THE JOURNAL RECORD: Behind the growth of Nestlé Purina PetCare’s OKC facility

THE JOURNAL RECORD: Behind the growth of Nestlé Purina PetCare’s OKC facility

By: Kathryn McNutt

Published: August 14, 2023

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The Nestlé Purina PetCare factory in far north Oklahoma City operates around the clock 330 days a year to produce food for dogs and cats, and demand for the products is growing.

Purina has been in the community for 52 years, operating today with 425 employees. When COVID-19 shut down many businesses, their work didn’t stop because food production was deemed essential, said factory manager Joseph Maliszewski, who joined Purina nine months into the pandemic.

“We see ourselves as a food manufacturer. It’s not pet food. It’s food that is consumed by pets,” Maliszewski said.

Purina’s team of 500 scientists and veterinarians develop specialty food for overweight dogs, puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with grain allergies, as well as specialty formula cat foods and foods for cats in all life stages. The Oklahoma City plant produces 50 types that are shipped mostly to states in the South and Southwest.

Between supply chain issues with food ingredients and retailers inflating their orders to make sure they would have product on the shelves, the pandemic caused a crunch. “At times, we did daily reviews to do our best to fill as much as we could,” Maliszewski said.

In 2023 things at the plant have stabilized, and worker turnover is way down, he said. Market analysis shows households taking in more pets and an increase in mixed-pet households.

“There’s an increased demand for our brand,” Maliszewski said. “People are trading up (to a higher-quality food). People are treating their pets like their kids.”

That can be a problem in crisis situations because places that offer shelter for people rarely accept pets.

“Part of Purina’s mission is to take care of pets and the people who love them,” Maliszewski said.

The company recently made donations of $20,000 to Palomar, to help survivors of domestic violence keep their pets, and to the Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City, which delivers free pet food and supplies to low-income seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and people experiencing homeless.

“Palomar is so grateful for the partnership with Purina to help support survivors and their pets,” CEO Hillary Burkholder said. “Knowing there are resources for their beloved pets helps remove a significant barrier victims face when making the difficult decision to leave and the access to these services can be life saving for both the victim and the pet.”

Palomar reports more than 36,000 domestic violence 911 calls are made annually in Oklahoma City and concern about their four-legged family members often keeps victims in abusive and dangerous situations.

According to Palomar’s website, 89% of women who had pets during an abusive relationship reported their pets were threatened, harmed or killed by their abusive partner. More than half of domestic violence survivors reported they delayed leaving a dangerous situation out of fear for their pets.

That situation nationwide is what prompted Nestlé Purina PetCare to launch its Purple Leash Project nearly a decade ago. The goal is to help ensure at least 25% of U.S. domestic violence shelters offer pet-friendly services by the end of 2025.

Homeless shelters face the same challenge. Maliszewski said the local Purina factory also supports the City Care night shelter, where people seeking shelter overnight can bring their pets to the pet hotel.

The plant also recently partnered with independent local brewery Coop Ale Works and Bar K Dog Bar to benefit the Oklahoma Humane Society. For the remainder of 2023, each pint of Coop’s Lounge Hound Lager purchased at Bar K will trigger a combined $1 donation from Coop Ale Works and Purina.

“We believe all pets should be taken of,” Maliszewski said.

Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Nestlé Purina PetCare held the largest portion of U.S. pet food market in 2022 with $19.2 billion in sales, according to Petfood Industry.