It’s been said that the road to one’s heart is paved with paw prints. And, if statistics have anything to say about our love for our four-legged friends, it would be this: pets touch our lives in ways that only pets can; they love unconditionally expecting only love and commitment in return.
In the United States alone, over half of households are home to at least one dog or cat. Almost $20 billion was spent on pet food in the U.S. in 2012. That’s millions of tons of ingredients – poultry, seafood, meat, grains and agricultural products purchased to produce nutritious products to safeguard the health, happiness and longevity of our furry family members.
For over fifty years, Tuffy’s Pet Foods, headquartered in Perham, Minnesota, has acknowledged the societal role pets play in our daily lives. Tuffy’s is committed to delivering dog and cat parents the best quality, nutritious food products for each stage of a pet’s life.
Vice President Charlie Nelson, National Sales Manager Dan Schmitz and General Manager Jon Ebeling believe that what makes this family owned and operated pet food manufacturer a trusted name nationally is its promise of exceptional products.
Established in 1964 by founder Darrell “Tuffy” Nelson and his son Kenny, Tuffy’s began as a new product line from Darrell’s livestock and poultry feed business: Pine Lakes Feed, founded in 1947. Known as Tuffy’s Dog Food Company prior to 2001, Tuffy’s Pet Foods now has over 250 employees. The company is a division of parent company KLN Enterprises Incorporated, established in 1995. KLN Enterprises has three additional divisions manufacturing salty snacks (Barrel O’ Fun), candy (Kenny’s Candy) and chocolate (NutHead’s Chocolate Factory). KLN employs over 1600 people in its four divisions.
Tuffy’s manufactures several dry dog and cat food products in a co-pack capacity for other companies as well as their own pet food brands including Supreme, Tuffy’s, Tuffy’s Gold, NutriSource, Natural Planet and Pure Vita. Tuffy’s Super Premium offerings in the NutriSource, Pure Vita and Natural Planet Lines offer items like the Good 4 Life system that is comprised of Alltech (animal nutrition and health) supplements to help ensure the health of dogs and cats throughout their lifespan.
As the oldest form of business organization, family businesses represent over ninety percent of companies in North America. Being family owned carries a commitment to quality, trust and a safeguarding of reputation – the real drivers that translate into success and long-term growth.
These values are embodied in the company’s employees, many of whom have been with the Tuffy’s family for more than twenty years. “Lifelong bonds and trust lead to a positive workplace environment where employees are truly valued, and everyone has a tangible effect on our success,” Charlie says. “With all of our employees invested in our growth and a spirit of success woven into our workplace, it lays the groundwork for continued growth and success.”
The company has a preference for building strong relationships with other family-owned businesses, including national distributors and retailers. “As we seek out partners, we look to find these and similar values… that level of personal commitment and dedication is very prevalent in family owned businesses we partner with,” Charlie affirms.
He also acknowledges that sustained long-term growth, such as the company has experienced, requires, “the need for continued innovation and additional manufacturing capacity… the foresight and planning required to realize this level of growth is handled through a committed family of ownership and a veteran team of skilled managers that balance daily management tasks with diligent attention to new facility design and construction oversight.”
The strength of KLN’s divisions plays an essential role in enabling Tuffy’s continued success. The combined experience in sales, marketing, management and production, for example, “offers KLN an advantage over many singularly focused companies,” Charlie says. “Because of our strong family-led managements, corresponding capital position and success in each industry, we are able to utilize capital infusion across business platforms to effectively accomplish the growth requirements in any given business unit at critical times.”
National Sales Manager Dan Schmitz notes that the conscious shift toward healthier human diets is effectively mirrored in pet diets and that Tuffy’s capitalizes on this trend through its own extensive analysis and experience with human consumption preferences.
