Though worldwide prices of agricultural raw
materials-including key petfood ingredients such as corn, rice,
animal proteins and fats-have declined in recent months,
dramatic increases in the first half of 2008 cascaded to the
food and feed chain, resulting in higher prices for foods like
pasta, bread, milk, meat as well as petfood.
A number of factors seem to be responsible for the
situation, and their effects are still under debate: systemic
causes like droughts in grain producing nations, increased
demand for meat in developing countries, diversion of farmland
or crops for
production, structural changes in trade and more.
The price tension on the market generated by high demand was
reinforced in the past years by poor harvests and record oil
prices, which also induced escalating energy, transportation
and ingredient costs. In short, several industries are
competing for the same raw materials and are affected by costs
that possibly will rise again as a result of joint increasing
demand from food, feed and fuel production.
The greater market interest in animal proteins and fats has
increased the competition among players in this segment,
according to Sonac, a leading European supplier of ingredients
derived from slaughter by-products. This competitive situation
has reduced the availability of certain raw materials
frequently used in petfood.
Sonac, together with business units Rendac, Rousselot and
Ecoson, is part of the Ingredients division of the Vion Food
Group, an internationally operating group based in the
Netherlands that produces high-quality foods and ingredients
for humans and animals. Besides Vion Ingredients, the group's
divisions include Vion Fresh Meat, Vion Convenience and Vion
UK. The Ingredients division focuses on optimizing the
marketing of slaughter by-products, processing them into
ingredients for a variety of applications, including food,
petfood, animal feed, aquaculture, pharmaceuticals,
photographic, fertilizer and technical products.
Sonac collects and processes slaughter by-products
exclusively from animals approved for human consumption
(category three material according to European Union, or EU,
regulations). Under precise conditions these materials can be
placed on the market. By doing so, Sonac adds maximum value to
all animal by-products released in the meat chain, according to
Sonac aims to be a versatile partner able to supply a wide
range of reliable ingredients of animal origin. All its
products are produced in various Sonac factories so customer
needs such as continuous supplies, quality control, tracking
and tracing systems are directly checked and guaranteed.
The plant in Burgum, Netherlands, is the largest European
category 3 processing plant. It has a meat meal line (pork and
bovine), a poultry line, a blood line, a bone meal line and
lines for feathers and pighair. (This end product is not used
in petfood due to very poor digestibility but is suitable for
fertilizers). About 100 people work at the Burgum plant.
Sonac also has facilities in the Netherlands and Belgium, plus
subsidiaries in France, Germany, Spain, Poland and Italy.
The Western European petfood sector is a major buyer of
Sonac products manufactured from animal-based raw materials
like protein meals, fats and minerals (e.g., phosphates from
bones). All can be sourced from Sonac as in a kind of
one-stop-shop. Producers of wet petfood or snacks can find a
variety of specific products like fresh or frozen organs and
carcasses (livers, lungs, hearts, necks), skins (for rawhides
treats) and gelatin-based products like binders (for semi-moist
treats), which are produced by Rousselot.
According to Sonac, its variety of products, combined with
ongoing product innovation and the ability to supply tailored
products, are of great importance to customers. Its production
line specialization and geographical spread mean more accurate
separation of raw materials, separate product-specific
production lines with resulting higher level of control and the
opportunity to fulfill demand for specialty or single-species
At the same time Sonac is able to meet customers' request
for high value ingredients-for example, ones with functional
properties-or offer cheaper alternatives like mixed meals when
producers need to control increased costs. The company can also
work with customers to evaluate and develop raw materials best
fitting their requirements.
"Petfood players are facing unprecedented challenges highly
connected to the raw material issue," states Geert van der
Velden, sales manager. Petfood companies need flexible,
reliable partners enabling them to fulfill customer requests
such as finding alternative solutions, diversifying for
competitive advantage, being more creative and looking for a
"second generation of raw materials," van der Velden adds. By
offering R&D cooperation and involving customers in every
stage of the product development process, Sonac intends to be
that kind of partner and to create strong long-lasting business
relations, he says.
This is especially true when materials that were available
in the past are not as obtainable or have increased greatly in
price. For example, Kerapro is a newly developed product from
feathers, with much better quality, improved digestibility and
bioavailability than feather meal, says Jarig Komrij, sales
manager for dry petfood. It's also high in protein and low in
In Sonac's view, innovation also includes picking up on
trends and market opportunities, so the company is closely
watching the hypoallergenic market. Although Sonac still has
"exotic" protein sources such as lamb and duck meal in its
portfolio, it's looking at what it considers the next and best
solution: hydrolized proteins.
These proteins-also called peptides-are cut in small pieces
so the body does not recognize them as proteins and the
allergic reaction does not occur. "Then we look to
functionality," says van der Velden, citing examples such as
plasma powder and gelatin based binders. "We are also focusing
on gelatin hydrolizates for joint problems, an alternative to
traditional products like chondroitin sulfate. Our hydrolizate
has the advantage in that it can be used as a hypoallergenic
ingredient and also has positive effects for the joints."
Product quality, safety and traceability are key items in
these processes and of crucial importance in the EU petfood
market. Sonac works with state-of-the-art control equipment and
adheres to several quality programs such as HACCP, GMP+, ISO
9001 and ISO 14001, fulfilling national and international
regulations and legislation.
"The big players usually visit our factory once a year,"
says Komrij. "Their research people know exactly what happens
in our factory or what kind of raw materials we process, how
they are produced. They know everything, included the critical
control points of our factories.
"Next to fulfilling the high safety and quality standards of
the petfood industry, we are now going for something more,"
Komrij continues, "trying to put additional attention on
freshness, palatability and digestibility of our raw materials,
all measurable and of critical importance to our