BEST IN CHOW
Quakertown manufacturing plants are helping Freshpet transform health food for dogs.
In light of today's economic cataclysm, one small manufacturer is proving that all it takes to flourish in a highly competitive marketplace is a truly unique product that addresses the right demographic.
Freshpet, a Secaucus, N.J.-based pet food manufacturer, set its sights on revolutionizing how people feed their dogs. It wanted to produce the healthiest and most nutritious pet food available on the market.
"We started out by challenging the accepted wisdom with pet foods," says Kathryn Winstanley, marketing/brand manager for Freshpet. "We didn't want to do what everybody else was doing, so we took a step back and figured out what's best for the pet and approached it that way."
Rather than churning out yet another line of dry or canned dog food, Freshpet created a line of fresh, refrigerated food for dogs through two brands: Freshpet Select, a brand it sells in grocery stores, and DeliFresh, a higher end offering found in pet specialty stores. Both brands include only fresh ingredients: chicken or beef, peas, carrots, and rice. Freshpet also offers a line of nutritious treats for dogs.
"We believe very strongly that animals, specifically dogs and cats, need a meat-based diet," says Winstanley. "Each brand begins with fresh ingredients and contains no fillers like corn, wheat, soy, and no byproducts. Then we process it quite differently from traditional manufacturers. We pasteurize it so it's gently cooked, preserving the essential vitamins and nutrients."
Freshpet also distinguishes itself from the competition by using no preservatives—refrigeration is the only preservative necessary to keep its products fresh.
To appreciate its surging popularity among dog lovers, consider: In 2005, the Freshpet brands were located in only 50 stores. Currently, it has found its way into 3,000 stores. And next year, it plans to double that to over 6,000 stores. Additionally, the company earned Progressive Grocer's Best New Product Award in two consecutive years: one for its baseline of products as well as its line of treats. It was also the recipient of a Refrigerated and Frozen Foods Best New Product—a remarkable accomplishment since this award is based on a write-in ballot.
"We must receive five testimonials a day from customers who say that our product has significantly changed the way their animals live," says Winstanley. "We've also had people whose dogs were suffering from an illness and the only product they would eat is Freshpet. It really gives you a sense that we're making an improvement in someone’s life."
Although headquartered in New Jersey, the company, founded in 2005, operates two manufacturing plants in Quakertown, Pa.
"The main reason for selecting Pennsylvania was to align ourselves with raw materials providers and source fresh chicken from surrounding areas which allow us to really bring a unique product to market," explains Winstanley. "There was also the ease in logistics and getting the product out to the rest of the northeast where pet food is definitely more developed. So it made sense to start with an East Coast location."
To further improve upon its manufacturing process, Freshpet reached out to the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP) of Penn State University (PennTAP) which engages, guides, and empowers businesses and organizations throughout the Commonwealth and beyond by providing objective and experience-based technical and workforce solutions that enable clients to succeed and thrive, stimulating economic growth for Pennsylvania. Freshpet needed assistance with its Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) program.
Many human food manufacturers are mandated by the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture to use HACCP, a systematic, preventative process for food safety. Freshpet uses similar methodologies to easily identify potential food safety hazards. One of PennTAP's consultants worked with Freshpet's management team to determine how it could improve upon its current manufacturing processes to make certain that Freshpet products were as safe and as consistent as possible.
A comprehensive HACCP plan was developed covering all of Freshpet's products. Process and product alterations were implemented resulting in improved product safety, quality, and shelf life. Over $1.2 million in economic benefits were realized, including significant retention of sales and generation of new sales due to enhanced marketability.
"Their help was absolutely instrumental in really ensuring the product that we have now in the market," says Winstanley. "I would give a strong recommendation for their assistance. As a small company, we're limited in resources. We have many people in our organization who have a core competency in one area but because of the size of our organization and depth, they're also working in other areas."
While this collaborative approach does bring another unique aspect to the business, Winstanley says that sometimes Freshpet relies on additional support because they don't have the robust resources in-house.
"There are times when you need more people who have that core competency in manufacturing or quality," says Winstanley, "and fortunately, we're able to use the resources from PennTAP to pull upon that additional experience."
Freshpet hopes other small businesses can learn from its example.
"We're very proud of how well we've fared in this market," says Winstanley. "We made a unique and differentiated product targeted to what our consumers needed. People think of their dogs as members of their family and want the best for them. We had the opportunity to look at the needs of these consumers and took an innovative approach at giving them what they wanted."