As noted, the pet food industry is seeing a corresponding shift toward healthier products and diets in response to consumer demand. This growth in demand for premium pet foods are surpassing economy brands, explains Dan. “Grain free diets, limited ingredient diets, exotic protein sources, organic and GMO-free ingredients are now commonly featured in super-premium foods,” he says. “Global companies such as Alltech® and Lonza [a Swiss life sciences company] are supplying top notch supplements such as L-Carnitine and ingredients that include pre and probiotics for intestinal health to the industry.”
“Product innovation for Tuffy’s has changed over the years,” confirms Charlie. He relates that its NutriSource brand initially included standard adult formulas, with varied protein sources. Upon consumer acceptance of this product line, the company expanded its development of life cycle offerings with formulas specific to puppies, seniors, performance and weight management.
“As the NutriSource line filled out we launched Pure Vita, a holistic single source protein line and Natural Planet, a line which features more exotic protein sources and organic ingredients. Currently, we continue to fill out logical extensions in all three lines,” he explains.
NutriSource has been in production for 12 years and is Tuffy’s biggest seller mainly because conscientious consumers recognize its quality ingredients and appreciate the value it offers. The company’s Pure Vita line is a holistic offering that features single source proteins and is the fastest growing line with strong double-digit sales growth postings for the last five years. The newest line, Natural Planet, offers unique protein sources, some organic and GMO free ingredients as well as grain and gluten free diets.
Tuffy’s pet food products are specifically designed to meet or exceed minimum nutritional guidelines. The company employs pet food nutrition and formulation experts to ensure all Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards are met. Founded in the early 1900s, the AAFCO is comprised of state and federal officials who develop regulations, laws and rules for all pet food producers. It is the AAFCO that establishes the ingredients used and sets the practices for feeding trials.
“Items that can help pets such as L-Carnitine, prebiotics and probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and quality protein sources are utilized to deliver exceptional nutrition and palatability to our foods,” explains Charlie. “Testing is completed to ensure the caloric, protein, fat and carbohydrate levels are within stated guidelines for all products. Additional nutrient profile panels are run for all foods to ensure they meet the initial food design criteria and offer the deliverables intended.”
Tuffy’s purchases its ingredients and supplies only from suppliers who have passed the company’s pre-approval standards. Samples are taken before acceptance and tested to ensure that key specifications for ingredients are met, and to ensure the product is free from contaminants. “All potential suppliers must meet our stringent requirements and be approved by our quality control manager before we will accept product from them,” says General Manager Jon Ebeling.
Tuffy’s has a dedicated team of specialists available to answer any concerns. “We also offer well designed, consumer friendly websites that feature product information and answer many frequently asked questions,” shares Charlie. “Our internal sales team works closely with distributors and retailers to offer product education and to provide useful pamphlets, brochures and product sheets that provide in-depth information on our products… With the underlying support we provide, our best sales people are often our retail partners.”
Having a knowledgeable customer service team available to answer questions and concerns about Tuffy’s Pet Food products translates into a good business practice that will attract new customers and retain existing ones. Pet owners want to know what they could or should be feeding their pets.
In order to accommodate the increasing demand for Tuffy’s quality pet food, the company’s new $70 million production facility will open in the summer of 2015. “Our new facility will increase our capacity in excess of fifty percent, with future expansion capabilities available for additional growth,” explains Charlie. The expanded facility will feature the most advanced equipment for cooling, drying, extrusion, coating and packaging.
There have been many changes within the pet food industry over the past fifty years, and the new facility will meet market demand challenges. The company will continue to offer the safest products while meeting or exceeding the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements.
The facility was designed to be flexible, efficient and safe. “Both industry and internal experts have been utilized to ensure a food-safe design.” Production areas are all separated, and employees will only access their own working areas. The compartmentalization between areas will create a physical separation of production processes to create the safest environment possible, according to Jon.
As for the future of Tuffy’s Pet Foods, Charlie remains steadfast in the company’s vision moving forward. “Family ownership and everyday involvement is the foundation of KLN Family Brands… Our vision is pretty simple: produce the highest quality, safest products in the USA, and offer them at a fair price while providing stable, meaningful employment in a friendly, family-based atmosphere.”