As petfood producers look to ride out the effects of the global economic downturn and save money to reinvest in their products and facilities, arguably there isn't a better time to look at gels and thickeners.
With money tight and financial controllers questioning
product input costs, arguably there has never been a better
time to review recipe costs.
What scope is there to reduce costs in wet petfood? The
product developer has to balance other factors, including:
These factors can often limit the scope. However, cost
reduction can often be achieved through optimizing usage of
gels and thickeners.
Gel it, thicken it, stabilize
Gels and thickeners (hydrocolloids) fulfill a wide range of
process and product roles in wet petfood. Key functionality
The problem with carrageenan
Carrageenan is a great material with some fantastic
properties. In the context of wet petfood, arguably the
synergistic interaction between kappa-carrageenan (which forms
a weak, brittle gel in the presence of potassium ions) with a
non-gelling hydrocolloid, a synergist-for example, locust bean
gum or cassia gum-to form elastic gels is the most important
In addition, carrageenan finds a wide range of other
applications, but this functionality often comes at a price,
especially as there are no cheap alternatives for applications
like the synergistic interaction with gums. The problem relates
primarily to price variation due to the effects of the
naturally occurring phenomenon known as El Niño. During El Niño
events, the sea temperature around Indonesia and the
Philippines increases. This affects growth of commercial
Eucheuma cottonii seaweed-used for manufacturing
kappa-carrageenan-and gives rise to shortages.
Although typically used at low inclusion levels, the market
price of semi-refined carrageenan can have a significant impact
on recipe costs. Therefore, optimizing gels and thickeners
offers opportunities for cost reduction, bringing with it
additional benefits to product quality, palatability and fecal
Getting it right
A prerequisite to reducing the cost gels and thickeners is a
sound understanding of their science and technology. This is
applicable to all product formats where these ingredients are
used. When lack of fundamental understanding of the gels
functionality exists, it is possible to create a completely
gelled texture in a chunks-in-gravy format, not what the
To minimize risk to product quality, customer satisfaction
and your brands, consider a holistic approach covering the
whole supply chain from raw material vendor to the feeding
bowl. Though this list is not exhaustive (Figure 1), key factors include:
These factors provide a framework, applicable to all wet
petfood formats, against which producers can evaluate gels and
thickeners cost optimization while minimizing and controlling
If you apply a holistic approach, based on the scientific
principles underlying gels, significant cost savings are
achievable. An example for a typical chunks-in-jelly (CIJ)
product (Figure 2) shows the price difference between two recipes based on the
use of semi-refined carrageenan in combination with a synergist
to generate the desired texture characteristics.
As petfood producers look to ride out the effects of the
global economic downturn and save money to reinvest in their
products and facilities, arguably there isn't a better time to
look at gels and thickeners. Pets can benefit, too, through
improved palatability and fecal quality.
Explore the science behind extrusion technologies in the article, "Applying polymer science to extrusion and drying of petfoods"
Extrusion extravaganza 2010
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