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Freshpet Kitchens Announces New Research and Development Center

By Colin McEvoy on May 6, 2016

Dennis Bobita, who recently retired as FreshPet Kitchens' Vice President of Research and Quality, unveiling the new Dennis J. Bobita Innovation Center.

Dennis Bobita, who recently retired as FreshPet Kitchens’ Vice President of Research and Quality, unveiling the new Dennis J. Bobita Innovation Center.

Freshpet Kitchens is opening a new research and development center in Hanover Township, Northampton County, continuing a rapid pattern of growth and expansion that has been consistent since the company came to the Lehigh Valley nearly three years ago.

Freshpet, which makes fresh refrigerated food for cats and dogs, is opening a 50,000 square-foot facility at 146 N. Commerce Way that will be used for the development of new products, the enhancement of existing products, and the development of new packaging.

“When you grow a business like Freshpet, with the uniqueness and the quality of our business, it’s really important to have innovation,” said Richard Thompson, CEO of Freshpet, Inc. “So to have this center where we can actually do this without being in a cramped office building someplace on a desktop will be a huge thing for us.”

Interior renovations are currently underway and expected to be completed in June, according to Michael Hieger, senior vice president of operations. Construction on laboratory space will begin later this year, and the facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

“It’s not every day that you get to open a brand new innovation center,” said Michael Hieger, Freshpet senior vice president of operations. “We’re really excited about the progress the company has made. We really have the best pet food facility in the world that we’ve opened here.”

The research and development center is expected to create new jobs, but exact figures were not yet available. It will be called the Dennis J. Bobita Innovation Center, named after the company’s recently-retired Vice President of Research and Quality.

“When I first started here, our research would involve four people gathered around in a small office and that’s it, so to see what it has become today is really amazing,” said Bobita, who had a 35-year career in the pet food industry. He still works as a consultant for FreshPet.

The new center comes in addition to a 32,000 square-foot expansion FreshPet Kitchens began last year at its main manufacturing facility at 176 North Commerce Way, which had been 60,000-square-feet when the company moved into it in October 2013.

That expansion will more than double the company’s capacity and create up to 60 new jobs. The project remains on schedule, and FreshPet is currently training new employees for the plant.

Two new product lines are expected to be underway by August as a result of the main facility expansion, Hieger said. The company will begin putting product on one of the lines as early as next week for initial commissioning, and it will take about a month before it is fully operational.

Freshpet dog and cat food can be found in more than 14,000 retail stores across the U.S. and Canada.

Food and beverage processing has been identified as one of the four target industry sectors for the Lehigh Valley based on the site-specific characteristics of the regional economy. Those assets include our central location, proximity to major U.S. Northeast markets, well-developed transportation infrastructure, strong workforce, water and sewer capacity, and Availability of water and sewer lines to industrial sites.

The region’s four targeted industry sectors – which also include high performance manufacturing, high value business services, and life science research and manufacturing – were identified by an economic development study by the Atlanta-based firm Garner Economics.

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