Old dog, new tricks
A high-speed inkjet case-coding system serves up a real productivity treat for innovative Ontario contract manufacturer of premium private-label dog snacks
November 21, 2018
Being a man’s designated best friend carries a lot of responsibility. But it’s also a job that comes with plenty of rewards for the millions of pet dogs faithfully serving their human owners with unmatched loyalty
and affection across our vast land.
And with the quickest way to the dog’s heart often running through the pooch’s stomach, companies like the Aurora, Ont.-based Buddy’s Kitchen play a big part in enabling Canadian dog-owners and their beloved canines to forge everlasting bonds of genuine friendship and priceless companionship.
Founded in 2011, the family-owned company is a fast-growing manufacturer of all-natural, premium-quality private-label pet snacks and treats produced for some of the leading retailers and pet-food brands all over the world.
The company’s products can be found in most channels where Canadians buy their pet food—from pet product specialists Global Pet Foods and PetValu to mainstream grocery chains like Walmart and Loblaws—along with various veterinarian channels.
Billing itself as an innovation hub for high-quality and nutritious pet food products, the company’s growth to date can be conservatively described as exceptionally fast-paced.
Quickly outgrowing the production capacity of the company’s very first 5,000-square-foot facility, Buddy’s Kitchen moved literally up the street in 2015 into a new next-generation 22,000-square-foot factory
nearby, which was further expanded in March 2018 to accommodate the operation’s growing business.
“That brings us to approximately 38,000-squarefeet of production space,” says the company’s jovially upbeat vice-president of operations and product innovation Maurizio Barbieri, who naturally happens
to be a very happy and caring dog-owner himself.
“You could says we’re in the pet humanization business,” Barbieri told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the lively 30-employee facility working on one-shift, five-days-a-week schedule throughout
most of the year, occasionally adding a second shift to cope with seasonal demand upticks during the cottage and holiday seasons.
“A pet is truly a member of your family,” Barbieri proclaims. “Mom and dad, the pet parents, when they’re buying products they’re looking at the labels closely—they want to know what’s inside this bag.
“So we always strive to produce a clean and natural label,” Barbieri says, “so that even though we are a snack company, we sell a healthy snack.”
While the Canadian market accounts for the largest portion of the company’s output, Buddy’s Kitchen has also managed to cultivate a growing customer base in the U.S—its biggest export market—as well as Australia and, most recently, Japan, while also obtaining all the required certifications for exporting to the European Union (EU) countries.
Audited as a designated craft food facility, the Buddy’s Kitchen plant has also earned the internationally recognized is GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certification for food safety and the MSC (Marine
Stewardship Council) accreditation for its sustainable procurement practices.
“If you’re going to be serious about offering a true healthy product, you have to have the letters behind you,” Barbieri asserts.
“We attach a lot of importance to the transparency of our production process, including the high hygiene standards, the full product traceability, and the openness of our facility.”
As a proud and knowledgeable dog owner who is well aware of the domesticated dogs’ relatively short life-span, Barbieri says he has great empathy for other dog-owners trying the extend their pets’ lives through better eating habits and a lifestyle that can help overcome or prevent the onset of cancer, diabetes, obesity and other afflictions.
That’s why Buddy’s Kitchen focuses exclusively on making all-natural products, Barbieri says, noting that about 85 per cent of the company’s raw ingredients—including buckwheat and barley—are locally-sourced from farmers and processors in the surrounding York Region.
Barbieri says the requirement for transparency in ingredients and product labeling is of paramount importance to Buddy’s Kitchen and the new generation of Canadian pet-owners.
“Today’s millennials want to see things for themselves—they don’t want to be told things,” Barbieri states. “So we have to be transparent.
“They want clean ingredients, they want to be able to understand the ingredients, and they want to know where they come from,” says Barbieri, citing the company’s “hands-on approach for how we produce
“We don’t just make a mix, push a button, and expect perfect treats to come out the end,” he states.
“I don’t know how to do that, I won’t do that,” says Barbieri, noting that all of the plant’s employees are trained to use all their senses in assessing the quality of the product being made at any particular time.
“We like to touch, feel and smell the product that we’re producing,” he states.
This hands-on approach goes beyond making the treat.
As Barbieri relates, many of the company’s clients pay regular visits to the facility to brainstorm ideas and discuss what they are looking for in a product, with Barbieri and his staff often providing useful advice on marketing the product and industry intelligence.
“We listen to our clients and we develop the brand story with our clients,” Barbieri says.
“We don’t just take the order and say, ‘Good luck, we’ll see you when we finish your 10,000 pounds of treats.’
