Vegetarian Pet Food Protein Processing Considerations

Plant-based ingredients have been gaining popularity in both human food and pet food for several years, and may be attracting more attention and product development now in the wake of supply chain problems affecting traditional animal proteins.

For example, a 2021 survey by Benio found that 72% of pet owners in the United States are open to having plant-based protein sources in their pets’ diets. Accordingly, plant-based claims for new pet food product launches increased from 2016 to 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 40%, according to Innova Market Insights. And more pet food companies are looking to enter the field: 62% of more than 300 pet food producers surveyed in 2022 by CRB, an industry supplier, said they were considering switching protein sources to plants in the next five years.

But with this growing popularity, pet food processing experts warn that developing products with plant-based ingredients requires new and different production considerations and protocols to ensure that marketable products can be created.

3 Basic Considerations in Developing Vegan Pet Food

In the CRB survey, responding pet food producers rated three factors as “very important” to consider when developing pet foods with plant proteins: the nutritional profile of the final product (ranked by 52%), its label (48%) and its appearance (37%).

1. Nutritional profile. Explaining the importance of the nutritional profile, Toni Moses, PhD, director of product innovation at CRB, wrote that plant proteins alone will not give pets the balanced diet they need. “Bridging this gap could mean expanding your supply chain, your manufacturing process, and your storage capacity.”

In other words, it is not necessarily a simple process of replacing other proteins with vegetable proteins in existing formulations. Besides these changes, you should keep in mind the possible effects of treatment. “Before committing to the final formula, look upstream at how this formula affects your process,” Moses wrote, stressing that different ingredients handle differently during production. “Simulation technology can help you test different approaches, giving you a clear view of your process while still having the opportunity to make cost-effective changes. This will help you develop a customized approach that delivers a balanced pet formula and a balanced return on your investment.”

2. Appearance. The R&D team must spend time answering questions regarding the desired appearance of the product. “Will your plant protein show up as distinct particles, like bits in soup?” Moses wrote. “Or will you offer a blended meal, like a canned product in the shape of a loaf? The answer will shape your manufacturing and sourcing strategy, which in turn will have a significant impact on the cost of making your product – and what it costs consumers to buy.”

3. Labeling. The label combines the appearance and nutritional profile of a product, and potential label claims require serious study. “Behind every claim lies a smart strategy for cleaning, storage, and facilities,” Moussa explained. “Planning this strategy early could spare you from expensive future retrofits.

“It is not enough to develop a formula that is free of a specific ingredient (such as meat, gluten, or grains),” he continued. “To prove these claims, you need to have a good understanding of the modern hygienic design of pet food processing. Manufacturers who use raw meat in their product portfolio know this strategy well: It is all about removing cross-contamination risks from your process, and making sure the claims you make on the label are true. Yours are valid from the moment you receive your raw ingredients until the moment the final product leaves your facility.”

Pet food processing equipment suppliers can help

If you’re considering incorporating any types of new ingredients into your pet food range – whether to move to the plant-based category or to tackle existing supply chain challenges – your processing equipment suppliers can often offer help and support.

“We always recommend the customer to contact the provider of the system or whoever helped install the system to see if they would be willing to provide any kind of testing to check if their piece of equipment will work with the new component,” said Drew Turner, Regional Sales Director for Materials Industry Markets. Coperion, during the Ask the Pet Food Pro conversation: and/or changes to the recipe.” “So we can have a conversation with them, and with the experts, and make sure it’s done right.”

If your company has the capacity, it’s also a good idea to run your own tests, including making sure the formulation meets nutritional requirements and standards. “If you have a one-off piece that you can really run the material with and start validating these ingredients,” Turner said, “This is an important step, but beware that there are a lot of challenges with changing ingredients.” Working with suppliers is usually the easiest.

“There are quite a few of us here who would do a free test, if you just called a local representative or contacted the company through a webpage,” Turner suggested. And you say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this ingredient, and I’m looking forward to a potential change, and here’s where I’m at now, and here’s where I’m looking to go, what do you recommend,’ and we’ll do a test for that, and it gives you the actual results, and what kind of accuracy you can expect.” .

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