Growing dental chew market propelling Kansas City Treats to new height…


This article was published in the September 2020 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our September digital edition.

Extruded and co-extruded dental and long-lasting chews are currently the primary products produced by Kansas City Treats. The treat manufacturer based in Kansas City, Kan., also produces dry and semi-moist treats, supplements, vegan formulas, as well as resins used for injection-molded treats in its 96,000-sq-ft processing facility in the heart of America.

Kansas City Treats is in good company. The Midwest is home to a large percentage of both finished-goods manufacturing and ingredient suppliers to the companion animal industry. A recent study commissioned by the Institute for Feed Education and Research, Pet Food Institute and North American Renderers Association determined that the states reaping the biggest economic benefits from the pet food industry are situated primarily in the Midwest, where most crops are grown and most animals are raised. Manufacturers purchased the greatest amount of products from farmers and farm products in Missouri, valued at $999 million, followed by Kansas at $574 million. That’s nearly $1.6 billion of the $6.9 billion total pet food ingredient market from just two midwestern states.

 

Since 2017, Kansas City Treats has been part of J-Six Enterprises, a 400-person strong, full-circle provider to the pet food, pet treat and animal feed industries. (From left: Wade Willming, Buddy, Lexi, and Troy Kramer.)

All in the family

As a contract manufacturer to the pet food and treat industry, Kansas City Treats not only benefits from its proximity in the Midwest to its customers and its suppliers but it benefits from being part of J-Six Enterprises, headquartered in Seneca, Kan., which describes itself as a full-circle service provider. J-Six purchased Kansas City Treats in 2017 as the perfect complement to the company’s other capabilities. J-Six is comprised of 11 different facilities across Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, several of which operate under the name of Fairview Mills. Fairview Mills supplies ingredients and premixes as well as ingredient storage and trucking services to a large number of pet food manufacturers.

In total, the company stores and supplies more than 400 different ingredients. In addition to farming and livestock production, J-Six operates a pelleting facility that supplies pelleted products for both pet food and industrial applications. A common pelleted ingredient J-Six provides for pet food and treat applications is alfalfa powder, which is often used to help achieve a natural green color in injection-molded treats. Through Fairview Mills, J-Six produces an average of 4,000 tons per week of pre-mixed ingredients.

J-Six was founded in 1972 by John and Janie Kramer and currently employs more than 400 people including 23 Kramer family members — 12 full-time and 11 part-time — many of whom are college students, summer interns or helpers. J-Six grew over the years by providing services that the industry wasn’t providing at the time, from specialized pelleting of hard-to-handle ingredients or ingredients that don’t flow well, to specialty blending, grinding and packaging.

“The storage and trucking services evolved to help customers maximize plant efficiency, adhere to schedules, reduce downtime and leverage procurement,” said Robert Pointz, sales manager, Kansas City Treats. “J-Six added capabilities based on customer needs over the years.”

As the company became more vertical in the services it offered, it only made sense in 2017 to add finished-goods manufacturing capabilities to become a full-circle provider to the pet food and treat industry. Prior to J-Six purchasing Kansas City Treats, the treat manufacturing facility had obtained Safe Quality Food (SQF) Food Safety Code (formerly known as SQF Level 2) certification. The plant has maintained that certification under J-Six ownership. In just three years as part of the J-Six family, Kansas City Treats has grown from $5 million in annual sales to a projected $30 million in 2020.

“Demand for the products we produce has actually increased since March,” Pointz said. “We’ve made adjustments to support employee safety in response to the pandemic. Overall, we’ve been able to maintain our volume of business and we’re on track to meet our sales goals for the year.”

 

Increasing capacity

Kansas City Treats has two main production lines from which it produces a large variety of unique products for some of the significant US brands selling primarily through the food, drug and mass-merchandise (FDM) markets. The company does not manufacture any of its own brands.

Under J-Six ownership, the addition of an Extru-Tech sanitary, multi-pass dryer has significantly added to Kansas City Treats’ production capacity.

