The processors of petfood ingredients are under pressure to raise product standards without also raising prices – and changing market demands mean that this challenge is unlikely to go away. But there are two important pieces of good news to counteract this.
For one, the premiumization of pet food and increased awareness of pet health has pushed up the sector’s global revenue from $68bn in 2014 to more than $91bn now, and this value is expected to keep increasing at a compound annual growth rate of about 4%, the sort of expansion other industries can only dream of. And for another, sophisticated sorting solutions are now available to help petfood processors achieve high quality standards at the same time as maximizing productivity and minimizing waste.
These technical solutions have come from developing optical sorting machines originally created to ensure the safety and quality of food for human consumption. Such sophisticated sorting technologies were unheard of in petfood processing until very recently, but in 2019 TOMRA Food entered this market segment after learning of the risks inherent in petfood processing and storage.
The potential problems for petfood processors are numerous. Rendered by-products from animal food production, used for wet and dry petfood, can contain all kinds of foreign materials. Biscuits residue used for making dry kibble can contain plastic and cardboard from wrappers and boxes. And when dry kibble is put into storage it is vulnerable to cross-contamination because the contents of silos frequently switch between product types.
State-of-the-art optical sorting machines can counter all these threats. What’s more, by eliminating the need for manual inspections, sorting machines also reduce dependence on labor. In addition to helping tackle the problem of labor scarcity, this also has the benefit of lessening the risk of workers accidentally introducing to the product stream foreign materials or contaminants. And because TOMRA Food’s sorting technologies are already proven in other applications, they can be depended upon to operate reliably in harsh environments around the clock.
One of TOMRA Food’s world-class sorting platforms, the Nimbus, is particularly well-suited to petfood processing. This machine, when coupled with the BSI+ scanner, can detect and eject foreign material and cross-contamination not only according to appearance and color, but also according to structure and composition. This is made possible by employing cameras, lasers, and unique Biometric Signature Identification technology, inspecting the product stream using visible spectrum wavelengths and near-infrared (NIR).
At the same time that the Nimbus BSI+ scanner analyzes the chemical composition of objects, the machine’s software programme compares what it’s seeing with an extensive database. Then air-valves on the platform remove undesired material with precise and powerful air bursts. This system combines high levels of accuracy with low rates of false rejects, protecting product quality and safety without incurring any unnecessary yield loss.
This is a significant technological breakthrough in the petfood sector. More than just detecting and ejecting foreign material from product streams, it is now also possible to prevent cross-contamination by examining what’s hidden inside each individual piece of kibble. This extraordinary capability means that petfood processors can now confidently give petfood manufacturers, retailers and buyers exactly what they’re asking for.
There is, however, now a new risk: because the game has changed, those petfood processors who are slow to invest in this technology could get left behind.