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Customer Testimonial: Pet Food Success Through Speed and Reliability with The Honest Kitchen

Sep 01, 2022

A loyal following and a surge in production demand is The Honest Kitchen story. Their high standards in quality for pet food have set them up for rapid growth and long-term success.

We partnered with THK to deliver an end-to-end solution that met their growing production needs and helped alleviate the workload of optimizing a new facility.

Since 2002, The Honest Kitchen evolved into a team of incredibly passionate animal-loving foodies that never stops striving for better, more creative, and tastier solutions. THK operates under a strict set of standards that Lucy Postins, THK Founder and Chief Integrity Officer, created on day one. THK works hard to keep raising the bar on quality and integrity with their human-grade pet food products that continue to cause a stir across the pet food industry.

High Demand in Product Required One-Stop Solution

Almost immediately after opening the factory in Los Angeles, THK realized quickly that the company had outgrown its facility and needed to expand to meet its customers’ demands, creating a project scope with stringent deadlines, high expectations, and the need for a vendor who could supply an end-to-end solution.

“The product that we make here in Topeka is called Whole Food Clusters. We can’t make enough of it. It is flying off the shelves,” said Stuart Harness, Director of Product at THK. “The timelines to open this plant were extremely aggressive. I also had twenty- to thirty-year-old equipment before, and that was a very manual changeover process.” 

Finding the Ideal Packaging Machine Vendor

According to the American Pet Products Association, U.S. consumers spent $123.6 billion on their pets in 2021 — up nearly 15 percent over pre-pandemic pet spending in 2019. This noticeable surge in demand is explained by pet owners having become increasingly aware of their pets’ health: Chronic health conditions like itchy skin, digestive upset, and ear problems have been tangibly linked to poor pet food quality.

In early 2020, THK started a brownfield project with BSM Partners to open a dry pet food manufacturing facility in Topeka, KS. BSM Partners – an engineering firm that traditionally works with pet food companies to invent ingredients and specifications for pet food products – was seeking a packaging equipment partner with knowledge and a lot of experience in the pet food industry. Having worked with every major pet food manufacturer globally, BW Flexible Systems was a natural fit for the job.

“Any time you start up a factory, there’s always challenges. The one thing I’ve never worried about is that packaging machinery line,” said Harness. “From day one BW Flexible Systems’ employees were very responsive to our concerns. They listened to exactly what we were trying to accomplish, what we needed in a large packaging line.”

Packaging lines, especially in the pet food industry, are not a one size fits all and THK required a highly efficient solution that kept its operators safe. “All the recommendations were spot on,” said Harness.

Modular Solutions and Peace of Mind

BW Flexible Systems’ innovation was broad-based, with options for automatic changeover and a highly interactive HMI operator control system to establish ideal settings. The modularity of the equipment, ranging from the scales to the baggers, the conveyers, palletizing, and even stretch wrapping, helped optimize the application for THK.

“BWFS even got simple things like the interior lighting correct,” said Harness. “The bucket scales that came with the line, they hit the set point target almost perfectly every time.”

Best weight accuracy and best production rates were two of the top needs that THK requested, which BW Flexible Systems was able to offer by integrating quad scales instead of duplex scales above the UltraStar bagger.

The UltraStar bagger solution also included:

-A servo bag picker in place of the standard air cylinder driven bag picker for smoother operation and easier adjustment

-A servo driven actuator to raise and lower the spouts in place of the standard air cylinder. (smoother operation and easier adjustment)

-Air deflation in the bag fill area which removes excess air from the bags, thus preventing the hermetically sealed bags from becoming balloon-like and difficult to palletize

-Ports in the hopper between scales and bagger to allow the future addition of coupons into the bags

-An integral sealer to seal their plastic bags. The seal bars have a Teflon cloth over them which reduces maintenance and the need to clean the bars

-LED interior lighting that is white (normal operation), yellow (minor issue), or red (show-stopper issue). This helps operators identify and correct any faults more efficiently

-Centralized lubrication that allows the bearings in the bagger to be greased from the outside of the machine without stopping production

Additionally, BW Flexible Systems supplied an X-Ray machine to check filled bags for a wider range of contaminants than a metal detector, which would only detect metal contaminants.

Thinking of Future Generations

THK had a vision for the direction in which they wanted to develop: what their needs were from a technical standpoint but also from a future-oriented growth perspective.

“Barry-Wehmiller has been around for a very long time, and we know for at least twenty or thirty years, we’re going to be able to rely on BW Flexible Systems. Having an end-to-end solution from one vendor is a huge advantage. From an engineering perspective, from an integration perspective - everything just flows.”

Currently, the bag palletizing is manual and the system is designed to easily enable the integration of an automatic palletizer with minimum redundancy of existing equipment. 

Looking for support in updating and optimizing your old or new facility? Our engineering expertise and customization capabilities position BW Flexible Systems as an ideal partner to deliver solutions suited for pet food and other manufacturers who value reliability, high operational efficiency, as well as sustainable and sanitary solutions. Explore our synergy of brands with a huge portfolio offering or reach out to us directly to discuss your needs and how we can help!