Fort Dodge plant is vital to Purina operations

-Messenger file photo by Chad Thompson
Mark Layton, Nestle Purina factory manager, front, and Ashton Schlumpberger, quality assurance manager, look over a sampling of pet food products at the Nestle Purina plant in Fort Dodge.

Nestle Purina PetCare Co., a worldwide pet food company, continues to invest in its Fort Dodge facility, located along Fifth Avenue South — the city’s Corridor of Commerce.

The company is constructing a 10,000-square-foot water treatment facility, which will increase the energy efficiency of the plant, according to Mark Layton, Purina factory manager.

Purina produces dog and cat food at its Fort Dodge location.

Layton said the multimillion-dollar water facility will optimize water use and treatment in the making of pet food. It will also minimize waste, he said.

“It’s doing our part environmentally,” Layton said. “Especially in the community we are living in, we want to be a good neighbor to everyone around us.”

Layton has been working in Fort Dodge since February 2018. He’s been with Purina for about 10 years.

“To me it’s a strong investment in the company, saying Fort Dodge is important to us, critically important, and this is an investment long-term of this facility,” Layton said of the addition.

The water treatment facility is anticipated for completion in the spring.

Environmentally speaking, Tiffany Gildehaus, public relations strategist, reported that since 2017, Purina’s Fort Dodge plant has maintained a commitment to zero waste to landfills.

More than 220 people are employed at the Fort Dodge plant, which opened in 1975.

We started making Friskies here just over 40 years ago as far as a product line,” Layton said.

Friskies is a brand of wet and dry cat food and treats.

The Fort Dodge plant produces wet food.

Inside the plant, the ingredients for the pet food are blended and then sent through a cooking process before being shipped out.

The food is placed in 5-ounce containers. The cans are purchased from Silgan Containers in Fort Dodge, according to Layton.

“A critical step is sealing the container,” Layton said. “And then we put it through our thermal processor. It’s basically like a pressure cooker. Once it comes out, it gets sent to the labeling area, which has all tracing and tracking information. It is then put on a truck or rail car and is ready for distribution to our customers.”

Layton said employees take pride in being part of the process.

“Part of that comes from taking something from beginning, to middle, to end, and when you see it up on the shelf you had something to do with that,” Layton said. “Our employees see the Friskies can on the shelf, the Mighty Dog can on the shelf, and they get that feeling of pride.”

In St. Louis, where Nestle Purina PetCare Co. is headquartered, researchers work to find out the best ways to make the product.

Brian Zanghi is a research nutritionist based in St. Louis. He is part of a team of nutritionists, veterinarians, and food scientists.

According to Zanghi, the company has about 500 scientists globally in its research and development department.

Zanghi has been employed by Purina for 13 years. He said researchers focus on a specific nutritional need of an animal.

“With a specific nutritional need such as stomach or healthy coat, we target nutrients we know will assist with those health benefits,” Zanghi said. “We do the research to demonstrate at the benefit is there, so we substantiate those claims with our product that are backed by science.”

Purina, which feeds millions of pets in the United States, ranks No. 1 in the country in sales, according to Gildehaus.

One of the core values of Purina, according to Zanghi, is to enhance the lives of those pets through the food they consume.

“Through the product we put out, they are formulated with pets’ nutritional needs in mind,” Zanghi said. “To do that we do the research to make sure it’s the right nutrients for the pets. Every ingredient is in the formula and printed on the label. Every ingredient plays a role.”

Layton said the Fort Dodge plant is vital to the overall operation of the company.

“Fort Dodge plays a key role in getting that product out to our consumers,” Layton said.

He complimented the work of employees.

“There is a sense of teamwork that is undeniable at the Fort Dodge facility,” Layton said. “You go out on the floor and can engage in discussions with operators, the team leaders, and everyone understands what the goal is at the end of the day and how we will work together to get here. It’s a really enjoyable environment to manage a team in.”

The increase of online business is having an impact on the industry as a whole, according to Gildehaus.

“We are keeping an eye on ecommerce and how that plays out,” Gildehaus said. “It’s a much different landscape than in the past with your traditional brick and mortar stores, and how we work with distribution to stay relevant in that space.”

Layton said the goal of the company is to continue to evolve as competition in the industry increases.

“The pet food environment or pet care environment is very, very competitive right now,” Layton said. “Innovation is moving rapidly and as a leader in the segment, we are committed to our operations and keeping our leadership standpoint so we are winning our environment for years to come.”

Brief history of Nestle Purina PetCare Co.

William H. Danforth, along with partners George Robinson and William Andrews, founded Ralston Purina in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1894, according to information from the company’s website.

It was first called Robinson-Danforth Commission Company. The name was changed to Ralston Purina in 1902.

“We started out in the food business, but have been in the pet business for over 90 years, starting with dog chow in the 1920s,” Tiffany Gildehaus said.

In 1963, Purina introduced Purina Cat Chow to help feed a growing population of American housecats.

The Fort Dodge plant opened in 1975. It began producing Friskies, a brand of cat food, at that time.

In 1987, Purina started a 14-year study that would prove feeding dogs to their ideal body condition throughout their lifetime can help extend their healthy years.

Nestle acquired Ralston Purina to form Nestle Purina PetCare Co. in 2001.