Alliance Freeze Dry Group expands to the U.S. with 220,000-square-foot building
A business leader in the pet food sector in Canada will add a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the United States — specifically, in north Whatcom County — by 2024. While construction is just underway, it takes time to build what the company claims will be among the largest freeze-dried pet food production facilities in North America, at 220,000 square feet.
Alliance Freeze Dry Group also operates a facility in Langley, British Columbia.
Just about 13 1/2 miles — oh, and an international border — lie between the two facilities, which are located in sister cities. While the Langley facility is considered cutting edge for it use of automation, the new Lynden plant will take that automation to the next level, said company representative Dennis Wu, the senior executive assistant to the president of Alliance Freeze Dry, Gary Xu.
Originally, the Lynden site was slated for a different use — as a satellite PeaceHealth medical facility to provide coverage in north Whatcom County. When the medical group selected a 5-acre site farther north, on Benson Road, an opportunity was opened.
Alliance Freeze Dry (USA) Inc., the American aspect of the business operations, purchased the land from PeaceHealth for $2.2 million. The site, nearly 10 acres in size, is just down the street from Lynden Door, Lineage Logistics and Lynden Sheet Metal, at the corner of West Main Street and Berthusen Road. The campus, named Canature Kitchen Lynden, will include a freezer, pre-processing area, freeze-drying section, packaging area and automated storage and retrieval system warehouse.
On Oct. 21, 2022, representatives of the City of Lynden, the Port of Bellingham, Washington state, AFD Group’s major clients, local businesses, engineering firms and the general contractor, Fisher Construction Group, met with shovels in hand to break ground.
A few decades ago, this was farming land. Soon, it will involve a different form of food production — inside a plant.
Food Facility Engineering is the architectural and engineering firm leading the design of the new Canature Kitchen facility.
Construction will be handled by the Fisher Construction Group of Burlington. Another key contractor, Freeland & Associates of Bellingham, provided engineering support for Alliance’s crucial conditional-use permit application to initiate the process.
This large an operation has required additional infrastructure growth, too. Many meetings were held to discuss stormwater and road upgrades.
In late 2022, Lynden was given a $4.5 million loan by the state Community Economic Revitalization Board for a roundabout at the intersection of West Main and Berthusen Road. In addition to the construction of the roundabout, the project includes street improvements, stormwater facilities and LED street lighting in the area. CERB funds, matched by $1.125 million in local resources, leveraged $40 million in private investment by Canature USA Freeze Dry.
Lynden’s growth geared with industrial
Every city plans for its future — and growth is part of the plan for Lynden.
“Along with a growing population,” states the city’s master plan, “opportunities for work and business also need to grow. Lynden is heavily dependent on the agricultural industry and needs to maintain and build that connection. It also needs to diversify its economic drivers, decrease retail competition with other regional municipalities, and expand the service economy for its residents.”
Founded in 1871 when Holden and Phoebe Judson settled there, Lynden incorporated in 1891, several years after Washington achieved statehood, with a population of more than 500, per the city’s records. At present, the population is 16,048, and annexations have brought the size to 3,375 acres.
While the downtown core of Lynden does contain primarily retail, it also has the Darigold powdered milk plant, the Vander Griend Lumber yard, and the Americold Logistics freezer facility. The City of Lynden has been promoting economic development by zoning land suitable for commercial and industrial development west of Guide Meridian, where this new plant is being built.
One key component for the city’s planners was, and is, according to the master plan, to have “livable-wage” jobs for residents of the city and its surrounding area. Company materials indicate a need for 74 employees, but a wage structure has not been given at this time.
“The City of Lynden is proud to welcome another state-of-the-art industrial facility,” said Scott Korthuis, Lynden’s mayor, in an AFD news release. “We appreciate the investment that the Alliance Freeze Dry Group is making in our city, knowing that it represents both job opportunities and regional economic benefit. Lynden has found a supportive partner in the Alliance Group. They have contributed to public infrastructure improvements and designed a striking Canature Kitchen facility that we can all be proud of. It’s clear that Alliance doesn’t simply want to conduct business in the city, but that they are a stakeholder, keen to become an integral part of the Lynden business community.”
Why freeze-dried pet food?
Wu emphasized the words “natural,” “fresh,” “healthy” and “convenient.”
The company does not use additives, and the food is not heated, as that could destroy the health value, Wu added. Thanks to the freeze-drying process, the food is also easier to carry than its wet counterparts.
“Freeze-dried meals and treats preserve the natural flavor and form, as well as the nutrition, of the raw materials, and are easily rehydrated and absorbed,” said Gary Xu, the founder and president of AFD, in a press release. “Hence, freeze-dried products have become more and more popular and are increasingly acclaimed as superstars in the natural and healthy pet food sector. With our strong technological advantage, AFD Group will continually innovate its products, processes and equipment to satisfy changing market demands. At the same time, while we are growing rapidly, we emphasize environmental protection and sustainability, for we only have one shared Earth.”
One thing AFD is especially proud of, Wu said, is quality — evidenced by the company’s commitment to the hazard analysis and critical control points approach to food safety and its certification by the Safe Quality Food Institute. AFD Group’s factories are certified SQF Level 3, the highest distinction in the well-known food safety standard.
The pet food production process involves sourcing top ingredients and then taking the frozen raw fruits, vegetables and meats along fully automated conveyor belts to be mixed. From there, the food moves into the freezers to dry on trays and then onward to bins and into boxes. Finally, the products are carried on to market. When it goes into the bags, it is a freeze-dried product and has a longer life span.
While owner Xu has utilized Wu as his agent to oversee this project, including meetings with local and state officials during the past year, Wu said Xu has created the innovation behind the processes the company uses — both in business and in production. Xu established the Langley operation in 2011. This is now the company’s third facility, with another in a renovated building in the Los Angeles area. The three factories’ combined efforts will set them apart from the competition, Wu said.
AFD Group, with its subsidiary Canature Processing Ltd., pursues its mission to ensure “Healthier Pets and Happier Lives” through its natural, fresh, healthy and convenient freeze-dried pet foods and treats. AFD Group and Canature manufacture under major private-label brands, which have a large distribution, and under company-owned brands.
AFD Group and Canature’s products have been sold globally and are popular among pet owners — and their pets.
NutriBites brand freeze-dried pet products — diced, extruded, formed and powdered treats, toppers and meals — have been sold throughout the U.S. and Canada through Costco and other major channels.
“Our company is special,” Wu said. The company has found ways to use innovation in each component of the business, Wu said, from engineering to sales to adherence to quality.
The way the facility is being planned allows for future intellectual growth, not just adding an addition to a building. The company considers it a “flexible digital plant” in which leaders can consider additional types of products. ■