“We really and truly look at our customers as partners,” Barbieri points out.
“We constantly engage with them to make sure that when their product goes out to market, it’s beyond what they expected.”
While the pet food industry is dominated by big players such as Nestlé Purina, Smucker’s and General Foods, with vastly bigger resources and deeper pockets, Barbieri insists that there is plenty of room in the market for smaller players like Buddy’s Kitchen, who are agile enough to leverage speed-to-market as an important competitive advantage.
“We have to go up against all the big boys in town,” he remarks, “but as a private-label manufacturer, we can support the marketing companies that we work with.
“Buddy’s Kitchen is an innovation hub; we’re just not a co-packer,” he says. “The world doesn’t need another dog treat.
“More is not better—better is better.”
Barbieri says the company employs a similar mindset when sourcing its production and packaging machinery and supplies.
The same philosophy applies to the equipment that they outsource—stressing the importance of local service support.
“Service is probably the most important part of the entire deal,” Barbieri states.
“Yes, the machine has to do what it’s asked to do, but we need to be able to pick up the phone and get service right away when we need it.”
The Buddy’s Kitchen plant houses a total of four production lines—equipped with extruders, wire cutters, and meat saws—while using an assortment of automatic filling machines and vertical form-fill-sealing (VFFS) machinery to package the finished product into resealable pouches.
“The machines don’t break down a heck of a lot as a rule,” Barbieri says. “We have a capable maintenance crew to take care of little things, but if the problem goes beyond them, then it’s time to call our partners’ service departments.”
Some of those key partners include Tempo Plastics Limited, the company’s ‘go-to’ supplier of flexible packaging pouches based in Innissfill, Ont.; JDA Progress Industries Ltd., Woodbridge, Ont.-based manufacture of automatic filling and packaging machinery; and Oshawa, Ont.-based Dependable Marking Systems, the authorized Canadian distributor of the full range of product coding and marking
systems produced by Squid Ink Manufacturing, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn.
As Barbieri recalls, he was quickly sold on installing Squid Ink technology to take care of his plant’s product traceability requirements soon after being introduced to the company and completing a successful test run of Squid Ink’s CoPilot 500 hi-resolution printing system.
Developed to replace manual application of pressure-sensitive labels to corrugated shipping containers, the CoPilot 500 prints all the required product information and codes directly onto the corrugated boxes—significantly speeding up the whole process.
“With our CoPilot 500 printing system, customers can print reliable codes right onto their boxes,” says Jay Sinclair, Squid Ink’s director of sales for the eastern region.
“Our customers typically have multiple SKUs (stock-keeping units) to deal with, so it’s very important for them to be able to change their coded messages quickly.
“Product traceability is very important to both our customers and their customers these days,” Sinclair relates, “so having an efficient system to print dates and time of production information in highly legible formats is a necessity.”
Prior to implementing the CoPilot 500 system, Barbieri and his staff used to hand-stamp the labels by hand in what was a highly inefficient and time-consuming manual operation.
But since installing the CoPilot 500 printer into the plant’s end-of-line-packaging area about five months ago, all those concerns have been put to rest, according to Barbieri.
“It has helped us to speed up our production process,” he extols, “and our retailer customers are appreciative of the clear legible product codes and all the versatility that we now have with our product coding and printing capabilities,” Barbieri extols.
As Sinclair points out, the CoPilot 500 has an intuitive icon-driven color touchscreen interface, similar to those found on smartphones, to provide extremely user-friendly means for operators to input the required product information such as the month and the day of production, the best-before date and the product codes, with full control of the barcode quality.
Says Sinclair: “The beauty about barcoding with high-res printing is we have full control over the bars: the width of the bars, the space in between the bars, and the height of the bars, so that we can manipulate the barcode to get good readability,” says Sinclair.
“If we don’t get a good read, we go back and we manipulate the barcode until we do get a good read.
“Product coding requirements are always changing,” Sinclair notes, “and barcoding and traceability are going to become even more important in the years to come.
“And you can be sure that we will evolve with whatever the marketplace throws our way,” Sinclair states.
“We have been growing in the packaging and manufacturing space for over 25 years now, and we have no intention of slowing down.”
It’s a similar growth-oriented narrative for Buddy’s Kitchen, with Barbieri clearly enthused by his company’s promising potential to achieve even higher levels of growth in the future.
“Operating in Aurora puts us right in the middle of the highway accessibility, a great labor force pool, and generally a great community to be a part of,” Barbieri explains.
“We have many happy dogs coming to visit us on a daily basis,” he sums up, “and that is reason enough for us to be excited about the future.”