One of the two production lines features two TX-85 twin-screw extruders from Wenger, Sabetha, Kan. Depending on the product, the twin-screw extruders have the option to feed to either a Tafco static dryer, a robotically loaded custom dryer or a Wenger cooling system for extruded and co-extruded dental or long-lasting chews.

The other production line features a Wenger TX-144 twin-screw extruder feeding an Extru-Tech sanitary, two-pass, horizontal dryer for dry treats and resins. The addition of this dryer system has had a positive impact on plant efficiency for Kansas City Treats.

“The new Extru-Tech dryer is so much easier to clean,” Pointz explained. “The sanitation aspect has improved dramatically from previous designs. Another benefit is it allows the extruder to run at full capacity thus maximizing throughput and efficiency.”

Another key feature that impacts overall production efficiency is a fully automated robotic system from ABB Robotics, Cary, N.C., which loads and unloads an extended-time dryer from the twin-screw extruders. Batches spend 15 to 30 hours in the extended-time dryer depending on the formulation.

“The automated loading and unloading obviously saves on labor,” Pointz said, “but the greatest benefit is our improved volume. The system is built for large volume product runs.”

Kansas City Treats also has a smaller line for product development, which includes a Wenger TX-57 twin-screw extruder that allows for product testing of blends in batches as small as 100 lbs. Serving small, medium and large pet food brands, Kansas City Treats is capable of creating an array of shapes, textures and aromas in a wide range of volumes to meet the unique requirements of each customer.

“We are very good at taking on projects that others deem too small or not worth the effort,” said Wade Willming, vice president of sales.

“We are very good at taking on projects that others deem too small or not worth the effort,” said Wade Willming, vice president of sales. “We like to visit with prospective customers and really understand their retail channels and opportunities they have for growth. Our team reviews each project and looks for the best fit for them and our production capabilities.”

Pointz said tackling niche products is the Fairview way. Taking on small, unproven product challenges has often led to bigger and better projects for Fairview Mills and for Kansas City Treats.

Tackling a broad range of product packaging challenges is also the Kansas City Treats way. The company has expanded its automated packaging capability and can provide services that range from an individually wrapped item, stand-up pouches of just about any size, and bags from 3 ounces to 50 lbs and up to 2,000-lb bulk super sacks.

In total, the company has eight packaging lines to meet the various customer requirements today’s sales channels require. The lines consist of semi-automatic stand-up resealable pouch systems from KHS-Bartelt, Dortmund, Germany with Ishida scale systems for 6- to 12-ounce packages from rollstock. This packaging line utilizes two weigh heads to fill two bags at the same time.

Multi-head weighing systems handle products gently and enable accurate, high-speed packaging.

Additional packaging systems include two larger Parsons-Eagle, De Pere, Wis., net-weigh scales, pre-made pouch lines to accommodate up to 42-ounce packages; a semi-automatic system from Hayssen, Duncan, S.C., for sample-size packages; a flow wrapper system from Delta Systems, Lowell, Ark.; a manual line for pre-made pouches of any size; a semi-automatic line for canisters; and a pack line for 50-lb bags and up to 2,000-lb tote sacks from JEM Bagging Scales, Shawnee, Kan.

Kansas City Treats also provides support assembling different point-of-sale marketing platforms including clip-strips, counter displays and quarter-pallet designs depending on customer needs. The company currently ships product throughout the United States and Canada and to Korea, Australia, Israel and Malaysia.

 

Designed for safety

A key to success for the treat manufacturer and its customers is adherence to stringent food safety protocols. Kansas City Treats’ manufacturing facility has strict separation between what the company refers to as the red zone and the green zone. The red zone or pre-kill areas include the processing steps before product reaches the kill step or a point in the manufacturing process where potentially deadly pathogens are eradicated. The green zone or post-kill areas include everything after the kill step.

A prominent feature on the outside of the building is the plant-wide air handling system from Cambridge Air Solutions, Chesterfield, Mo. This system provides controlled airflow from the green zone to the red zone using a MERV-13 filtration system. MERV stands for minimum efficiency reporting value. To achieve MERV-13, a filter must catch 90% of particles in the 3-10 µm range, 90% of particles in the 1-3 µm range and 50% of particles in the 0.3-1 µm range.  The entire 11-acre site is conveniently located adjacent to rail and interstate highways and is enclosed by fencing to facilitate the food safety and security programs designed to protect employees and the plant. 

