The new Phelps pet treat plant in Janesville, Wis., has the capability to produce shaped jerky treats — a new offering for the company.
After more than doubling production capacity in the span of three years, Phelps Pet Products invested more than $20 million in a new processing plant and distribution center in Janesville, Wis., just 30 miles away from its headquarters in Rockford, Ill. The extra capacity has already allowed Phelps to take on new customers.
Phelps sought out an existing structure to transform into its newest pet treat facility, and found what it was looking for in Janesville, Wis. Designing the production flow from scratch without having to construct the building from the ground up allowed the company to get the best of both worlds — a custom-built processing operation without the time commitment and hassles of new construction. It also allowed Phelps to incorporate extra space for future capacity.
The new Janesville addition, which started production this January, is more than twice the size of Phelps’ existing plant in Rockford. At 178,000 square feet, the facility currently features 40,000 square feet of processing, 20,000 square feet of packaging, 40,000 square feet of freezer storage, 30,000 square feet of warehouse, 40,000 square feet of distribution, and 8,000 square feet of office space.
The plant currently houses one processing line, two packaging lines and 14 smokehouse ovens. Most of the equipment in the Wisconsin plant, including the ovens, was acquired from Simmons Pet Food after the company closed its Siloam Springs, Ark., pet treat facility. Rick Ruffolo, president and chief executive officer at Phelps, anticipates all 14 ovens will be operational by the end of Q3 2023.
The design layout was created with the intention of having ingredients and raw materials enter from one side of the building, then have product flow through the plant in a linear fashion as it goes through each stage of production. After raw materials are converted to finished goods and are packaged, those products will eventually exit out the other side of the building. This linear design is critical for food safety.
Another important component of the Janesville operation is the warehouse storage and distribution center. Once a day, product from the Rockford facility is delivered to the Wisconsin plant for further distribution. With the addition of 70,000 square feet of warehouse and distribution space, Phelps is enhancing its capability to produce and distribute even more products to its growing customer base.
Key capabilities added with the Janesville facility include the ability to provide products with higher meat content (more than 95% protein), air-dried process options, and the ability to produce its jerky treats in various new shapes. The addition of a Marel revo portioner featuring shape drums provides the Janesville facility with the tools to create pet treats in shapes including chicken tenders, bacon strips, cookies and waffles.
The company can manufacture product that adheres to clean-label, organic and sustainable certifications, as well as its unique pet treat offerings including plant-based meatless jerky. Phelps’ ability to add shapes into the mix represents another strategic investment to grow its offerings and keep up with unprecedented demand.
While most of the products produced at the Phelps’ facilities are made under private label and contract manufacturing agreements, the company does produce three exclusive Phelps Pet Products brands — Phelps Wellness Collection, Callie’s Kitchen and Table Scraps® Disney® treats. The Phelps Wellness Collection was introduced in 2020 in response to customer demand for more pet products that mirrored the health and wellness trends pet owners were following.
Most of the production at the Phelps’ facilities is done in small batches of 800 to 1,000 lbs. The Janesville facility was chosen for its growing room, and production flow on the inside was designed to make space for future capacity. According to Ruffolo, the Janesville plant allowed it to expand operations in Rockford by more than 50% in 2022.
Phelps’ quality control team performs water activity tests on the finished products to test for moisture content, as anything outside specified parameters could jeopardize the quality and shelf life of the treats.
Expanded production capabilities and new processing equipment may be allowing Phelps to grow its business, but Ruffolo says that it’s the company’s investment in its people that has provided Phelps with the necessary ingredients for success. So far, Phelps has added approximately 30 new employees at the Janesville facility, in addition to some internal transfers and promotions from the Rockford facilities.