PET Food Processing - March 2018 - 23


This strategy has helped Fresno, California-based
Plato Pet Treats achieve double-digit growth annually
since 2006, and consumers are begging for more.
By Jennifer Semple |


Two years ago, Aaron Merrell, CEO and operating partner of Plato Pet Treats, faced a dilemma. Overthinking
led Merrell to the hard truth that if they didn't improve
the production efficiency of Plato's top-selling dog
treats, Thinkers, the company would be better off not offering that product line.
"We started producing our meat sticks using a collagen casing system, and it was an awesome product,"
Merrell says. "It became one of our best-selling lines,
and it also happened to be the most difficult to produce.
It was slow, labor intensive and casings were a big expense. We realized that if we couldn't innovate in this
area, we were better off not producing this line because
even though it was a good product at a good price, we
just couldn't keep up."

No easy answers
From the beginning, Merrell and his partners knew it
would be challenging to figure out how to bind a mostly
meat-based treat product that dogs would really love.
"We were trying to target a jerky-type product. We
wanted something that was a little bit moist, soft and
easy to chew, and not crumbly or hard like a biscuit or a
bone," Merrell says. "It's a real sweet spot we were trying

to target, and we have found when you have an ingredient as variable as meat, it can be especially challenging.
There was a long learning curve to be able to get that
done reliably."
With a product made primarily of meat, the source
of that ingredient is critical. Plato sources organic
chicken from Northern California, duck out of the
Northeast and salmon from the Pacific Northwest.
Each source has different properties, and to produce a
consistent product that holds together and is palatable,
Plato had to create specs around what works for its
unique process. "That tends to create challenges on the
sourcing side because now we're restricting what we
receive," Merrell says. "We have to have a certain spec
so the product we produce matches our nutrition label.
On top of that, we've made it extra hard on ourselves
by having a very limited ingredient deck so there are
only so many knobs we can turn to adjust for ingredient variances."
Plato currently produces nearly 50 SKUs for the
pet specialty market with two production lines in a
60,000-sq.-ft. facility. It offers dehydrated salmon,
chicken and duck in small bites, strips and sticks. Plato's
strips line includes options with added vegetables, and

Aaron Merrell, CEO
of Plato Pet Treats,
fosters an entrepreneurial spirit within the
company. Plato currently produces nearly
50 SKUs for the pet
specialty market.
Photography by Peter Barreras | March 2018 | PET FOOD PROCESSING


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