This freeze-dried pet food and treat pioneer describes itself as “a meat shop for dogs and cats.”
Lanny Viegut, chief executive officer of Carnivore Meat Company, describes the business as “a meat shop for dogs and cats,” but the Green Bay, Wis-based manufacturer of raw frozen and freeze-dried pet food and treats, parent company to the Vital Essentials brand, is more than a simple “meat shop.” The company is a pioneer and leading private-label provider in the raw and freeze-dried pet food space.
Butcher cut protein is the name of the game at Carnivore. Beef, chicken, turkey, duck and even rabbit are ground and freeze-dried into high-quality pet food and treats. Carnivore Meat Company has grown year after year since its inception in 2009, and with a new 235,000-square-foot greenfield headquarters and manufacturing facility set to open at the end of 2023, it has the capacity to keep its business growing for years to come.
Viegut first introduced the company’s flagship brand, Vital Essentials, in 2009, leveraging his 15 years of meat industry experience to create a protein-centric line of dog and cat foods and treats. The formulas are built around whole-muscle and -organ meats that, according to Viegut, are vital for dog and cat nutrition, as they provide all key macro and micronutrients needed in their daily diets. Earlier in 2023, the company introduced a rebrand of its Vital Essentials portfolio, complete with revitalized packaging to highlight the brand’s commitment to premium, minimally processed, butcher cut proteins for pets.
In 2016, the Vital Essentials Raw Bar was launched featuring a variety of freeze-dried “animal parts” including bully sticks, duck necks, pig ears, cod skins, duck feet, salmon skins and turkey necks. Freeze-dried duck heads are its No. 3 seller in the VE Raw Bar line, and freeze-dried packaged minnows are the brand’s best-selling dog treat overall.
Being one of the first companies in the freeze-dried and frozen pet food category helped solidify Carnivore’s position in the market. It also helps that the company builds its own freezer dryers. Carnivore’s first freeze dryer took over a year to build. Five years ago, the company had 16 custom-built freeze dryers in operation; now they have 41 Generation 1 and Generation 2 dryers.
There are no added fillers in Carnivore’s products. The rabbit patties pictured here are made from whole rabbit and nothing else.
Patties are flash frozen after forming in order to keep the quality of the meat as fresh as possible. Prior to the freeze-drying process, all product is placed on trays and then loaded onto the freeze-drying carts.
Product, including the top-selling freeze-dried minnows pictured here, is packaged at the company’s 24,800-square-foot Yeager Drive facility.
According to Viegut, the top three features of the new plant include its size, its technology, and the capacity for future growth. This growth includes the infrastructure to ultimately have four times the company’s current capacity. The facility will feature robotics and automation technology, and is set to open at the end of 2023.
As construction is completed in the remainder of the year, Carnivore is prepping to fire up the new freeze dryers to keep its business — and alongside it, the entire freeze-dried pet food segment — growing for years to come.