A Janesville soup packaging company is branching into a new venture—one that would cater to pets rather than people.

The owners of IPM Foods plan to operate NaturPak Pet, a new pet food processing and packaging facility in a 160,000-square-foot facility planned on Innovation Drive on Janesville’s south side, a local commercial real estate broker announced Wednesday.

Under a deal worked out between Janesville Coldwell Banker Commercial-McGuire Mears & Associates, Janesville-based developer Badger Property Investments and IPM, NaturPak would lease a new facility planned just north of the Dollar General distribution warehouse on Janesville’s far south side. NaturPak would use the new facility to process and package wet pet food, said Bill Mears, a lead broker on the project said.

Badger Property Investments is building-to-suit the $20 million facility. IPM, which operates a 150,000-square-foot soup packaging facility on Capital Circle on Janesville’s east side, is a tenant of Badger Property Investments.

IPM relocated from a facility in Beloit and opened in 2017 in a facility Badger Property built in 2016.

The NaturPak project is slated to break ground this week. Mears said NaturPak could be in operation by summer 2019.

Mears said IPM approached Badger Property shortly after news last year that the city and Badger Property investments had reached a tax-increment financing deal on what at the time would have been a 100,000-square-foot industrial facility to be built on speculation.

Under a TIF deal the city approved earlier this year, the city agreed to sell a 16-acre parcel to Badger Property for $1, according to city records.

The city also agreed to float a $625,000 forgivable loan to help pay for construction of the speculation property, according to the memo.

The spec property never broke ground, Mears said, because shortly after the city and the developer reached a development deal, the “complexion” of the project changed. IPM signaled it wanted to branch into pet food, and the company thought the Innovation Drive site could work.

Mears said Badger Property pivoted on the facility’s design to provide a built-to-suit design that met NaturPak’s specifications. He said the reworked project won’t alter original terms of the city tax incentive package.

Mears said IPM plans to cook and combine ingredients for a proprietary, “premium” blend of wet pet food. Mears said he’s not fully familiar with IPM’s planned process at the facility, but he said it could be similar to how the company operates its soup packaging plant.

At IPM’s Janesville location, the company blends bulk ingredients it receives for soups for a range of major soup-makers. The company processes ingredients to order for individual soup types and brands, and packages the soup in Tetra Pak, special, recyclable, plastic-lined cartons made by a Swiss company.

It’s not clear whether NaturPak will use the same packaging process as IPM.

Mears said he was unsure how many people might work at NaturPak when it opens. City officials said IPM employs between 80 and 100 people.

He said NaturPak would have room on site to expand production to up to 300,000 square feet.

Records show IPM’s owners filed NaturPak last year as a limited liability company, but the company’s foray into pet food wasn’t announced until this week.

City of Janesville Economic Director Gale Price said his understanding is the NaturPak facility would operate in a way that’s similar to IPM’s soup processing and packaging setup, which he called a “pretty low key” industrial process.

“It’s not like they’re grinding bone for bone broth,” Price said.

Designs submitted to the city show a large freezer for ingredients brought to the facility, processing and cooking areas, packing areas, and corporate offices.

Price said IPM is a significant industrial water user, and the city works with the company on routine water and wastewater tests. He said in Janesville, IPM has not had any significant operational problems flagged by the city, and it has had no violations.

Under city zoning rules, pet food production is treated as an allowed manufacturing use the same as any food processing, Price said.

The NaturPak facility would be the fourth industrial facility Badger Property Investments has developed in Janesville in three years and the sixth in Southern Wisconsin since 2015, Mears said.

Badger Property principal Tom Lasse said in recent years, his dealings with the city of Janesville has shown a municipality that has a “development-friendly attitude.”

“None of the Janesville projects would have been possible without the continued support from the city of Janesville,” Lasse said in a statement.

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