This week saw Watties open a new $20 million sterilising plant for its pet food business at the company’s Tomoana site, ensuring manufacturing of the canned product stays in Hastings.
Wattie’s Tomoana site manager Malcolm Reid said it is a game-changer for the company’s pet food division, which accounts for about 12% of the plant’s overall production (including the Chef, Gourmet and Champ brands).
“It secures the future for us in the industry and also keeps us producing locally, a huge thing for us. We’ve replaced our old hydrostatic tower, which was something like 40-50 years old, with new retorts, which are giant steam pressure cookers.”
Cooking with steam enables temperatures well above boiling while the pressure conveniently prevents cans and pouches from blowing up.
Wattie’s pet food is sold in New Zealand and overseas, where the new plant’s 30% growth capability is expected to come from, in established and expanding markets. Covid-related freight disruptions and an increased in pet ownership are creating a global shortage in petfood.
“We export canned products into a lot of different countries across the world, particularly Asia,” says Malcom. “There is a lot of demand for New Zealand-made pet food in Asian countries and we are starting to see that market emerge as a big opportunity.”
That said, there are at least 2 million hungry cats and dogs in NZ, with 41% of households owning an average of 1.7 cats and 34% owning at least one dog – the highest rate of pet ownership in the world!
Reid said a new shift will soon start to meet the demand for pet food in pouches, giving round-the-clock production.
Wattie’s employs more than 900 staff in Hawke’s Bay, rising to 1500 with seasonal labour. In Hawke’s Bay Wattie’s processes fruit and vegetables, food ingredients, sauces and soups, and is part of Kraft Heinz, one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world.
Kraft Heinz’s Australia and New Zealand chairman Mike Pretty said Hawke’s Bay was steadily picking up business from overseas plants and its King St site had grown to be one of the biggest canning facilities in the Southern Hemisphere.