Ashleigh's (Brewer store manager) crew: Charlie, Ty, Whynnie, McCoy, and Murray
Ashleigh here! You might remember me from my blog post where I introduced you to my 6 (yep, that's right 6!) dogs, and what is in their bowls at meal time.
My dogs eat a never-ending rotation of foods, but one of our staples is Orijen. My pups specifically go nuts for the Regional Red formula. So when Heidi asked if I would be interested in traveling to Kentucky to visit the Champion Dogstar Kitchen in September, I answered with a very enthusiastic YES!
To say the trip was a whirlwind would be a vast understatement. I think we were all recovering for a week afterwards from two non-stop days of flights, Ubers, buses, sightseeing, and -most of all-learning! Even with the extreme need for coffee and naps in the week following, the trip was well-worth it and now I am excited to share everything I saw.
The morning of the kitchen tour started with a quick refresher on the promise that the Champion brand makes every bag of food they sell: biologically appropriate food, made with fresh, regional ingredients, with production that is never outsourced.
Biologically Appropriate means the food is composed with a carnivore in mind. Dogs and cats
have no carbohydrate requirement, so Champion products are some of the lowest carb kibbles produced. Instead, they're packed with named meats, organs, and cartilage. Instead of selecting a few key ingredients and asking “what do we need to supplement to make this a complete diet?” Champion asked “what ingredients do we need to create a complete diet?” Because of this, these foods contain an ingredient panel you can actually read through and very few supplements.
We then got to meet Chris Milam, Director of Ingredient and Supplier Partnerships, who spoke to the “Fresh, Regional Ingredients” portion of the Champion promise. Sourcing is one of the things that gets glossed over in most pet foods; some companies will deny you information about what country their ingredients come from, much less the specific suppliers. Champion creates partnerships with their suppliers. Instead of shopping around for the cheapest deal of the day, the ingredients come from sources that are consistent, reliable, and trusted. Their pictures are even on the back of your Champion bags!
We took a short break for an amazing “eat like your dog” lunch. No, we did not eat dog food like I was originally concerned about. We did however eat a delicious meal made up of ingredients from the exact same suppliers that provide ingredients for Orijen and Acana!
Then we got to the best part- to see the reality of “Never Outsourced”. After removing all jewelry, suiting up in our borrowed boots, lab coats, and hair nets (note: we looked AWESOME!) our tour guide Travis sent us to the hand-washing station and then onto the boot scrubber. Sanitation is no joke to these folks, and it showed in every part of the facility. It was so clean!
The first stop on the tour was the freeze-driers. Four massive cylinders are cut in half by a wall. Raw ingredients go in on the raw side, and are pulled out from the opposite side to prevent cross contamination. This step ensures that the safety of the finished freeze-dried food, which has been properly processed to be stored at room temperature, is not compromised. The freeze-dried products produced here range from treats, complete foods, and they even make their own freeze-dried coating for their kibble!
The next stop on our tour was the ingredient storage. Each ingredient has it's own suspended chamber. This process is a well-oiled machine, with a system that measures and blends precise amounts of each ingredient depending on the formula being made. And then once everything is mixed, the food is pushed through a mold to shape and partially cook the kibble. The kibble fresh off the line at this point was not completely dried and was able to be ripped with your hands. It then continues down the line to get completely dried and coated with that freeze-dried liver from the beginning of the tour!
Having multiple lines of production allows them to properly sanitize between batches.
Before we went off to packaging, we saw the monitoring room. Each step of the process is displayed on large screens with details about the many factors and controls of each step. The amount of information you can take in just by glancing through this room is amazing!
Packaging was just plain fun to watch! The bags are positioned, opened, filled, sealed, and sent on their way down the line under the supervision of employees. The employees here take multiple completed bags from each lot at different times during the process for further testing to ensure quality. There is quality control at every step of production!
The bags are then stored in the warehouse area which is the end of the production line. Bags are held until the sample bags from their lots have been tested and come back clear and safe! Their inventory numbers are also the envy of any retailer, with an accuracy percentage in the high 90's!
Overall, this experience was not one any of us will soon forget. I am so grateful for the opportunity to see where this food is made. I am also appreciative to leave the Dogstar Kitchen feeling even more confident pouring Orijen into the bowls of my 6 hungry pups!
Adam (Waterville store manager), Ashleigh (Brewer store manager), Heidi (owner), Melody (Rockland store manager), April (operations manager), and Robin (Belfast store manager) visit the Champion Petfoods Dogstar Kitchen in Auburn, Kentucky.