Minding the gap between quality management and feed formulation

With the increasing adoption of technologies such as NIRs and nutritional value prediction platforms, quality and formulation have never been more relevant to each other within the feed and food industry. Working together to increase the value of raw materials and reduce production costs, formulation and quality can bring a huge impact to the companies’ results.

Ricardo Amaral
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Optimal Tecnologias

The enormous importance of quality control in feed production is undeniable for the success and profitability of any operation. Few are the most critical factors that impact the consistency of finished products and, consequently, adequate animal nutrition. Among so many responsibilities within a feed factory, the analytical work will obtain the results and quantitative values of the nutritional components of the food used and the feed produced. This will ensure that guaranteed analysis is always delivered and met.

Needless to say that quality management within the feed industry goes far beyond the analysis of ingredients and finished products: it involves sanitary controls, regulatory compliance, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, water potability, maintenance and calibration of equipment, and much more. However, isolating its importance to help nutritionists and formulators, quality management has a great responsibility to ensure greater consistency of the raw material used and the manufactured products, enabling companies to adopt better supplier qualification strategies and have complete statistics that enable better variability analysis to definite the values to be used in the feed formulation.

An adequate formulation is one that meets the nutritional needs of the animal according to its physiological stage, representing the ideal quantitative balance between nutrients – such as the correct relationship between lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, among others.

In the industrial context, feed and food formulation can also consider raw material costs and availability so that the appropriate formulation delivers to the company the mix that represents the lowest possible cost. This approach allows companies to achieve higher margins, reduced costs and a more agile process to create or adapt recipes for new products on the market with greater accuracy and speed.

The starting point for developing an animal feed formulation is to characterize the animal specifications, defining the feed objective, category and the animal’s needs. Thus, it will be possible to gather all the nutrients, ingredients and functional foods that will be part of the formula. Therefore, the chemical composition values of the ingredients used within the formula will be directly responsible not only for the optimal balance of nutritional requirements, but also for the quality of the finished product.

Whether to comply with regulatory instructions and government regulations, to apply traceability policies for food used or to qualify suppliers selected by the company. The quality control of the ingredients used in the production process is crucial for greater predictability regarding the quality of a feed, supplement, premix, among other foods.

Inside the factory, upon receiving the raw materials, the quality team takes the first step: a precise sampling is carried out and the analytical procedures are defined that will start the laboratory activities to evaluate the items received. Whether in own laboratories or outsourcing this activity, all these procedures for sampling and analytical inspection of inputs need to be written and documented, for example, in the company’s GMP Manual.

This sample received in the factory will go through the entire analytical process – color, odor, deterioration by biotoxins, texture and uniformity are some of the analyses performed to certify the quality. In more detail, depending on the raw material received, the quality area can carry out more detailed individual analyzes to certify that:

(1) the team responsible for the formulation is working with updated matrices and nutritional values. For this, they usually generate statistics of the analysis performed on the samples and pass on the mean values and standard deviation found to the formulation;

(2) supplier qualification is carried out and whether they are actually delivering the ingredients that meet the guaranteed levels previously informed. Assuming you purchased a Meat and Bone Meal (MBM) with a protein value of 50%. However, when performed the NIR analyses, a high percentage of the samples received from this supplier had values below the minimum tolerance limit of 45% of protein – that is, a general assessment of the quality of the ingredient can directly impact on a smaller variation in the levels nutrients used during the formulation of the feed products.

As we mentioned earlier in this article, animal feed factories must adopt a collaboration-based approach between formulation and quality management. When preparing feed and food formulations, nutritionists and formulators must have complete statistics to know the nutritional values of the ingredients, so that a safe update of the nutritional matrix can be done and the nutritional recommendations of all the nutrients of the animals from which they are formulating the product can be met.

In addition, having the nutritional matrix of the ingredients updated is important cost-wise, as the variability can impact the profitability of the business and also ensure the guaranteed levels. If we analyze only animal by-products, such as Meat and Bone Meal (MBM), we see a great variation in their nutritional levels. With that being said, it’s highly recommended to adopt a batch-to-batch formulation; otherwise, the solution is to have a robust database with nutrient analysis of raw materials and use the average and standard deviation found to define the ideal nutritional value to use.

In an increasingly rapid costs of ingredients scenario, strict monitoring of nutritional and food matrices has a deep impact in leverage production efficiency and cost reduction.

Let’s get practical here. We have gathered the results of Crude Protein analysis of Meat and Bone Meal (MBM) of different batches that a pet food company received during the period of 60 days. The figure below shows all the values for this analysis that were found via NIRS – with the control chart it is possible to evaluate the average found (43.0599%) and a high standard deviation (± 8.2591). Additionally, we drew a red line to show the value used by the customer (42%) to perform the product formulations during production batches for this period.

Meat and Bone Meal Analyses for Crude Protein (Image adapted from Optimal’s Labinfy platform, February 2023)

In short, certain batches of feed production used crude protein values for MBM higher than the value used in the formulation (yellow highlighted area). For those batches, they had an excess of protein in the feed, resulting in a cost increase that could be avoided. On the other hand, in batches that used crude protein values for MBM lower than the values used to formulate, it can cause poor animal performance by not delivering all necessary, required nutrients.

Another important aspect that we can discuss here is the importance of rapid, data-driven equipment, such as NIRS, that brings immediate results to the production process. The NIRS association with feed formulation softwares that leverage prediction equations to automate nutritional values calculation becomes an effective strategy to avoid higher variability and leverage real-time formulation. If we consider, for example, species with a short and fast cycle, such as broilers, you have animals that gain weight per hour. Therefore, any unnecessary addition of time, for any adjustment, can compromise the entire production system.

The importance of quality management and formulation processes going hand in hand is undeniable. This can be proven both in theory and in practice, and many departments of quality, nutrition, formulation and R&D of the feed and food producing companies end up being part of the same, connected area.

Considering only the formulation process (and not all the administrative and commercial benefits such as, for example, qualification and better selection of suppliers), when carrying out the bromatological study and chemical composition of the ingredients, nutritionists and formulators can collaborate to discover and keep their food matrix and nutritional values up-to-date, which can contribute to increase the value of raw materials and reduce production costs.

This is an approach that also shortens production time and approximates the nutritional levels between the formulated feed and the produced feed. By working with more accurate data on the chemical composition values of the ingredients used, we not only increase the nutritional precision of the formulation, but also observe an improvement in the financial performance of the operation and an increase in animal feed efficiency.

Whether in the quality of ingredients, finished products, and control procedures, or in the control of toxic substances, bringing the laboratory staff closer to the formulation team increases the probability of success. Evaluating more complete statistics and data-driven animal nutrition strategies, companies can experience more consistent quality production, efficient processes and increased profitability.

About Richardo Amaral
Ricardo Amaral is currently Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Optimal. With an MBA in Corporate Finance and specialization in Agribusiness Management and Governance, Ricardo has been working with technology companies with an emphasis on mathematical optimization methods and data analysis for the past 10 years. His focus as the CEO at Optimal is to create tools for laboratory information management and formulation optimization, allowing business to craft the ideal strategies to optimize feed efficiency, improve animal performance and maximize profit from the whole system.