A few years ago, brothers Chad and Mitch Felderhoff had a problem.
Muenster Milling Co., the North Texas feed mill their family has owned for four generations, was known for high-quality food for horses and pets. Sales were on the rise, but their mill was at capacity. To grow in a new direction, they took a chance on a healthy ingredient pets love: meat.
With financing from Lone Star Ag Credit, the brothers started their own freeze-drying facility in 2018. And in 2020 their online sales tripled, thanks to innovative products, clever marketing and a pandemic that had consumers paying more attention to their pets.
Made for dogs, good enough for people
Mitch started the year by eating nothing but dog food for a month.
By February, everybody was talking about it — from newscasters to Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show.”
For Mitch, eating kibble and freeze-dried meat products demonstrated Muenster Milling’s commitment to quality. The brothers’ goal is to provide nutritious food backed by science. Most of their ingredients have come from the same local family farms for generations. What’s changed, though, are their recipes.
“Obesity rates in canines and felines are similar to humans’,” says Mitch, who studied sports medicine and nutrition in college. “A lot of that is because they eat way too many carbohydrates. We want to lower the carb load to reduce obesity, which causes most chronic diseases in pets.”
Muenster Milling launched freeze-dried meat products eight years ago to give pets more protein, vitamins and minerals. They’ve replaced some grains in their extruded foods with field peas, sweet potatoes and other ingredients that have a lower glycemic index. Additions like salmon oil help pets feel full and eat less. And other ingredients support healthy hearts, digestion and joints.
“We’re changing to give animals what they’re really supposed to eat — and using supplements to provide the best nutrition,” says Chad, who oversees operations and creates the recipes.
Variety keeps pets and owners happy
With six freeze dryers and one on the way, Muenster Milling now produces 1.2 million pounds of shelf-stable meat a year — including meatballs, patties, treats and meal toppers. It also coats some of its kibble in meat, powdered bone broth, oils and probiotics.
The company sells pet, horse, chicken and fish food through retailers in 22 states. But if you order online, it will customize as little as one bag of dog food, offer a phone consultation and send a hand-written thank-you note.
“We can add something that has a benefit for the dog and the owner,” Chad says of their My Custom Dog Food line. “Owners love their animals and want to spoil them. And what sounds better to a dog than a little bacon fat on top?”
A bold step pays dividends
If there was ever a time people lavished attention on their pets, it was during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Online sales surged in 2020 as pet owners discovered they could have food customized and delivered. The YouTube documentary “30 Days of Dog Food” boosted the brand, too. (Spoiler alert: Mitch lost weight, lowered his cholesterol and triglycerides, and stopped having joint pain and headaches.)
But it took a smart investment three years ago for Muenster Milling to meet the demand.
“The freeze-dried line speaks to their innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Craig Hartman, the brothers’ loan officer. “They took a calculated risk, and it's paying off for them.”
Mitch says Lone Star has been a valuable partner for six years now.
“Craig knows what we're doing, how we're doing it and why we're doing it,” Mitch says. “He’s helped us accomplish a lot of our goals.
“Freeze-dried meat provides tons of health benefits, which is what drives our business: the ability to have innovative products that deliver actual results.”
Learn more at muenstermilling.com.