Whether Yorkies, Papillons, French bulldogs or Pomeranians, America has fallen in love with small dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, ownership of small dogs, those that weigh less than 20 pounds, has surged since the start of the new century, even as numbers of large and medium-sized dogs actually declined in American households.
In June 2021, Topeka-based Hill’s Pet Nutrition cut the ribbon on Small Paws — a $30-million, 25,000-sq.-ft. nutrition innovation center focused on the needs of small canines.
“All around the world, there’s a steady increase in the popularity of small dogs,” said Dave Baloga, vice president. “The Small Paws Innovation Center will allow us to better understand their needs and discover new ways to help them lead happy, healthy lives.”
The opening of Small Paws makes Hill’s the only pet food company in the U.S. with an innovation center specially designed for small and mini-sized dogs. The company intends to utilize the facility not only to study canine nutrition but also behaviors, genetics, genomics, and microbiomics to support food development.
The Small Paws center is to eventually house up 80 small dogs that will have the benefit of specially formulated nutrition developed to their unique needs. An associated Engagement Center will host seminars, continuing education programs and other activities for thousands of veterinary students and professionals each year.
“We are always investing in technology and development to serve the nutritional needs of pets as well as learning from veterinarians, customers and caregivers through their experiences,” said Hill’s President Jesper Nordengaard. “This is how we fulfill our mission to help enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets and live our goal of transforming lives.”
Dinner Time Yet?
Hill’s Science Diet is the country’s No. 1 vet-recommended line of pet food products for both dogs and cats. Founded in Kansas in 1907, the company employs about 750 people with revenue of $2.2 billion. It operates food manufacturing plants in Topeka and Emporia, as well as Bowling Green, Kentucky and Richmond, Indiana.
Over the summer of 2021, Hill’s broke ground on what’s to become its fifth pet food factory at Tonganoxie Business Park in Tonganoxie, just west of Kansas City and 40 miles from the pet food giant’s Topeka headquarters. The investment in the 300,000-sq.-ft. facility, first announced as $250 million, has since been expanded to $325 million, which makes it the largest-ever single economic development project in Leavenworth County. The new facility in Tonganoxie is to employ about 80 people by 2025 and is scheduled to launch production in 2023.
“Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s decision to invest in Kansas and bring 80 new jobs to Tonganoxie is further proof that Kansas’ Animal Health Corridor can out-compete any region in the world for these industry investments and jobs,” said Governor Laura Kelly when the project was announced in June. “With our central location, talented workforce and reputation as a global leader in animal health and science, our partnership with Hill’s is a no-brainer.”
Hill’s said it chose the 80-acre site for its premier location, access to a diverse pool of workers and strong support from the local community.
“This looks like a fantastic smart-growth project for our community,” said David Frese, mayor of Tonganoxie. “It checks a bunch of the right boxes. A Kansas company; an environmentally up-to-date facility; a manageable influx of new neighbors; great jobs that pay well; high-tech opportunities for our young people; the possibility of attracting more business to Tonganoxie; and a boon to the city’s economy.”
Hill’s has designed the plant to by LEED certified, the environmentally friendly designation awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. As with all of its manufacturing facilities, Hill‘s also plans to certify the Tonganoxie factory under the Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE®) program for zero waste.
The Biggest Just Keeps Getting Bigger
Hill’s is but one of the largest players in the world’s most prolific concentration of animal health concerns. The Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, which straddles a 250-mile stretch of Interstate 70 from roughly Manhattan, Kansas, to Columbia, Missouri, is home to more than 300 animal health-related companies, which also Simmons Pet Food, Hyper Pet, Sparhawk Laboratories, Biomin, Dechra, Kansas City Treats and Merck Animal Health.
New Jersey-based Merck recently announced investments of $100 million in its DeSoto manufacturing facility to expand the production vaccines for swine, cattle and horses with key technologies in research and development, production and quality control operations. The site houses large-scale fermentation and cell culture, blending and filling operations and packaging, along with monoclonal antibody manufacturing.
“We are excited about the opportunity to bring capital improvements, expansion in our manufacturing capacity and capabilities and advanced technology to our DeSoto facility, thereby strengthening our footprint in Kansas,” said Pamela Stoops, executive director of the company’s DeSoto Operations.