Breaking away

Extrusion school in Sabetha and a look at the real world

The desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world

I arrived at the Kansas City, USA airport on Monday afternoon, January 10, 2005. Extrusion school started at "8:00 AM sharp" on Tuesday, January 11. I rented a car and headed north, just about the time freezing rain and darkness began to fall.

The normally two hour trip to Sabetha, Kansas took over three hours. I was happy to see the Sabetha Country Inn and the friendly faces that greeted me.


The next day, I saw that Sabetha was a slippery, but beautiful place. The tree branches and signs were covered with a white frosting, so they had a magical, dream-like appearance. I arrived at Wenger's Petfood Processing Technology Seminar at 8:05 AM sharp. What I found out is that extrusion and petfood production are much more complicated than I thought they were.

I was reminded that to extrude is to push out and to shape by forcing through a die. In the case of petfood, extrusion is a process by which ingredients are cooked by a combination of moisture, pressure, temperature and mechanical shear. Extrusion has come a long way, even in the last five years. New developments include:

The back pressure valve (BPV), which provides internal control of shear for regulation of critical product properties (cook and water hydration).

The external density control system (EDC), which provides external control of product bulk density and fat absorption.

Working in concert, the BPV and the EDC allow for accurate control of product density external to the extruder and die. They also allow the petfood manufacturer to make products with a wide range of properties, without extruder configuration changes.

The single-screw mixing head die (MHD), which can simultaneously produce multiple colors and shapes with one die.

The conical co-rotating twin-screw extruder (C2TX), which has a conical barrel and so generates high pressures at the die. Its intermeshing, co-rotating conical screws have a special profile that kneads the ingredients as they are forced through the extruder.

CJ Foods' new plant

While in Kansas, I had the opportunity to visit the new CJ Foods petfood plant in Bern, Kansas, USAless than 10 miles from Sabetha. John Krehbiel, director of sales, was my tour guide. He told me that both locations (Pawnee City, Nebraska, USA and Bern) operate 24 hours, 6 days/week. I saw their C2TX extruder with an extra head (barrel segment) for more throughput.

He emphasized that the company sells time and quality. While touring the plant and offices of this food-grade production facility, I saw several framed copies of their mission statement. It is:

  • We are dedicated to providing a High Value Service for A Fair Profit through Integrity and Personal Responsibility;
  • We will produce Superior Products utilizing Focused Quality Control;
  • Comprehensive Training Programs and Innovative Technology; and
  • We will aggressively Pursue Growth in Strategic Markets while Improving the Quality of Life for our Employees.

From what I saw, the company works hard to fulfill that mission.

Pet store surprises

Another good thing about my trip is that I was able to visit pet stores in the Kansas City area. "Humanization" (anthropomorphism) was the dominant marketing theme.

Petsmart has Blue Spa Select Feline Spa Cuisine"inspired by the world's finest spas." The product has exclusive LifeSource Bits, a precise blend of nutrients and antioxidants that are cold formed" to help maintain full nutritional potency."

The Wellness® brand has the slogan, "Unconditional love. Uncompromising nutrition." The brand includes Simple Food Solutions limited ingredient diets. For example the Duck Formula contains just one protein source (duck) and one carbohydrate source (rice).

Castor & Pollux's Organix formulas "with organic ingredients." According to their spokescat, Pollux: "Our Organix formula is so healthy, I expect to be the first feline with 10 lives." It is certified organic by Organic Crop Improvement Association ( ).

Best thing

Looking back, the best thing I learned from my week in Kansas came from John Krehbiel: "The desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world."

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