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What Food Manufacturers Can Learn from the Pet Food Industry

The leaders who produce pet food these days do it in plants that are just as sophisticated in their way of working as those in the food industry for you and me. They use the same process equipment, follow the same food safety protocols, and use the latest automation systems to make their operations as safe and efficient as possible.

This is being done for a number of reasons, including new regulations and changing customer demands. The trend for pet food is following in the same footprint as our food—more natural, organic, better nutrients, fewer fillers and additives (especially preservatives) and better flavor and enjoyment overall.

And as the prices of ingredients continue to rise, so do pet food prices. For instance, in 2014, dry dog food sales continued to lead the category at $9.2 billion, up from $5.34 billion a decade earlier; wet dog food sales were $2.4 billion and $1.71 billion, respectively; and dog treats topped in at $2.8 billion and $1.42 billion, respectively. Cat food sales, which weren’t as high, were similarly dominated by the dry category. In all, the overall business just about doubled between 2004 and 2014.

Pets aren’t just animals; they’re companions. These days, most owners don’t set a place for their pets at the dinner table, but do believe they deserve a nutritious, safe and good tasting diet. Years ago, most raw materials for pet food were gathered as scrapings from the rendering floor, but that’s changing. Modern pet food producers put as much care into sourcing top-quality meats, grains, veggies and other ingredients that go into pet products as leading producers put into our food. Another important feature is automation, which is usually as sophisticated in today’s pet food facilities as it is in leading plants producing food for humans.

But the similarities don’t stop there. Pet food, like human food, can be just as susceptible to recalls arising from food fraud, faulty labeling, contamination and other hazards. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit agricultural organization engaged in research and educational activities, published a recent report that says pet food quality can vary significantly among brands and sometimes includes unnecessary chemical additives.

“The pet food industry is no different from leading food marketers for humans when it comes to cheap substitutes and false health claims,” says the report’s lead author, Linley Dixon, PhD, a policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute.

Meanwhile, the Pet Food Institute responded to the study with assurances that PFI member companies undergo rigorous quality assurance reviews, beginning with raw ingredients and ending with testing the finished products found on store shelves.


Interstates Controls Systems, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), based in Sioux Center, IA, says its ability to provide plant floor IT solutions and business intelligence solutions is a contrast from other integrators focused solely on automation.

“One of the tools we designed is called I-Control. It provides controls for formulation, batching, extruding, drying, coating, CIP systems and liquid delivery,” says the company’s Business Development Representative Jeremy Van Den Berg. “It also provides data management, reporting, lot tracking and traceability, making it a very powerful system.”

Van Den Berg explains that evaluating the controls needs a holistic approach, taking the data requirements into account door to door. This requires an open attitude to working with other vendors and OEM manufacturers to come up with a solution that works best for the customer.

“I-Control is highly customizable to meet each customer’s needs,” he says.

Lowering overfill costs

Intentionally overfilling a pet food, or another product for that matter, is widely done to meet regulatory requirements. It’s typically a small amount of “extra,” but over a year, that can mount up to big costs. There are three ways to minimize the amount of overfilling: collecting packaging data, analyzing the data and using the analysis to recalibrate the process.

Van Den Berg points out a number of automation tools can be used to support this process, such as OPC via internet, serial communication via Ethernet serial servers, Parsons PENET using Ethernet, and direct TCP/IP Ethernet communication. Real-time data analysis allows packaging operators to view statistical variations and make recalibration adjustments on the fly.

Without these kinds of tools, it’s difficult to get any lower than 0.3 percent, or 0.3 kg, on a 10-kg bag of dog or cat food. The potential of using automated overfill controls is 0.1 percent, so if a company produces 100,000,000 kg of pet food, going from 300,000-kg overfill to 100,000-kg overfill can produce a saving of $100,000 per year.


Read the full article from Food Engineering.

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