Tuffy’s Pet Foods

The best nutrition for your four-legged family member
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

For many Americans, their four-legged friends are more than pets; they are members of the family. Since 1964, dog and cat owners have trusted a family-owned name to deliver the best, fresh, wholesome food for their beloved companions: Minnesota-based Tuffy’s Pet Foods (Tuffy’s).

“There are a lot of good pet food labels out there and it’s a hot market sector lately with large investment groups buying in more and more, but we remain family-owned,” reveals Charlie Nelson, third-generation vice president of KLN Family Brands (KLN), Tuffy’s parent company. “Our story starts and ends with high-quality products. People need to feel comfortable with what they’re feeding their pets and that’s what we promise.”

Nelson goes on to note that the company produces and sells very palatable products. “Pets must enjoy eating the food, as well,” he continues. “Finally, just as important, are the strong relationships we have developed with independent, specialty pet product retailers. We support them and in turn, they are some of our best salespeople. They’re the ones talking to customers, making recommendations and handing out our samples – something that’s very important in today’s competitive market.”

First comes first, family ownership

Tuffy’s has come a long way since Darrell “Tuffy” Nelson owned Pine Lakes Feed in Perham, Minn., in 1947. After returning from college Darrell’s son, Kenny Nelson, now president and CEO of KLN, developed the original Tuffy’s dog food formula in partnership with his father, utilizing the materials already in existence at Pine Lakes Feed.

“My grandfather started the business in 1964,” recounts Nelson. “We initially sold the business when he semi-retired in 1971 and for about 30 years, the facility was still in our hometown, but under other ownerships.”

Kenny continued to develop new companies during this time, founding Barrel O’ Fun, a salty snack food manufacturer, in 1973, as well as licorice company Kenny’s Candy in 1987.

“In 2001, KLN bought back the original Tuffy’s facility and for the past 13 years we’ve been getting the word out that Tuffy’s is back; we’re family-owned and -operated, which is very important to us and we have a lot of great products,” shares Nelson. “We have experienced senior management and a skilled workforce who know what they’re doing, and over the last decade, we’ve proven ourselves as a strong producer of pet food.”

Tuffy's Pet Foods

Tuffy’s continues to gain more market share and Nelson says the family-run company is growing so quickly that the biggest challenge is trying to meet demand. “There’s a continuous need in our industry for safe, high-quality pet food,” he continues. “I don’t want to say it is recession-proof, but even when times are tough, people are taking care of their furry family members. Our current challenge is to increase capacity and have the capability to grow our brands and co-packing relationships. That is why we have invested in a new facility.”

A strong presence in Perham

To meet the ever-expanding demand for wholesome pet products, Tuffy’s is expanding into a brand-new, $60 million state-of-the-art facility across the street from its original manufacturing plant in Perham. “We’re going to use our current facility as warehouse space and will have a 600,000-square-foot facility, which will increase our capacity in excess of 50 percent,” reveals Nelson.

Tuffy’s, along with the other KLN brands, including Barrel O’ Fun and Kenny’s Candy, employs nearly half of the Perham workforce. “We’re based in a small community of about 3,000 people,” notes Nelson. “Barrel O’ Fun employs about 800 people and Kenny’s Candy employs about 125 people in addition to the 250 hardworking people at Tuffy’s.”

With its sizable local workforce, Tuffy’s produces super-premium pet food and treats under several labels, including NutriSource, Pure Vita and Natural Planet. The products are sold in nearly 5,000 retailers nationally and – to some extent – internationally. “Approximately 50 percent of our business consists of our own brands and the other 50 percent is co-packing for other pet food customers,” details Nelson.

While Tuffy’s has a line of time-tested products, Nelson says the company is innovative and remains fast and flexible to meet market demand. “Recently, as more humans have gone gluten and grain-free, so have their pets,” he details. “Grain-free is the fastest growing segment in the industry right now – one in four bags of pet food sold are grain-free. We’re rolling out grain-free cat food and other products to meet our customers’ needs and consumer demands.”

Tuffy’s also makes a line of super-premium soft moist pet treats, rich with real chicken, fresh salmon and other protein sources. “We continue to see people caring more and more about their furry family members,” details Nelson. “Their pet is absolutely a member of the family and people are now more concerned about not just what they’re eating, but what their precious pets are, as well.”

From Tuffy’s and the KLN family to yours, Tuffy’s Pet Foods continues to support this healthy, fresh and wholesome movement, producing premium quality food and treats for four-legged family members.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Animal Supply Company
Hood Packaging Corporation
Lortscher Animal Nutrition
Phillips Pet Food & Supplies