Dylan and Will McMahon: brothers behind the UK’s only baby milk producer
Instead of hanging out with venture capitalists or tech entrepreneurs as they used to, brothers Dylan and Will McMahon, and their father, Ross, headed to the Liverpool baby and toddler show last weekend to talk to parents about their range of follow on and growing up milks. Their family business, Kendal Nutricare, founded in 2015, is the only British baby milk producer, competing against multinational food giants Danone and Nestlé. UK market share for their Kendamil brand has jumped from 0.5% in April 2020 to more than 10% now. Royal endorsements have helped: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge used its follow-on milk and porridge when they were weaning Prince Louis, and Kendamil had a further boost last month when it contributed 2m cans to Operation Fly Formula, Joe Biden’s presidential mission to tackle a sudden baby milk shortage in the US. The brothers hope to convert the temporary waiver secured from the US regulator into permanent approval to sell to American parents. Working together seven days a week “makes for interesting Christmas dinners,” says Dylan, head of growth at the Lake District-based business. “Friday-night beers now mean different conversations from what we were having a couple of years ago – less talk about the Formula One, more talk about formula generally.” His older brother Will, who is commercial director, chips in: “There’s definitely ups and downs. It’s as weird for Ross as it’s weird for us. How do you work with your sons? You remember when they were in nappies and suddenly they are debating with you on a decision.” The business has won a Queen’s award for international trade, and for our interview, the brothers are wearing shirts with a crown emblazoned above the Kendamil logo. The business was born seven years ago when Ross bought a loss-making factory site in Cumbria from Heinz for £1. After the 2008 Chinese baby milk scandal – when six infants died from drinking melamine-laced formula – Ross had spotted an opportunity to shake up the sector. Initially, Kendamil was made only for export, particularly to China, but today the UK makes up half of sales. During the pandemic, the company started offering an online subscription and free delivery service, and in the 12 months to March this year, sales reached £34m. Made with whole milk which provides much of the necessary fat, rather than skimmed milk and vegetable oils as some of the other main brands, Kendamil aimed to offer something different in a market dominated by Danone’s Aptamil and Cow & Gate, Nestlé’s SMA, and German-owned Hipp Organic. Kendamil claims to be the only vegetarian-certified baby formula in the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe. It is also halal and kosher. The milk comes from local farms, including 25 organic farms. Kendamil is also free of palm oil and uses plant-based Omega-3 fat, rather than the more conventional fish oil.