Perhaps the most unlikely product in the line-up is the Flecknell small animal laryngoscope which was launched earlier this year. Initially designed for intubating rabbits, it can be used in other small animals and is possibly the only laryngoscope in the world developed for veterinary use. Its inventor, Professor Paul Flecknell, is a world authority on small animal anaesthesia.

Summing up, John Nellis says: “One of the good things we have been able to do is recruit excellent people and this has enabled us for a number of years to be the fastest growing animal health company. We’ve had sustained growth in nearly all of our 15 years to achieve the multimillion pound turnover we now enjoy.”

One of the recent additions to the marketing team is Nicola Frankish, who joined Alstoe to provide what John describes as “a fresh modern perspective to the marketing strategy”.

And what of the longterm future for this company?

The sons of the founders both currently work for the firm: James Nellis is based in the Sheriff Hutton HQ, dealing with the IT and warehousing, while David Ryder is field sales manager for the southern area. “We currently have a substantial pipeline of products to develop and we see ourselves getting more opportunities in the future. Our main focuses are veterinary specialist products that offer high compliance and value for money,” said Niall McFerran.

Overseas expansion is also proceeding apace: the firm supplies Gleptosil to many countries in Europe and the rest of the world via distributors and also has a subsidiary, Champion Alstoe, based in Whitby, Toronto, Canada. John Nellis is especially delighted that this operation is going well – he was born in Whitby, North Yorkshire.

“At present,” says John, “we are where we want to be and we can see a great future ahead of us.”

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