Made in the Bekshires | Whole Life Pet Products: The freeze-dried way of improving pet treats

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Photo Gallery | Whole Life Pet Products

PITTSFIELD — In 2007, when the pet food industry was plagued with recalls of tainted products, John Gigliotti saw an opportunity.

"I had been thinking about the idea of having my own brand and having my own line of products. I was pretty intrigued with the idea of manufacturing and so when the recalls happened it was really, for me, the 'ah-ha' moment."

That 'ah-ha' moment led to the formation of Pittsfield-based Whole Life Pet Products in 2009.

Gigliotti, 49, who worked in natural pet food retail before founding Whole Life said, "After about 15 years in retail one of the frustrations I had was that there were a lot of companies that were talking about the qualities of their product, but when you poke at them a little bit it was pretty easy to tell that they were not the quality that they were saying they were.

"A lot of companies talking the talk, and not walking the walk, so to speak," he said. "Our mission is the highest quality safest pet food and treats on earth and that's kind of what started the business."

"Pets went from living in the backyard, to living in the house to living in our beds," he said. "In the food space, it led to opportunities to make higher quality more natural products that resemble what we feed ourselves."

Two lines of treats

The company now enjoys a small portion of the $23 billion American pet food market with two lines of pet treats and hopes to expand within the next five years, buoyed by the launch of a new pet food line in March.

"We're a sub-$5 million company, Gigliotti said. "The market is huge, so we can build a $20 million business and still be a very small percentage of the overall market, that's our five-year goal."

Whole Life products are available in 2,500 stores in North America. The company shipped about 500,000 units last year, Gigliotti said.

"Right now, freeze-dried pet food is actually the hottest category in the natural pet industry. So, the timing was perfect for us to make the leap from treats to food," said Gigliotti.

"We not only want to be here, we love the area, but we want to become a really big company," Gigliotti said. "We want to employ a lot of people."

Part of what facilitated the launch of the new food line was the acquisition of industrial freeze-dryers in 2012, which allows Whole Life to do all of its food preparation in-house instead of outsourcing that work.

"If we're really going to achieve the long-term goals of the company, we have to control the manufacturing process," Gigliotti said. "That was critical to our mission. We had to bring it in house."

With that manufacturing equipment Gigliotti and the 14 employees of Whole Life can better control the quality and safety of the products, rather than rely on outside manufacturers to make them to their standards.

Additionally, in-house manufacturing allows for implementation of new ideas or incremental changes to products far more easily than if they were still being processed by out-of-state plants, he said.

When it does come time to field-test new products, Whole Life turns to its followers on social media to assist.

Alerts seeking volunteers to help test new products will go out and a couple of weeks later, Whole Life follows up with a questionnaire.

"We use that to make lots of changes and lots of tweaks and then come up with the final product," Gigliotti said. The process from concept to launch of a product takes between four and six months, he said.

Even with many traditional manufacturing jobs leaving the area, Gigliotti believes the Berkshires is still fertile ground for business.

"The future is bright. I think there's been a shift of thinking in the Berkshires that needed to happen, and I'm thrilled that it's happening. And, the shift is, that we're not going to see another GE in the Berkshires," Gigliotti said. "To continue waiting for that big company to come in and employ 1,000 people is just not going to happen.

"What is happening is there are now a lot of people who are putting a lot of effort into supporting the small businesses that are emerging that combine to create a really great work pool here in the Berkshires," Gigliotti said. "And, we're one of them."

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.


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