MANHATTAN, KAN. — On Aug. 15, 26 professionals from various sectors of the pet food industry gathered at Kansas State University’s (KSU) International Grains Program Institute (IGP) Pet Food Workshop to dive deeper into the formulation and processing of pet foods and treats.

Led by Sajid Alavi, Ph.D., professor at the Grain Science & Industry at KSU, industry experts covered a wide gamut of topics, including trends, macro and micro ingredients, palatability, consumer research, plant design, food safety, specialty treats and more.

Sajid Alavi, Ph.D., professor at the Grain Science & Industry at KSUSajid Alavi, Ph.D., professor at the Grain Science & Industry at KSU. (Source: KSU)"The pet food workshop serves as a great stand-alone short introduction to the latest trends in pet food markets, nutrition, safety and also formulation," Alavai said. "It also is a really great supplement for those who are here at K-State for rest of the week to attend the 4-day 'Extrusion processing - technology & commercialization' course that covers in-depth extrusion hardware, ingredients and processing of pet food and other products including several hands-on lab sessions."

Industry trends

Greg Aldrich, Ph.D., research associate professor at the Grain Science & Industry at KSU, began the workshop with a dive into trends within the pet food industry.

With increasing pet populations driving the growth of the industry, Aldrich revealed that the countries leading the world’s dog population include the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the Philippines, whereas countries leading the world’s cat population include the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, and France. Despite the fact the United States is the leader in population for both dogs and cats, Europe is the leader in pet food production at 11.59 million tons of products in 2021, with the United States close behind at 10.6 million tons, and Latin America third at 7.8 million tons.

Regarding sales value, Aldrich detailed that semi-moist pet treats are gradually declining in sales as the refrigerated/frozen category gains popularity among consumers. In 2020, dry dog and cat foods led sales value at $5.35 billion and $2.44 billion, respectively, with wet dog and cat foods second at $1.88 billion and $2.39 billion, respectively.

Greg Aldrich, Ph.D., research associate professor at the Grain Science & Industry at KSUGreg Aldrich, Ph.D., research associate professor at the Grain Science & Industry at KSU. (Source: KSU)Aldrich also discussed pet food claims, revealing that the “natural” claim has garnered significant consumer interest, though “meat first” and “high protein” remain the most popular claims. With a large desire for natural pet food products, consumers are interpreting the specific claim various ways. A majority of consumers believe “natural” to specify the lack of added chemicals, like preservatives, added hormones/antibiotics and pesticides, while a smaller amount of consumers associate the claim with the quality of ingredients, like fresh or organic.

With sustainability a hot topic throughout the industry, Aldrich detailed various formulation trends, including the use of insect- and plant-based ingredients. Aldrich also revealed that slaughtering and rendering waste could expand the potential in developing more sustainable products, particularly using blood and feathers.

Currently, research has shown that pets favor plasma, Aldrich explained, as the ingredient offers notable palatability benefits, as well as significant functional properties. However, other red blood cells are currently not being utilized.

“I don’t think anyone is collecting the rest of the poultry blood… and feathers have a huge supply,” Aldrich added. “But, we’re going to have to do some technology development to make [blood] appetizing. There’s nothing wrong with the integrity of these ingredients, it’s just that pets don’t want that much iron, so we need to separate the protein from the iron. We just need to go to the next level; there’s a lot of other red blood cells being wasted.”


Macros, micros and additives

Aulus Carciofi, Ph.D., professor at the College of Veterinary & Agrarian Sciences at São Paulo University (UNESP), discussed the nutritional requirements of pet foods regarding macro ingredients, specifically proteins, fatty acids, minerals and carbohydrates.

For proteins, Carciofi showcased the palatability, processing, nutritional and digestibility differences between fresh, rendered, “special” and vegetable proteins. Though rendered proteins are difficult to extrude, they offer high palatability, amino acids and mineral requirements, as well as provide pets with energy. But good extrusion can help increase a protein’s digestibility by creating a higher level of starch gelatinization.

Fats are imperative to a formulation, Carciofi explained, as they add palatability and also provide energy. However, these ingredients need to be properly balanced as too high amounts can lead to obesity and further health issues for pets.

Regarding macro elements, also called minerals, Carciofi detailed that dog and cat food formulations must contain 12 macro elements, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chlorine and sulfur. Macro minerals must be properly balanced to maintain the blood’s pH and create acidic urine in pets.

Carciofi also discussed the importance of starches in formulations. As well as serving as a processing aid, starches can help create and provide energy. Though consumers may view the ingredient negatively, Carciofi explained that the domestication of pets has led to an adaptation to starch-rich diets. Popular starches include Cassava, Maize, rice, lentils, peas and sorghum, the last of which is still undergoing heavy research.

Aldrich spoke to the roles micro ingredients and additives play in a formulation, including trace minerals, vitamins, flavors, preservatives, colors, gums/gels, emulsifiers and other processing aids.

Because trace minerals and vitamins need to be carefully and completely dispersed throughout a formula, they are usually offered in premixes. These premixes often contain dense ingredients, like rice, to which the vitamins and minerals are bound, aiding in the prevention of the minerals and vitamins from disappearing.

To understand to true depth of knowledge that goes into developing complete-and-balanced pet food formulations, Aldrich had participants use computer software to develop a dog and cat food formula at the end of the workshop.

