BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN While the heavy machinery has been moving dirt at the corner of McKinley Parkway and Highway 12 for a couple weeks, some shiny shovels manned by representatives of KLN Family Brands, the City of Delano, and design and construction company CRB got in on the action Wednesday for the official groundbreaking of a 170,000-square-foot facility for Tuffy’s Treat Company.
“We can’t say enough for you taking a chance on Delano,” Mayor Dale Graunke said. “We want this to be home to you.”
“Delano is somewhere that reminds us of us,” said Charlie Nelson, president of KLN Family Brands, the parent company of Tuffy’s Treat Company.
City Councilman Jason Franzen, City Administrator Phil Kern, City Planner Alan Brixius, Delano Area Chamber of Commerce President Michelle Harwood, DACC Executive Director Ryan Gueningsman, DACC Task Force Chair John Tackaberry, and other area residents joined Graunke in welcoming Tuffy’s representatives.
The history of KLN Family Brands
As the name suggests, KLN is a family-owned business.
It started with Darrell “Tuffy” Nelson, who earned his nickname as a 12-year-old when he fell out of a tree but refused to cry in front of the older boys who saw him fall.
Tuffy laid the groundwork for KLN and the pet food products bearing his name when he opened DuMor Feeds/Pine Lake Feeds in 1947.
When his son, Kenny, graduated from the University of Notre Dame and returned home in 1964, the two teamed up to start Tuffy’s Pet Foods.
Tuffy retired in 1971, the same year the business was sold to StarKist Foods, a division of HJ Heinz.
After continuing to work at the business for a couple years, Kenny went on to found Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods with the help of 10 employees in 1973.
Fourteen years later, he opened Kenny’s Candy.
In the meantime, Tuffy’s Pet Foods changed hands, with Doane Pet Care taking ownership.
“We bought it back from Doane Pet Care,” said Charlie, who joined the company at that time. “They were going to close the facility; they had no intentions of keeping it operational. At that point, my dad and others who had worked there for a number of years . . . figured out a way for dad to buy it back, really in the 11th hour. It meant too much to our community to lose. We wanted to keep it up-and-running with very little strategy involved, other than keeping people employed.”
Tuffy’s joined Barrel O’ Fun and Kenny’s Candy under the umbrella of KLN Enterprises, which was formed in 1995.
Charlie’s challenge was to strategize how the company would sell pet food again.
“We learned we needed to get into the premium space of pet food,” Charlie said. “That led us to the label called NutriSource . . . NutriSource is distributed throughout the US, Canada, and another dozen or so countries throughout the world.”
Change and growth
KLN Family Brands has changed a lot in the last nine years.
The company moved into a new headquarters in 2010, launched NutHeads Chocolate Factory in 2012, sold Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods to Shearer’s Snacks in 2015, and combined NutHeads with Kenny’s Candy in 2016.
Tuffy’s has grown, as well.
The business moved into a new, $70 million, 130,000-square-foot plant and warehouse in Perham in 2015, with more capital investments of new equipment and a meat room in 2017.
“We’ve grown, expanded, and had a lot of fun,” Charlie said. “We decided it was time to expand and, for a number of reasons, we decided to do so outside of Perham.”
One reason was the lack of workforce.
“We have a number of companies in town that are busy and growing,” Charlie said. “We have more jobs than people in Perham. While we continue to recruit people to make Perham home, we still have to be a little realistic and not steal from our neighbors, and put up a facility somewhere else, where we felt we could find the workforce, and we like the idea of being near the Twin Cities and the freightline opportunities of being near Minneapolis, as far as distribution is concerned.”
“We wanted to make sure we were getting into the shipping lanes, but wanted to stay in a community that’s pro growth and progressive about how they handle business,” added Mark Sailer, KLN Family Brands director of engineering. “ . . . They were pretty aggressive in saying, ‘We want Tuffy’s and KLN to be part of the community and help the community grow. It was a pretty refreshing introduction to the Delano community.”
The Delano facility is set to open in November of 2020.
Processing will make up about 60 percent of the facility’s use, while administration and warehousing will take up the remaining 40 percent.
Initially, the company plans to hire about 75 employees.
“As we’re installing key pieces of equipment, we’re going to want people to get familiar with them,” Charlie said, noting that some employees will be hired months before the facility opens.
The goal is to have 150 employees when the facility is at its full capacity.
“Realistically, we’re probably talking a couple years,” Sailer said. “It will ramp up over time, and we’ll start filling some of that business. There is more business out there.”
Just how many tons of pet treats will be produced in Delano?
The facility will feature two extrusion lines producing 9,000 pounds of semi-moist pet treats each hour and six packaging lines producing stand-up re-sealable pouches.
Currently, the company manufactures 5,000 tons of treats, but wants to be able to produce 25,000 tons.
That number will likely grow in the future.
With that in mind, KLN representatives made sure there was room for expansion.
“We certainly have expansion at the forefront of the current design to make sure we don’t do anything day one that hinders us from expanding down the road,” Charlie said. “From an efficiency standpoint, we want to keep it (production and warehousing) in the same facility as much as possible. That’s certainly the reason we purchased 22 acres instead of 10.”
Will the facility add any smells to the Delano area landscape?
“We get asked that question a lot,” Sailer said. “ . . . We’re not drying and emitting moisture off the product. It’s a relatively low-smell -type process. There shouldn’t be any adverse odors people notice going by the plant. It’s not scent-free. I wouldn’t want to go around saying that.”
Sailer added that the company has a plan in place with the City of Delano to address any problem smells in the future.
“We’ve been a company that strongly believes in giving back,” Charlie said. “ . . . In the last five years or so, we’ve gotten more deliberate and proactive with our giving. It’s led to a number of partnerships.”
One such partnership is with the Mayo Clinic.
Another is with the Pinky Swear Foundation, which provides support for children with cancer and their families.
KLN also works with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“We’re covering the cost so they can have a dog on staff in the children’s clinic to help children who are there for long periods of time,” Charlie said.
“These are things we like to do,” he continued. “We’re fortunate to do it and will continue to do it. It’s a bit part of who we are and what we stand for as we think about the future and the people in our organization that make it possible to do that.”