Interview: UK Pet Food's new chair


We chat with Rupert Phillips of Spectrum Brands as he steps up to lead the trade association UK Pet Food

Rupert Phillips, Managing Director of Pet (UK & Ireland) at Spectrum Brands, has been announced as the chair of UK Pet Food, the trade association which represents the pet food industry in this country.

Vastly experienced in the pet sector, Rupert will lead the organisation at a key time as during his two-year tenure there will be elections across the globe and a new political landscape to navigate in the UK. Here, we spoke to Rupert as he embarks on the role…

Q What does being the Chair of UK Pet Food involve?
For the past few years, I’ve been involved in UK Pet Food as a member of the Executive Committee. This is the body that oversees the UK Pet Food strategy, shaping the direction and the running of the association.

Stepping up as chair is a huge privilege. For the next two years, I will immerse myself in the world of UK Pet Food, which will mean regular meetings with the team, in addition to the Executive.

Each UK Pet Food Chair has a specific theme for their tenure. We sit down with the team and determine this in advance considering the external environment, our goals as an association, and where we are on that journey. All UK Pet Food Chairs have been committed to making a positive impact and looking at how our skills and experiences can provide a lasting benefit to pets in the UK.  

Q Why is it something you wanted to do?
It is a great opportunity to gain an even greater understanding of the industry and those involved at the highest level. It is an industry I love and, while this is a significant time commitment, I see it as my chance to contribute while knowing how rewarding it will also be.

I also think the timing is ideal for me to leverage my skills effectively. As we navigate the fourth year of our EU exit, trade dynamics have undergone substantial shifts. We are seeing new measures come into force, impacting our ability to trade with our biggest trading bloc. This area particularly interests me and it offers the chance to spearhead lobbying efforts on behalf of the industry, identify avenues for growth, and providing practical guidance to the membership amidst evolving changes.

Q What are the priorities for UK Pet Food during the next two years of your tenure?
The work plan for the next two years will centre around Safety & Standards — one of our three pillars of activity, alongside Nutrition and Sustainability.

Under Safety & Standards, we will horizon scan and monitor for emerging challenges. One example is mycotoxins. With climate change and more extreme weather conditions, we anticipate an increase in the potential risk from mycotoxins. As the pet food industry body, we will consider strategies to adapt and minimise those risks, building awareness and action plans.

Furthermore, we will continue our proactive education to help improve the knowledge and understanding of prepared pet food nutrition. We are in interesting times, how we feed our pets is evolving with new formats and alternative ingredients emerging.

It is also critical to communicate what it means to be a member of UK Pet Food. Members sign an industry charter to confirm they comply with industry Codes of Practice. These Codes promote best practice across the sector in areas such as ‘Safe Manufacture’, ‘Nutritional Guidelines’, and ‘Good Practice Labelling.’ Sourcing products from a UK Pet Food member provides additional reassurance of the safety and standards met.

Finally, UK Pet Food launched its manifesto last autumn and we are now sharpening our ‘asks’ of a new government. These will be focused on four main areas: ‘Safe & Sustainable Pet Food’, ‘Trade with the EU and Rest of the World’, ‘Animal Welfare’, and ‘Pets in Society.’  This will be an important tool for discussions with policymakers and we will encourage our members to use this in building relations with their local MPs.  

Q What are the main challenges the pet food industry faces? And how much does a general election impact this?
The industry, like many, has been in a state of flux due to the challenges from Brexit, the pandemic, and the continuing war in Ukraine. This combination has led to higher prices across the board — energy, ingredients, transport, etc. The cost of living is impacting consumer budgets and understandably, this is leading to some changes in shopping behaviour. The pet food sector is famously resilient. The pet population remains healthy and manufacturers work hard to ensure that pet owners have access to affordable, safe, and nutritious pet foods from the brands they love.

Around the time of a General Election, there is a lot of noise and distraction. With a new government in place, there will be a raft of new politicians to connect with. I think we are in a good position — we can articulate clearly what we need from a new government and why. With around 60% of UK homes including a pet, we are a sector not to be overlooked.  

Sustainability will continue to be top of mind for the industry. Pet owners want to feed their pets in a way that respects the environment, and we share this desire too. The UK pet food industry is actively championing sustainability through the provision of eco-friendly packaging options, responsible ingredient sourcing, fostering research and innovation into alternative ingredients, promoting environmentally friendly production practices, and a commitment to educating pet owners to make choices that benefit both their pets and the planet. There is a lot of work to be done and from a policy perspective, packaging regulations such as the Extended Producer Responsibility will bring new obligations and costs for pet businesses. The overall ambition of the scheme is positive. However, the design of the EPR scheme must be fit for purpose.       

Q What would be your message to fellow professionals in the industry who are also members of UK Pet Food?
Get stuck in — engage. Much of the great work done by UK Pet Food stems from the various committees and working groups. There is a committee for sustainability, communications, and veterinary nutrition to name but a few, and dedicated groups for sectors – Raw Producers, Fish and Small Mammals. Company representatives give their time to exchange ideas, share information, innovate, and develop plans. It is also a brilliant networking opportunity and a good way to keep up to speed with industry hot topics.

Q Why is being part of UK Pet Food so beneficial to pet food brands?
UK Pet Food’s mission is to advance pet health and well-being with quality nutrition from a sustainable, progressive pet food industry. This is something all members subscribe to. 

As a pet food business in the UK, we see it as critical to be a member of this highly influential association. There are many benefits including shaping the direction of the industry, access to training and education, the latest industry information, technical support, market data, and networking. I think many of us have particularly appreciated this support during recent unchartered times such as EU Exit and Covid. One of the most important benefits is the ‘industry voice’ and how as UK Pet Food we can have a lot more impact when we act together rather than as individual organisations. This also makes association work particularly rewarding.

Q What would success look like to you in two years?  
Success to me is having a membership that continues to be supportive and engaged; this is the lifeline of the association.

On specific goals, we will have relaunched our manifesto and built new political connections. Our new policy contacts will have a better understanding of the pet food industry, recognising the important role we play in the agri-good supply chain.      

On trade, we would like to be on a journey towards a common veterinary agreement to ease problems trading between GB and the EU and GB to NI. A common veterinary area would improve animal welfare, facilitate trade, and provide much-needed stability and clarity for businesses. 

On sustainability, the committee is working alongside the Food & Drink Federation to develop an industry ambition for 2030. This will be an exciting development and particularly useful for those smaller businesses at the start of their sustainability journeys. I am hoping to see this start to come to life towards the end of 2024.

We will continue to be a strong voice, communicating about the importance of prepared pet food in delivering safe, complete, and balanced nutrition.

Having retained current members and brought some new full-time and associate members into the fold, will mean we continue to grow.  

To find out more about UK Pet Food, visit