SEWARD, NEB. — A little more than one year after the Petsource by Scoular freeze-dried pet food and treat plant was up and running, plans for an expansion began. With increased demand for freeze-dried pet food proteins, Petsource quickly realized after the plant started production in late 2020 that it would need to increase capacity to meet customer needs. 

“One year after we opened the original facility, we were already thinking about expanding just because of the huge amount of demand and the growth within the freeze-dried category,” Chad Kucks, director of Commercial Operations at Petsource by Scoular, told Pet Food Processing in an exclusive interview.

The company broke ground on the facility expansion in November 2022, and now its $75 million expansion, which added 70,000 square feet to the plant and 75 more jobs to the area, is complete.

Petsource by Scoular tripled its freeze-drying capacity to keep pace with demand

Petsource by Scoular tripled its number of freeze dryers, increasing its capacity.

| Source: Scoular

“We are excited we can deliver additional capacity for our customers, both current and future, and support their growth plans,” said Amy Patterson, Petsource president. “Strong demand, growth in our customers’ businesses, and our desire to continue to provide them high quality, innovative solutions drove the project.”

The original 105,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Seward, a $55 million initial investment and indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Scoular, opened in 2020 as a one-stop shop for freeze-dried pet food production. Everything from recipe development to raw meat processing, freeze-drying and packaging is done under one roof. 

“Scoular had supplied the pet food industry with ingredients for years — those were our previous customers,” Patterson told Pet Food Processing during a 2022 tour of the Seward facility. “In 2017, the company had an idea. Take the freeze-dry supply chain and put it all under one roof. Bring in raw material expertise with all freeze-dry manufacturers under one roof.”

The freeze-drying process protects and maintains the nutrition and taste of the pet food ingredients, maintaining the raw product state, while extending the product’s shelf life without added preservatives.

“The raw, freeze-dried pet food emerging trend is so popular right now,” said Jon Heussner, vice president of operations, during the plant tour. “There’s a big demand for it, and we’re helping to support that demand.”

Demand for freeze-dried products has not slowed since the plant started operations in 2020, and now with the expansion, Petsource will be able to accommodate the continued segment growth by tripling its freeze-drying capacity. 

In order to triple capacity, the company had to triple its number of freeze dryers. In addition to those additions, it expanded the raw processing and forming lines and added some extra warehouse space. The packaging area of the facility was unaffected by the expansion since it had built-in capacity from the original plant build. 

With the increase in production capacity comes an increased need for labor. The Seward plant now employs around 150 people, after the addition of approximately 75 employees hired to help run the more labor-intensive parts of the plant, which include the raw processing lines, tray loading area and packaging department. Petsource is now one of the Top 10 largest employers in Seward County.

Petsource by Scoular expanded its workforce to 150 people

Following the expansion, Petsource by Scoular's Seward plant employs about 150 people.

| Source: Scoular

“We didn't have many problems filling the positions. Locally, we’re known as a premier employer, so usually when positions are open, it's not too much of a problem,” Kucks said. “We did have to expand our recruiting footprint into communities like Lincoln and the surrounding counties to attract more talent to our facility since unemployment is so low in our region.”

Jonathan Jank, president and chief executive officer of the Seward County Chamber & Development Partnership, added, “Petsource has been a tremendous employer not just in our county but in the region. They have been a best-in-class employer, and we are excited for them to continue growing in our community.”

Petsource is particularly proud of its integrated production processes and its food safety and quality standards. The Seward facility is a Safe Quality Food (SQF) certified plant.

“One of the things Petsource is really proud of is making sure that we’re very diligent about protecting the brands we do business with,” Kucks said. “We’re really excited that we’re able to offer this added capacity to the freeze-dried pet food market. We know there are a lot of brands that are going to look forward to the capabilities that Petsource brings to the market.”

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