On the Factory Floor
BY CLAY JACKSON
Purina execs talk about their passion for pets and the quality in every
bag, bowl and bite, as Nestlé Purina opens its Clinton, Iowa, factory to
members of the pet media for the first time.
Stars whirl about axes, pulling smaller bodies into their orbits while emitting light. Nestlé Purina PetCare Co.’s pet food factory in Clinton, Iowa, is like that too.
The plant is a universe unto itself, drawing in
350 employees, 335 ingredients and a host of topnotch suppliers, while creating jobs and putting
out what company officials assert are nutritionally
sound products backed by decades of science.
Members of the pet trade media recently converged on Clinton for the second-ever Behind the
Bowl Symposium and first-ever media factory tour,
during which Purina officials shared with attendees a behind-the-scenes view of the company’s
“It’s one thing to talk about our passion and quality, but it’s another to share it in person by opening
our doors and demonstrating some of the 100,000
quality checks that occur across our network of U. S.
factories daily and by meeting [our] people,” said
John Bear, vice president, manufacturing.
Media day began in the Clinton conference
room with the employees going around and introducing their pet families.
Names like Luna, Dan, King Tut, Jack, Lucy,
Lou, Emma and Lola tumbled into the ether.
The point being that the assembled St. Louis
and Clinton execs are pet owners as well as Purina
consumers and would never feed their four-legged
family members anything that was unsafe or not
“The people really have a passion for what they
do here,” said Roger Brecht, Clinton plant manager. “They treat every bag, every pouch, every pallet
as if it’s going to their pet family.”
MADE IN THE HEARTLAND
The Clinton factory has been a companywide
driver of product development since its founding
in 1969, and over the past five years, Purina has
poured $60 million into the plant, including a new
small-bag packaging line plus several new storage
Clinton is the “primary factory for dry pet food
and treats innovation and renovation” and produces more than 100 products, Bear said.
“We’ll make it here, we’ll perfect it, we’ll get
scale, we’ll build that capability into other manufacturing sites, and then we’ll push it out,” he said.
Beggin’ Strips, a popular treat item, for example,
was pioneered and launched at Clinton.
“It’s kind of nice, you roll in here at 6: 30 or 7
o’clock each morning and smell bacon,” said Brecht.
As impressive as walking the factory floor is,
it’s the backstory, as told by those who’ve come up
through the ranks, that makes the Clinton narrative
“If nutrition isn’t being met, it’s all for naught,”
The goal of nourishing today’s pets with quality
food is the subtext that informs everything Purina
does, the company’s officials attest.
“I get inspired every day by what we can learn
more about nutrition … so we help pets live long,
happy lives,” said Dr. Janet Jackson, Ph.D., vice
president and director of research.
When Dr. Jackson first started at Purina, she
combed through old research files to learn about
the company’s history of innovation.
“That’s what we want scientists to do when they
come into Purina—to get the culture and the passion for the research that’s been done before them
… with different scientists who have come and
gone and retired,” she said.
Jackson started at Purina in 1990 and shortly
thereafter met Doug Hale, who created Dog Chow,
the first extruded dog food, in 1957, and Cat Chow,
the first extruded cat food, in 1962.
“I got to meet him, so that was pretty impactful
for a new employee in the company, seeing this
person who developed this process of putting the
ingredients together and using steam and pressure
to cook them and really unlock the nutrition of
those ingredients,” she said.
Purina relies on its 500-plus veterinarians, animal
behaviorists, immunologists, chemists, molecular
biologists, food scientists, palatability experts and
other specialists to generate the research behind its
product development. And yet, upward of 50 percent of Purina’s nutrition research is not involved
directly in developing a product, noted Dr. Brian
Zanghi, Ph.D., senior research nutritionist.
“And that’s really the crux for us, proving that it
is about the value of providing what’s best for the
pet,” Zanghi said.
Purina’s landmark 14-year longevity study is an
example of putting pets first.
The study followed 48 Labrador retrievers from
eight weeks of age through end of life; the study
found that dogs in a lean-fed group outlived their
littermates by an average of 1.8 years, suggesting
that feeding dogs smaller quantities of food had
potential health benefits for the animals.
As findings from the study started appearing
in peer-reviewed scientific journals, Zanghi recalls,
people incredulously questioned Purina: “You
want us to sell less dog food?”
Indeed, out of the study came Purina’s nine-
point Body Condition Score System, which upend-
ed the archetypal roly-poly puppy image, thought
to be healthy 40 years ago.
“We actually did adjust all of our feeding guidelines across all of our products, and the entire industry followed,” said Daniel Henke-Cilenti, director of marketing.
Naturally, it’s a win for everyone when research
leads to a nutritional innovation for pets that has
strong commercial possibilities too, as happened
when Purina scientists showed that the probiotic
BL999 reduces anxiety in dogs.
“We are very excited about that,” Jackson said.
“It will help a lot of pets.”
1. These Purina leaders, from St.
Louis and Clinton, Iowa, gathered
in front of Purina’s Clinton factory
for the 2018 Behind the Bowl tour;
they were joined on the tour by a
Purina supplier and members of
the pet media.
2. Candace Claeys, Clinton quality
manager, with PPN writer Clay
Jackson in the Sensory Validation
Room. Jackson holds one of the
product-specific sheets that a small
group uses to compare samples
against for color, size and shape.
3. The bar code on each bag or
pouch of pet food can be traced
all the way back to the individual
suppliers of the various ingredients.
4. The Clinton plant utilizes a lot of
technology including the microP-HAZIR, a hand-held near-infrared
probe inserted into ingredients to
quickly determine if they are what
they are claimed to be.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PURINA
PHOTO COURTESY OF PURINA
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