Food, format and pets. These are the three priorities for NaturPak Pet, a premium wet pet food co-manufacturer packing exclusively in Tetra Pak cartons.
These are the three priorities for NaturPak Pet, a premium wet pet food co-manufacturer packing exclusively in Tetra Pak cartons. The first pet food formulas produced by NaturPak were complete-and-balanced diets typically with meat as the first ingredient. That continues to be the case today.
Pawel and Iwona Marciniak, who recently celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary, founded NaturPak Pet in 2020 as a separate, pet food-focused co-manufacturing venture from IPM Foods, a human food co-manufacturing company also founded by the Marciniaks in 2017 and initially focused on producing soups, gravies and sauces in Tetra Pak cartons.
The company recently moved to a larger facility in Janesville, Wis. to accommodate growing demand. The 162,000-square-foot facility expanded NaturPak’s total production capacity by 300% with the addition of two wet processing lines.
Current capacity equates to 50 million cartons annually, with plans to add capacity for an additional 25 million packages. At its current pace, the company anticipates needing to add more carton capacity by mid-2022.
Carton sizes range from 500 ml or approximately 17 oz to 200 ml or 5.5 oz. A 100 ml or 3.5 oz. package will be available from Tetra Pak in 2022 and NaturPak will be adding this new size intended primarily for cat products. The company’s current Tetra Pak systems can accommodate two different carton footprints and varying heights to offer a range of per-package capacities.
The wet pet food formulas pictured here were manufactured at NaturPak’s Janesville, Wis. facility.
NaturPak’s production is currently divided with about 85% dedicated to complete-and-balanced nutrition and 15% to toppers and broths, with the company reporting an increased interest in this latter product category.
According to Tetra Pak, cartons are durable, space efficient on the shelf and during transportation, and lightweight, which all contribute to a lower carbon footprint. The packaging is also recyclable with Tetra Pak reporting 61% of US households have access to carton recycling programs and 20% of cartons currently being recycled.
NaturPak offers a slow-cook process, which allows the company to create specific textures and flavors designed for different pet preferences. For example, according to Pawel, cats prefer slow-cooked, very soft-textured meats and dogs enjoy more of a firm texture in meats. The company’s process can be adjusted to accommodate a range of end-product goals.
The batch process typically starts with processing the meat, usually in frozen form. The meat is ground on a Wolfking grinder or diced on a Treif system while other ingredients are weighed and portioned. Then the ingredients are combined in an FPEC mixer and pumped to the batch-mixing kettles. One mixer and three kettles feed each processing line. Each eight-hour shift typically completes eight batches per line and the maximum individual kettle capacity is about 3,200 lbs.
NaturPak’s small batch production is divided between two automated Tetra Pak R2 recart filling systems.
The first step of processing happens when formulas are gently cooked between 160 F and 175 F in the kettles. This begins the slow-cook process and ensures product uniformity before it’s transferred to the filling machines. The Tetra Pak R2 systems form the packaging then fill and seal them.
Once packages are filled and sealed, they are processed on the quality line and inspected against all standard quality check points defined by NaturPak and required by each customer. Part of the quality process includes the use of Mettler Toledo checkweighers and Novus x-ray systems.
From the quality check, cartons move to the sterilization process where the boxes are loaded into one of six Surdry retort chambers and gently cooked further to sterilize the product. Each formula is tested in advance and has custom parameters for heating and holding times at specified temperatures. The horizontal retorts heat products slowly with steam.
Once parameters are met for each batch, sterilized products are unloaded from the retort chamber with Jorgensen Engineering A/S package handling systems, automatically dried to remove any residual water from the sterilization process, and then put into cases with Tetra Pak cardboard case packing equipment. Each case is then palletized, shrink wrapped and is ready to be shipped.
All ingredients for NaturPak customers are stored at NaturPak’s facility but the company can realize an economy of scale by purchasing ingredients in conjunction with IPM Foods. The company utilizes any benefits of combined delivery and combined buying to achieve the best results from an economic point of view as well as from an environmental point of view.
NaturPak’s business model is focused on developing a symbiotic relationship with customers who have the same nutritional commitment to quality ingredients and the same desire to grow a brand and increase its market penetration. The ultimate customer NaturPak strives to please, however, is not the pet food brands or even the pet owners.
“Our customer is actually the pet that wiggles its tail when they eat,” Pawel said.
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