Butternut Box – “UK’s HelloFresh for dogs,” as one tech publication put it – prepares and delivers fresh and healthy dog food in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Belgium.
The dog food options for Butternut Box’s personalized subscription plans don’t look that different from what you might see on a restaurant menu. Dog owners can pick from meals like “tender beef with sweet potatoes, peas and a hint of rosemary,” “juicy pork with carrots, butternut squash, and a touch of sage,” and “hearty veg with fresh cheese, eggs and a pinch of parsley,” which get frozen immediately to preserve freshness.
Butternut Box, which is based in London and has a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Doncaster, England, has raised over $100 million from investors including L Catterton, Passion Capital and White Star Capital since its founding in 2016 by David Nolan and Kevin Glynn.
The startup was launched after Nolan told Glynn, his coworker, that his family had been cooking the food for their rescue dog, Rudie, once they discovered it was the only way to stop Rudie’s flatulence.
The two started cooking and delivering dog food to early customers as a side hustle for several months until they decided they needed to pick between their day job in London and cooking for dogs.
“They picked dogs,” states the “ruff timeline” on the company website. “And Butternut Box was born.”
Butternut Box uses Datarails to improve its financial reporting and planning, increase the finance team’s capacity, improve collaboration and agility, and prepare for continued growth.
“Thank goodness we went ahead with Datarails, because there’s no way we’d be where we are as a team without it.”—Charlotte Kelly
Head of FP&A, Butternut Box
The problem: Finding a flexible and intuitive tool for financial reporting and planning
One of the first tasks Charlotte Kelly took on when she joined Butternut Box as Head of FP&A was to search for a technological solution that would be flexible enough to enable weekly financial reporting and 13 financial closes a year after each four-week period.
The dog food provider also needed the solution to facilitate rolling forecasts and scenario planning, speed up financial processes, and ultimately serve as one source of truth for the company’s financial data.
“When I joined Butternut, we didn’t have many reporting tools at all – everything was Google Sheets and Excel,” said Kelly.
“We knew we needed a way to make reporting quicker and easier and have more confidence over the source of truth on our data,” she said. “We were getting to a stage where our processes were breaking and we needed a new solution.”
Kelly looked into a variety of different tools, including Web-based FP&A platforms and those that work with Excel – but she found that, other than Datarails, they seemed too expensive or too complicated, or they took too long to implement, or they weren’t flexible enough.
Plus, she said, Butternut Box needed a solution that was intuitive to use, had a short implementation time, and would get the whole team up to speed with the software quickly.
Butternut Box found the FP&A solutions it needed in Datarails.
The solution: Cutting weekly reporting time in half
Datarails’ flexibility meant that the FP&A platform could be customized to fit Butternut Box’s specific reporting needs, which was critical for the dog food provider.
“It is flexible and allows for customization specific to our business model and reporting structure,” said Kelly, calling Datarails “a great tool that’s transformed our reporting processes.”
What’s more, Datarails has enabled Butternut to cut its weekly reporting time in half.
Prior to using Datarails, Butternut used to take six working days to conduct its weekly reporting – meaning that reports about any given week were released over a week after the reporting period ended. This made it difficult to react quickly to any changes happening in a given period.
Kelly recalled what working day 6 after the reporting period used to look like: “That was when we had a Google Sheet linked to other Google Sheets and we’d change the numbers historically, which was a nightmare for the reconciliation process. People were changing things and you didn’t have any control.”
With Datarails implemented, though, Butternut Box has built-in version control, permission settings, and an audit trail with comprehensive records. “The version tracking is so helpful,” said Kelly. “It removes a bit of fear for people – I can make any change I want because I can go back to the last version, have that audit trail, and know what has changed.”
“We never had the repeatability of processes in the same way that we do now with Datarails… It removes all the headache as well.”—Charlotte Kelly
Head of FP&A, Butternut Box
And it was also able to cut the reporting time in half. Reports are now released on day 3 after the reporting period, enabling the company to react to any changes much faster.
Datarails has also made it possible for Butternut Box to save time on other financial processes – including its 13 four-week financial closes, along with budgeting, forecasting, cash flow reporting, scenario planning and building KPI dashboards – by reducing both manual effort and the accompanying risk of inaccurate data due to human error.
“We never had the repeatability of processes in the same way that we do now with Datarails,” said Kelly. “It’s been such a cost saving, and it removes all of the headache as well, so you’re working on the value-add rather than the fiddly digging around with data.”
Before Datarails, “it was taking 20 minutes to load a spreadsheet,” said Kelly. “Now we just refresh and it runs.”
The finance team uses Datarails’ built-in data visualization tool for its KPI dashboards even though it’s also continuing to use a separate BI tool as well.