In creating their formulas, participants were given a variety of real-world parameters, including an ingredient list and caloric suggestion. Participants also had to keep in mind the cost of raw materials and ensure the formulas met the nutritional requirements from the Association of American Feed Controls Officials (AAFCO).



Martin Talavera, Ph.D., assistant professor of sensory analysis and consumer behavior at KSU, took a deep dive into palatability and consumer research within the industry. Talavera detailed the various types of testing manufacturers can perform to better understand the desire of their products.

Martin Talavera, Ph.D., assistant professor of sensory analysis and consumer behavior at KSUMartin Talavera, Ph.D., assistant professor of sensory analysis and consumer behavior at KSU. (Source: KSU)

Because pet parents are the ones purchasing the pet food, though not consuming it, it’s imperative that manufacturers take their perspectives into account. Talavera advised asking consumers for descriptions of the pet food products, including appearance, aroma, texture, as well as the serveability of the product. Consumers, who spend the most time with their pets, can also be asked if their pet would enjoy the product.

Talavera revealed the most important factors for consumers to like the product come from overall appearance and aroma. Consumers usually prefer bright colors and color variety. They will also consider the size of the kibble in dry formulas, and most often prefer a kibble size that is not too small for their pets.

The ingredients also impact a consumer’s overall liking, as seen with the negative view consumers have of byproducts and meals.

Though consumers may favor the product, the ultimate decision is up to the pets; if a pet will not eat the product, then a consumer will not repurchase it. To understand palatability in pets, Talavera detailed single-bowl and two-bowl consumption tests, which can measure how much of the product was consumed and which product was approached first and favored more.


Plant design and food safety

With food safety a significant priority in the pet food industry, Shaun Kibbe, project manager of corporate project services at Wenger Manufacturing, Sabetha, Kan., spoke to ways a plant can be designed with food safety top of mind. Kibbe detailed several ways food safety, specifically HACCP, can be achieved and improved through plant location, design, equipment selections and cleaning.

For design, Kibbe detailed the importance of separating raw operations from cooked or finished product operations. Curtain walls, which can be built around an extruder to separate raw materials from cooked ingredients, and zoning can help control microbes and prevent contamination of products.

Shaun Kibbe, project manager of corporate project services at Wenger ManufacturingShaun Kibbe, project manager of corporate project services at Wenger Manufacturing. (Source: LinkedIn)

With animal diseases becoming a large concern for the industry, specifically African swine fever (ASF), Kibbe advised limiting outside personnel from entering a plant. Kibbe detailed the problem Vietnam is facing regarding ASF. In the country, raw material transporters, like truck drivers, carrying the disease would often aid facility employees in transporting materials from the truck to the facility’s operations, allowing the spread of ASF.

Kibbe also advised that outside personnel should be restricted to designated areas and prevented from entering processing areas as much as possible to further reduce the potential of product contamination and the spread of diseases.

Aside from design and access restrictions, Kibbe pointed out the role specific equipment design can play in food safety. For example, pneumatic conveyors offer much easier cleaning capabilities compared to mechanical conveyors, which contain several hidden areas that can become filled with product and foster microbes and mold. Kibbe advised that equipment cleaning procedures must take into consideration the type of ingredients the equipment is processing. For example, equipment handling powders or other dry ingredients must by cleaned with air, while equipment handling fats or oils will need to be cleaned with water.


Specialty treats

Lastly, Daniel Tramp, technical sales at Wenger Manufacturing, discussed various specialty treat formats, including processing technologies and their energy requirements, and food safety concerns.

For processing natural treats, a category which strives to maintain the food’s original form, Tramp highlighted seven categories: raw/fresh, dehydrated, freeze-dried, rawhide, frozen/refrigerated, high pressure processing (HPP) and irradiation, a newer method using radiation treatment. For functional processing, which completely alters a food’s appearance, Tramp discussed baking, sterilization and extrusion technologies.

 Daniel Tramp, technical sales at Wenger ManufacturingDaniel Tramp, technical sales at Wenger Manufacturing. (Source: LinkedIn)

With specialty treats growing in consumer popularity, Tramp also detailed the price range and food safety hazards for the variety of treats on the market. Tramp revealed that frozen and rawhide treats carry a hefty price tag and can also carry significant biological hazards.

By far, dehydrated treats are the easiest to produce and enter the market with, Tramp explained, as they can be produced on a small scale. However, these treats also carry a high biological hazard, as well as raw and freeze-dried treats. Tramp also revealed that freeze-dried products, which are increasingly gaining consumer interest, are also some the of more expensive formats to produce.

As sustainability and energy usage become top of mind, Tramp advised that manufacturers consider the energy requirements of different processing methods and their respective technologies. According to Tramp, extrusion requires the least amount of energy, at 250 kWhr/t, and freeze-drying requires the most amount, at about 9,800 kWhr/t.

Estimated energy usage requirements for processing technologies used to develop pet treatsSource: Daniel Tramp

With food safety, production times and energy requirements in mind, manufacturers interested in expanding their specialty treat portfolios will need to consider larger investments in technologies. Equipment manufacturers will also need to continue to innovate their technologies as consumers demand more special, premium treats and other pet food products.

KSU-IGP’s Pet Food Workshop is an annual course held in conjunction with its weeklong Extrusion Processing: Technology and Commercialization short course. To learn more about the university’s Feed Manufacturing and Grain Quality Management courses for industry professionals, visit the KSU-IGP website here.

Read more about pet food and treat industry events.