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K-State Today

April 4, 2016

Kansas State University staking claim as pet food research leader

Submitted by Pat Melgares

Kansas State University's leadership for research in the pet food industry is opening doors of opportunity for faculty and students.

"Kansas State University sits in what I would consider the center of the pet food universe," said Greg Aldrich, research associate professor of grain science and industry, noting that the university's expertise includes extrusion, thermal processing, canning, baking, sensory analysis, value-added processes and more.

"It's really all about value-added agriculture and taking agricultural commodities or the co-products from the meat and grain milling industries and turning those into healthy, nutritious pet food products. And it's also about the industry. Converting those materials into pet food creates a lot of jobs."

Globally, pet owners spend more than $60 billion on their furry friends. Of that total, about $23 billion goes toward pet food, and estimates for Kansas indicate that pet food contributes as much as $7 billion to the state's economy.

Under Aldrich's guidance, the university introduced an academic program in 2011 for those wanting to pursue a minor in pet food science. The curriculum includes classes in animal science, grain science and human nutrition. Students currently enrolled come from across the U.S. and several foreign countries.

Manufacturers wanting nutritional analyses of pet foods, or perhaps wanting to develop a more sustainable approach to pet food production, either pay for commercial labs to conduct research or take their project to Kansas State University, according to Aldrich.

"As a consultant, before I was part of the university, I'd come to Manhattan with my pet food clients to produce small amounts of pet food for research purposes," he said. "It quickly became obvious that I was coming to Kansas State University quite a bit to do pet food research, new product development, and test prototypes of new pet food. It starts to make sense that we ought to be doing something in a formal way."

Last year, a pet food workshop in Manhattan drew 210 participants who learned how to make a number of healthy treats, such as a gummy treat for companion animals. This year, K-State Olathe will host a Petfood Innovation Workshop on April 18 to give participants an opportunity to take what they've learned in textbooks and apply it to real products — "from the abstract to the real," Aldrich said.

"What you find is that when people get their hands dirty in that situation, it breaks down barriers and they begin to communicate with one another," Aldrich said. "We are creating a whole new series of networks that they haven't experienced before, where we are increasing their creativity and imagination."

The workshop is part of the April 18-20 Petfood Forum at the Kansas City Convention Center, which will draw more than 2,500 industry professionals from around the world. Kansas State University will have a dominant presence at the forum, including booths, posters, meetings and faculty and students from several departments.

Learn more at PetfoodForumEvents.com.

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