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Feds, Champion fund U of A kibble-maker

$3.7 million project will advance pet food science

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am

TENDER VITTLES – President Frank Burdzy of Champion Petfoods in Morinville tests a handful of dog food produced by the kibble maker at the company’s  production plant. The University of Alberta has received a federal grant to build a smaller version of the machine for pet food research.
TENDER VITTLES – President Frank Burdzy of Champion Petfoods in Morinville tests a handful of dog food produced by the kibble maker at the company’s production plant. The University of Alberta has received a federal grant to build a smaller version of the machine for pet food research.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

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A Morinville pet-food maker has teamed up with the U of A and the federal government to bring some science to Fido’s bowl.

Michelle Rempel, the minister of state for western economic diversification and MP for Calgary Centre-North, announced last Friday that the federal government would invest about $1.6 million to help the University of Alberta’s agriculture department build a specialized kibble-making machine for pet food research.

The $3.7 million project was also backed by Champion Petfoods, Elmira Pet Products and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).

Pet food is an emerging market in Canada set to reach $1.9 billion in sales by 2016, Rempel said. Champion is a major employer in it, and a major buyer of meat in western Canada.

“One of the challenges in the industry right now is there is a lot of desire from consumers for food that doesn’t contain grain or corn in it,” she said. Those products need innovation and experimentation to create.

But if Champion wants to test a new product or food combination, it has to shut down and re-jig the whole production line at its Morinville plant, said company president Frank Burdzy. “Even if (the new product) does work, it still is valuable time taken away from regular production.”

Champion approached the U of A and the federal government to see if they could build a smaller test plant on which to try out new ideas.

The result was the Wenger X-115 single-screw extruder – a custom-built contraption that grinds, squishes and cooks meats, grains and vegetables into edible pellets. It will be the star attraction of the U of A’s new animal nutrition and ingredient development program, and will be housed at the university’s southern campus.

Ruurd Zijlstra, the professor of agriculture heading up the program, said the finished machine should be about the size of a large van, and will have about a tenth the capacity of Champion’s full-sized version.

The extruder works by mixing various ingredients together before cooking them with steam. “You use the steam, the water and heat to basically turn the ingredients into its own glue,” Zijlstra explained. The device then pushes the resulting goo through a die past a rotating blade, resulting in kibble.

Pet food science

Humans and pets both get nutrition from food and have many fads and diets to go with it, Zijlstra said.

“What’s unique about pet food compared to the human diet is that it all needs to stay in this kibble.” Instead of eating everything separately, pet meals get squished into a tiny package that has to stay fresh for months.

Many companies want to put less plant and more meat into their kibble, he continues. That’s a challenge, since it’s the plant material that binds kibble together.

Zijlstra said his team plans to use its new device to develop new feed for piglets and to crack the low grain, high meat kibble problem.

Zijlstra notes that the device could theoretically be used to test human food as well, but his team has no plans to do so at this time.

Champion hopes to work with the U of A to test out new blends and extrusion methods prior to full production, Burdzy said. It could also help them scout out future employees for their R&D division.

Champion chipped in about $100,000 for the project. ALMA invested about $560,000.

Zijlstra said he hoped the extruder would be up and running by the end of the year.


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