We bought bags of kibble from a variety of retailers. We tested big brands alongside small niche companies. The result? A market snapshot of thirteen pet food brands. In this quick 15 minute webinar, Scott Campbell reviews the findings.
- which brands came close to exceeding the 10% moisture limit.
- what some big brands do much better than small ones.
- which brands over-pack—and which ones don’t quite meet the minimum.
- the projected costs of inconsistency in packaging and drying.
Presenter: Scott Campbell reveals the findings of the METER Food Lab. He has visited dozens of pet food manufacturers in his quest to help them collect data and use it to consistently make great product.
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- Talk to a product expert.
Brad Newbold: Hello everyone and welcome to our Market Snapshot: Pet Food webinar. Today’s presentation will be fifteen minutes, followed by five minutes of Q&A. If you have a question during the webinar, type it into the questions pane. You can submit a question at any time. We will keep track of these questions submitted during this portion to answer during the Q&A. To answer our most commonly asked questions in advance, we will be sending out links to the on-demand webinar and the slides to everyone who attended today’s webinar. Those will be available a day or two following the webinar. Now I’m going to hand the microphone to Scott Campbell, today’s presenter.
Scott Campbell: Hello everyone and welcome to our discussion today. I want to start out by talking about standards, and something called the kibble balance. Although this is a pet food webinar, the kibble balance doesn’t have anything to do with pet food. There is a standard of weights and measures that everyone knows as the kilogram. What you may not know is that the kilogram is actually a cylinder of platinum and iridium that lives in a location outside of Paris and, as of the 1800s, was a standard that was created and it actually exists. You can touch it. Now there were some problems with that standard because every time people touched the cylinder, they were worried that they would either add or remove weight from it. Over the years they noticed that the weight of the kilogram, of that particular standard, had changed relative to other copies that were made of it. After many years, in fact just last year, they decided that the kilogram – the chunk of metal – needed to be retired. They replaced it with a new standard based on Planck’s constant – something that will never change – and that is implemented in something called the kibble balance, that now officially and internationally replaces the kilogram. They had one standard everybody was adhering to and replaced it with a better one.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today – ways to improve the perspective that we take on moisture and overpack in the pet food industry, because there are lot of opportunities for improvement and we want to talk about the data that we collected on that. We deal a lot with moisture and overpack in the pet food industry and we decided to take a different approach to seeing how prevalent these problems are in the industry by simply going to the store and buying a bunch of pet food products. In this study we focused on kibble type products and we measured the moisture level, the water activity level, and the amount that the weight in the bag exceeded or did not exceed the label weight, and then we just organized and collated the data and that’s what we’re going to share with you today.
In the first place, we measured the moisture of each of these products. You can see that we had sixty or so different products, and they are listed here in terms of lowest water content to highest water content. One of the issues with moisture content is that there is no good standard for measuring it. Unlike the kilogram, there isn’t a common way that everybody can agree on to measure moisture content. Our way was to dry the product in an oven for four hours at 105°C which is an AOAC approved method. This is very slow and not good for process control, but it is pretty precise. What we found was that there was a huge variability in the moistures of the products that we tested.
Of these sixty or so different products, you can see them listed here by first alphabet letter which is a code for the company that created that product. We listed the product name on here as well. The lowest moisture content product was from company D, and they had a lot of products that were relatively low moisture. What we found was that the lowest water content we found was a little above 4% and the highest was almost 10%. There was a huge variability.
One thing that people will ask is, “Is it correct for companies to try to maximize moisture content in the product?”. To a certain point: yes. It is good to do this partly because, from a profitability standpoint, higher moisture content equals higher yields. From a palatability standpoint, most experts believe that pets prefer pet food that is higher in moisture. Of course the moisture content can’t be too high or you will experience mold problems or other microbial growth problems with the product. However, that’s a water activity issue, not strictly a moisture content one.
Let’s look at what some of these data mean. Note first that even when we are comparing two different products that are the same type of product, like this duck product here, the moisture content for one of them is 5.88%, and for a different recipe we have a moisture content of 8.96%. Similarly with this salmon product, we see one that has a 5.18% moisture content and another that has a 7.89% moisture content. We didn’t see that the moisture contents of different similar recipes were anywhere close to each other.
This is a separate graph. Here, we are translating moisture content into a graph where we are showing it on the y-axis with water activity on the x-axis. This is important because it is possible to translate between moisture content and water activity particularly for the same product. What what we’re seeing in this graph is a grouping of different dots whose colors correspond to the company that makes each product you see graphed. A close grouping of dots will suggest that the company does a good job of consistently putting out a number of different products at the right water activity or moisture content. A broad grouping will show that their process control is not that good. What we see with this company, H, is they actually have a relatively close grouping of dots on the graph but we see other companies, such as F, where the groupings are all over the place, running from a water activity of around .4 all the way to .6. Company D does have a relatively consistent performance here, but all its products are very low in moisture and water activity, all of them below .4 and below 6% moisture.
If we look at this graph as a whole, we can tell that there is a clear relationship between activity and moisture, and that’s called a moisture sorption isotherm. One question that we often get is, “how should we consistently control moisture?”. As I mentioned before, and this gets back to the kilogram, you need to have a common standard for moisture. The best standard to use, and with us being a water activity company this will come as no surprise, is water activity. Because it is a primary measurement method, it doesn’t depend on whether you use Karl Fischer titration, rapid loss on drying, NIR, or nuclear magnetic resonance. All of these are moisture methods but they all give you a different answers. Water activity will always give you the same answer if you’re measuring the same product. And what’s more, you can see that most of the pet food products are under this .6 water activity level. In the moisture content terms, most people in the pet food industry talk about 10%, and that’s not a coincidence because 10% is about .6 water activity, and over .6 you can get mold growth in the bag.
This is a reason why people have talked in moisture terms for so long. Empirically, people found that they had mold issues over 10% moisture, but really, that’s just because the water activity was above .6. It doesn’t matter what recipe you’re making or what product you’re making: If your water activity is below .6, you will never have any microbial growth in your product.