o you ever wonder where your pet’s food, treats and medications come from?
Most likely, they come from the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor.
Encompassing a 250-mile stretch from Manhattan, Kansas, to Columbia, Missouri, there are more than 300 animal health-related companies, including many of the industry’s most trusted brands. Household names such as Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Merck Animal Health, Simmons Pet Food, Big Heart Pet Brands and Sparhawk Laboratories run operations throughout the corridor.
This network of researchers, veterinarians, engineers, scientists and manufacturers is home to the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world, employing more than 14,000 people and accounting for 56% of global animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales.
A Feast for Fido
For 75 years, Hill’s Pet Nutrition has reaped the benefits of basing its operations in Kansas. The global pioneer in science-led pet nutrition runs multiple locations throughout the corridor, including two new facilities that opened in 2023.
At the beginning of the year, Hill’s relocated its global and U.S. headquarters to Aspiria in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. The company extensively searched the Midwest region to find the perfect place for this project. Key attributes such as its centralized location, major metro and proximity to Kansas City International Airport marked Overland Park as the top contender for the company’s new home.
“The pet food industry has been looking for a better source for the highest quality, traceable and reliable nutritional ingredients for their products, and we are thrilled to be able to deliver for the industry and for ‘pet parents’ with this new facility in Tonganoxie.”
— Dimitri de Vreeze, Co-CEO, DSM
In addition to this move, Hill’s celebrated the grand opening of yet another manufacturing site in the Sunflower State last October. The company already operates its Pet Nutrition Center in Topeka, a 170-acre research and development campus in North Topeka, and a plant in Emporia. Hill’s new facility in Tonganoxie, though, is designed differently than its predecessors.
“It’s only appropriate that as we celebrate Hill’s 75th anniversary, we are able to unveil the next chapter of smart manufacturing innovation in the pet food industry,” said John Hazlin, president and CEO of Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “The Hill’s Tonganoxie plant helps set the stage for the continued growth of our science-led nutrition, increasing our capacity and our ability to better serve the evolving needs of pets and pet owners in the United States and around the world.”
Located on more than 80 acres at the Tonganoxie Business Park, the 365,000-sq.-ft. plant has been dubbed a “smart factory” due to its high-tech features such as enhanced food safety systems, automation and robotic devices, artificial intelligence to power a digital food safety vigilance system, and end-to-end digital process/safety monitoring.
“Hill’s will utilize technology to work alongside Hill’s staff and a new state-of-the-art mission control center to provide unprecedented visibility and monitoring through every aspect of pet food making from ingredient intake to final packaging,” said Chad Sharp, director of manufacturing for the Tonganoxie plant. “The production process is an entirely enclosed system from ingredient mixing to cooking and container filling —designed to prevent food exposure to environmental contaminants.”
With this new technology, Hill’s aims to shorten the production cycle and improve speed to market for more than 170 varieties of wet pet food.
On October 16, 2023, Hill’s Pet Nutrition held a ribbon cutting at its new smart factory in Tonganoxie.
Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Commerce
Since its opening, the plant received a LEED Gold certification, making it the first site to achieve that standard within the Colgate-Palmolive company, and it created 100 jobs in Leavenworth County. Tonganoxie’s access to a diverse talent pool was among the many reasons Hill’s chose to expand in the city. The company also listed its excellent location, strong community and proximity to distributors and suppliers as influencing factors.
Join the Pack
Hill’s expanding presence and the growing horde of industry giants in the region continue to draw companies to the corridor. This ecosystem of innovation, commercialization, research, manufacturing, distribution and logistics has created a network that corporations across the animal health industry want to join.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s newest neighbor at the Tonganoxie Business Park, DSM, is among the latest companies to join the cluster. The Netherlands-based company broke ground in July on a 70,000-sq.-ft. nutritional premix plant at the park, which will supply animal health companies with high-quality premixes for use in branded pet food. DSM chose this site due to the plethora of leading pet food manufacturers nearby, enabling the company to attract business and reduce supply-chain risks and logistics expenses.
Like all North American DSM facilities, this plant will operate on 100% renewable electricity. Its automated mixing vessels will also reduce waste by decreasing the flushes necessary for sequencing.
Additionally, the plant will feature innovative precision micro-batching capabilities, allowing for precise automated micro-additions of ingredients in a traceable method. This technology will support a broader range of ingredients while improving accuracy and automated weight verification.
“The pet food industry has been looking for a better source for the highest quality, traceable and reliable nutritional ingredients for their products, and we are thrilled to be able to deliver for the industry and for ‘pet parents’ with this new facility in Tonganoxie,” said DSM Co-CEO Dimitri de Vreeze. “We appreciate the support of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, the Kansas Department of Commerce, the Leavenworth County Development Corporation, the City of Tonganoxie, Evergy and the Animal Health Corridor in making this state-of-the-art facility a reality.”