A Champion Among Us: Champion Petfoods Selects First U.S.-Based Kitchen
When Canada-based Champion Petfoods decided to expand operations to the U.S., site selection was of the utmost importance, but not for the reasons typical to most U.S. manufacturers. Yes, it was important to choose a site with easy interstate access, competitive energy costs and a strong labor pool. But, above all else, the home to Champion’s first U.S.-based pet food kitchen would have a robust and vibrant agricultural community, diverse enough to supply all of the ingredients for its premium pet food brands. After two years of searching, Champion selected Auburn, Ky., a community rich in agriculture that could fulfill its fresh ingredient needs.
It may come as a surprise to some that a successful pet food producer like Champion relies solely on regional agriculture to make its products. This approach doesn’t sound very cost-competitive, after all. But, according to them, that’s precisely why Champion has become Canada’s largest specialty pet food producer. Fresh regional ingredients are a cornerstone to Champion’s mission and vision, and a key component of what they call their “BAFRINO™” mandate.
BAFRINO™ is an acronym coined and trademarked by Champion that stands for biologically appropriate, fresh regional ingredients, and never outsourced.
“Biologically appropriate in its simplest form means matching the food to the animal,” said Peter Muhlenfeld, chief brand officer for Champion. “That might seem obvious, but it’s not in the pet food world. If you think about a cow, its jaws move side to side. It also has four stomachs in order to process plants easily. Dogs’ and cats’ jaws move up and down and have sharp, strong teeth for ripping and tearing. They don’t chew their food, they swallow it, and have very short digestive systems evolved for meat. A biologically appropriate food has a lot of meat, and a rich diversity of meat. We match the food to the eating anatomy of the animal.”
The “FRI” in BAFRINO™ stands for fresh regional ingredients. Part of Champion’s vision is to earn the trust of pet lovers worldwide, and they believe this starts with using only fresh regional ingredients.
“If we want to be trusted by pet lovers, we need to know who we are buying our ingredients from,” said Muhlenfeld. “We want to be connected to the farms, connected to the agricultural community. We want to be able to tell people where the cows, chicken and fish we use come from.”
Lastly, “NO” stands for never outsourced. Muhlenfeld says the company follows one simple rule when it comes to outsourcing: they don’t make food for anybody else, and they don’t allow anybody else to make food for them.
“We never outsource,” he said. “This is part of the reason we are here today, because the conventional way for pet food companies to expand is to find pet food makers in the U.S. that have excess capacity. They would love to make our foods for us. But that wouldn’t fit our mission, and that’s the reason we’re building. If we want to grow, we have to build our own kitchens, buy our own ingredients, and make our own food.”
Champion’s new pet food kitchen will represent an $85 million investment in Auburn, Ky. and will add 147 new jobs to the community. State and local officials are celebrating these numbers, but are even more excited about the new agricultural opportunities Champion’s presence will bring.
“In Canada, when we want an ingredient that doesn’t exist, we get people to grow it for us,” said Muhlenfeld. “We have people ranching wild boar for us. That’s an animal that’s a perfect fit with our mandate, so we go to the agricultural community and we partner, and we feel this is a phenomenal place to do that.”
“That spin-off effect is going to be huge for this whole area, especially for our farm community,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. “We look forward to seeing this Kentucky-made product on the store shelves throughout the United States.”
Governor Beshear is credited with helping attract Champion Petfoods to Kentucky after he visited the company on a trade mission to Canada two years ago.
“Under the governor’s leadership and his genuine understanding of BAFRINO™, he’s demonstrated the interest in getting to know us,” said Frank Burdzy, president and CEO of Champion. “It is a personal reason we are here, and it’s because of the commitment on behalf of the governor and his team that reached out to us and made us feel welcome.”
Champion Petfoods was founded some 30 years ago by Reinhard Muhlenfeld in Alberta, Canada with two employees: one who made the pet food and one who packaged it. At that time, the company only sold food to local farmers. Today, Champion Petfoods has over 250 employees in two locations in Canada, and sells food in 70 countries across the globe. The company has been recognized with top honors for its ACANA™ and Orijen™ pet food brands in nearly every major pet industry awards program.
The Kentucky Kitchen will make both brands, but will differ in taste from Canadian-made foods due to the use of fresh regional ingredients produced in Kentucky. This kitchen will supply the company’s pet food to the U.S. market, while its Canada locations will focus on supplying Canadian, European and Asian markets.
“Our new kitchens will be the most advanced pet food kitchens anywhere in the world, custom designed and fitted for handling multiple authentically fresh and local ingredients,” said Muhlenfeld. “We’re destined for success. There is no question in our minds that we have picked the right place, and we’re looking forward to a long-standing relationship.”