Kelly said her team uses Datarails to build the dashboards in Excel and publish them as live, real-time dashboards directly to PowerPoint for board presentations, or share them as static PDFs. “We get great feedback on our reporting packs and have even spoken to a few companies to advise them on our process as they’re looking to replicate the high quality we’re able to deliver through Datarails,” Kelly said.
Saving time on financial processes also made it possible for Kelly to keep up with reporting, planning and analysis despite facing hiring challenges when looking to expand the finance team.
Automating financial processes with Datarails “was also a way for me to increase the output from my team, minimizing the need to hire,” she said. “Thank goodness we went ahead with Datarails, because otherwise there’s no way we’d be where we are as a team without it.”
And those already on board were able to pick up Datarails fast. “It is a very intuitive system, which means adoption has been good across the team,” said Kelly.
Datarails’ technological flexibility, which makes it possible for the FP&A platform to adapt to Butternut’s financial processes rather than the other way around, is matched by the ability of the customer success team and the company as a whole to flexibly meet customer needs.
“One reason why Datarails has been such a game-changer for us is the level of support we’ve had,” said Kelly. “Everyone we work with at Datarails is exceptionally knowledgeable and helpful, always striving to find a solution to our challenges.”
“It feels like Datarails works the same way we do, which is a massive plus for us – constantly looking for improvement, wanting to set something up for the long term, happy to dive in and help, and genuinely excited about how numbers and data can be used for good insights and good business decisions,” she said.
“It is a very intuitive system, which means adoption has been good across the team.”—Charlotte Kelly
Head of FP&A, Butternut Box
The impact: Using financial analysis to leverage revenue spikes and prepare for more growth
With the reporting data easily visible, Butternut Box is able to analyze those financials to leverage revenue spikes, reduce risk and pursue opportunities.
For instance, the finance team can easily conduct variance analysis on metrics like expenses, said Kelly: “Have we overspent? Have we underspent? And why?”
And that can lead to further strategic insights.
Since implementing Datarails, the finance team’s collaboration and engagement with company stakeholders has improved. “Because the engagement is so much better now, I can sit down with a stakeholder and ask how much is due to timing, how much is a true difference?” said Kelly. “What’s our risk? Our forward-looking outlook? What are key opportunities we’re looking into?”
After starting to use Datarails, Kelly was also able to spend less time double-checking the numbers and more time working to understand what the company forecasts meant for Butternut.
When attempting to use Google Sheets for forecasting, she said: “I was spending so much time number-checking rather than working with stakeholders to understand where the risks were, finding off-budget opportunities etc. I was spending 20 percent of my time on that value-add work because so much of the job was just getting the sheet working.”
“We have much higher conviction on the numbers, and it’s much easier to pick out inaccuracies or trends.”—Charlotte Kelly
Head of FP&A, Butternut Box
The company notices changes fast due to its reporting frequency, and can easily use the reports to identify trends. The weekly reporting “allows us to see any quirkiness in the numbers – for example, is there something that went wrong in the stock report?” said Kelly. “Plus we can look at it week by week and see the trend over time.”
With Datarails in place, said Kelly, “We have much higher conviction on the numbers, and it’s much easier to pick out inaccuracies or trends.”
That trend analysis enables Butternut to make strategic decisions driven by the financial data – like timing reactivation campaigns around payday after seeing that was when customers were buying more fresh dog food, resulting in revenue spikes for the company.
“When we look at the weekly trading, we see a particular pattern around payday – we see a real spike in our revenue, and we can look at how that impacts margin and focus reactivation campaigns around payday,” said Kelly.
Feeding 24x as many dogs, then doubling production capacity
Butternut also uses Datarails’ forecasting and scenario planning capabilities to see how a variety of assumptions, like worsening inflation, pricing increases, a new country launch – or an increase in food production, like the doubled production capacity Butternut announced in September 2022 after a funding infusion from HSBC UK – could affect key metrics like the company’s income, cash flow and profitability.
What’s more, those capabilities enable Butternut to plan what initiatives it should take to get the desired results.
“Butternut Box is leading the way in the fresh pet food market and has seen substantial growth, particularly with increased dog ownership since the pandemic,” said Alex Brown, corporate relationship director at HSBC UK.
Butternut’s rapid growth can be tracked not only by conventional metrics like revenue, but also by more unusual stats, like the number of dogs it feeds – which has grown over 14 times since Kelly started at Butternut Box in 2018, from 7,000 dogs to over 170,000.
And Datarails has played an integral role in that growth.
“We’re in a constant change state as a business,” said Kelly. Without using Datarails to speed up financial processes and improve the agile financial planning needed for such a rapidly growing company, she said, “there’s no way we’d have been able to scale at the size of team we are and the increased volume and complexity we’ve seen across the business.”