This high-quality pet food and treat manufacturer has invested more than $150 million in its Minnesota manufacturing campus since 2010, with additional growth plans already in the works.
What could have ended nicely several decades ago as a successful business venture for the Nelson family, grew — after some last-minute negotiations — into a win for the entire community of Perham, Minnesota. Today, with deep roots and a sprawling manufacturing campus in Perham, Tuffy’s Pet Foods, Inc. is a third-generation family-owned and operated company seeing continued growth and success after 55 years in business.
Tuffy’s produces more than 150,000 tons of dry pet food annually across six owned brands — which make up about 60% of its total production in Perham — and some co-manufactured products.
The company, which was started by Darrell “Tuffy” Nelson in 1964 in a single facility with 13 employees, now employs 290 and has invested more than $150 million since 2010 into the company’s 16-acre campus with 600,000-sq.-ft. of processing, packaging and warehousing space.
The pet food company has been racing to keep up with demand as the industry grows. In 2015, Tuffy’s opened a new $70 million, 180,000-sq.-ft. dry pet food manufacturing facility. Since then, the company has added an $8 million meat processing operation and begun a $35 million mill expansion and renovation that is scheduled to be completed by early 2020.
Building a facility from the ground up allowed Tuffy’s to fine-tune its food safety capabilities, including state-of-the-art plant design and security features, air flow, product transfer and stainless steel contact surfaces, to name a few.
All products are transferred with pneumatic conveying rather than augers and bucket elevators, and the company uses pigging and burn out methods for sanitation.
Kibble comes off the extruder die plate and is distributed evenly into a double-pass dryer, where it spends about 20 minutes, before going to the coating room.
Tuffy’s coating system stores up to 26 possible liquid inputs and two powder additions, which are typically a prebiotic or probiotic and a dry palatant. The liquids are sprayed into the coaters and the powders are blown in before products are discharged into 25-ft., vertical, cone-shaped, stainless-steel Extru-Tech coolers that bring the product temperature down.
Samples are taken off of the dryers and the coolers and tested for bulk density and moisture. Both production samples and finished product samples are tested for proteins, moisture, fats, ash, pH, water activity, and glycols and sorbates on treats. All products are held for third-party pathogen testing results prior to being released. Pictured here is lab technician Duane Asfeld testing a finished product for fat content.
Finished product is stored in one of 30 bins prior to packaging. The bins discharge to vibratory conveyors that feed Tuffy’s five packaging lines. With the exception of a few hand-added dry micro ingredients back at the mill, the entire kibble system is automated.
While new management tools, a state-of-the-art processing facility and cutting-edge equipment is how Tuffy’s manufactures its products, the company credits its success to both its quality products and a relationship-oriented approach to selling its products.
Tuffy’s doesn’t compete with its retail customers online and its brands are sold exclusively by independent pet retailers. The company offers digital resources and educational tools for specialty retailers in this channel, focusing on providing support and building relationships above all else.
Not only did the Nelson family keep the pet food plant in Perham, but the family and KLN Family Brands have supported the community with good paying jobs that feature many perks including profit sharing, greatly reduced health insurance costs, a free health clinic for company employees at the hospital where a large number of prescriptions are free, and — probably most impactful to the community — $10,000 in housing assistance for employees with three or more years of service.
“The pet food industry is something that’s important to our family, it’s important to this community and it’s obviously important to our 6,000 doors of independent retailers that we partner with, and so we’ve been in a very nice position to be able to reinvest in the industry,” concludes Chase Rasmussen, vice president.