These cartons contain 21-count long lasting chews with three flavor varieties packaged in 7-count flow wrap packaging.

The company holds all finished product as part of a positive release food safety program, meaning product is shipped only after analytical and microbiological safety tests are completed and confirm that specified quality standards have been met. Kansas City Treats conducts third-party testing by outside labs as well as in-house testing at Fairview Mills’ extensive testing facility in Seneca. The in-house laboratory can analyze ingredients and products for aflatoxins, mycotoxins, moisture, water activity, protein, fat, fiber, ash and other specified criteria. The use of both in-house and third-party testing allows Kansas City Treats to meet the different quality requirements specific to each customer. For added assurance, the company also employs Safeline metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems from Mettler Toledo, Columbus, Ohio.

 

On-trend

Fortunately for Kansas City Treats, dog owners seem to be increasingly concerned about their pets’ dental health. Pointz said the market for dental and long-lasting chews has been growing steadily for the past six to seven years and is expected to be a $1 billion segment in 2020. Dental chews rely, in part, on mechanical abrasion to deliver the desired benefit to the pet. Pointz said the key to this is through proper formulation and the skills of the extruder operator.

“With all of our automation, the human element is still the magic ingredient to get the product right,” Pointz said. “The extruder operators are the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.”

The company works closely with a team of independent formulators with specific hot extrusion experience. The fine-tuning of a recipe and the proper processing parameters makes the difference between a long-lasting chew that is effective versus one that is either too soft and doesn’t deliver the abrasion benefits, or one that is too hard and can’t be consumed by the pet.

According to Kansas City Treats, the market for dental and long-lasting chews will soon be a $1 billion segment annually of the pet treat industry.

The wide range of ingredients required for today’s pet products to meet defined brand claims makes delivering a dental chew especially challenging. Kansas City Treats relies heavily on Fairview Mills to provide the majority of batch ingredients in premix format in the correct grind depending on the product requirements. Kansas City Treats has eight silos, each with the capacity to hold three truckloads of pre-mixed ingredients. The company adds novel ingredients, small-quantity or high-cost ingredients by hand before the final blending of each batch in a Wenger mixing system. The average batch size for Kansas City Treats is 2,000 lbs. All finished products are cooled to ambient temperature and stored in holding bins prior to packaging.

Other popular products right now for the co-manufacturer include cat treats. Pointz said the company has been producing a lot of 3-ounce packages for felines lately. Additionally, kibble customers often turn to Kansas City Treats because the company will run smaller volumes, making Kansas City Treats a good place to start for brands entering the kibble market.

Similar to many processors currently, Kansas City Treats is hesitant to produce products containing CBD and is waiting on the regulatory piece to catch up with consumer interest. The company also works primarily with dry meat ingredients — no fresh meat — although some formulas include PRO TEMP from Simmons Animal Nutrition, Siloam Springs, Ark., which is a shelf-stable, pathogen-negative meat or vegetable blend. Allowing no fresh meat in the Kansas City Treats facility greatly reduces the risk of introducing pathogens into the processing environment.

Kansas City Treats projects 500% sales growth since 2017

Kansas City Treats sits on 11 acres and owns the adjacent 11 acres. With Pointz estimating that the company is currently running at 50% capacity due to the efficiency gains from recent production investments, there is a lot of room for the company to expand.

“Kansas City Treats strives to deliver a winning manufacturing solution for our partners in terms of quality, service and value,” said Troy Kramer, principal at Kansas City Treats. “Earning someone’s trust to manufacture their brand offerings is no easy task and once we have earned it, we intend to provide our very best each time we produce their products.”

By adding Kansas City Treat’s product manufacturing capabilities to its repertoire, the future appears to be long lasting for J-Six, a livestock, milling, ingredient, trucking and now full-circle service company.

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