AURORA, MO. – The litmus test for modern pet food formulations is changing as consumer demands move the needle toward products and brands that tick a variety of boxes. Does the formulation have its own label? Is it all natural? Are the ingredients traceable? Does the brand actively pursue sustainability? And, most importantly, will this product benefit an animal’s health and well-being?
To that end, MFiber offers the industry a multi-faceted value proposition for pet owners and pet food manufacturers with its Miscanthus grass fiber. Pet food processing spoke with Eric Allphin, Vice President of Business Development at MFiber, to better understand the place of Miscanthus grass fiber in pet food.
During the Obama-Biden administration era, cellulosic ethanol mandates led to the development of biomass crop assistance programs that planted Miscanthus grass (Miscanthus giganteus) with the intention of harvesting the crop for use in the energy industry. When these markets did not develop as expected, Renew Biomass saw a new opportunity for Miscanthus grass as a sustainable and profitable source of fiber for the pet food and treat industry. The company has partnered with growers of Miscanthus grass, established its own conversion facilities to turn harvested crops into finished ingredients and, thus, MFiber was born.
The value of Miscanthus grass was quickly recognized as a functional, insoluble source of fiber for pet food, capable of replacing or working in tandem with traditional sources such as powdered cellulose, which is a pulp product from the paper industry, and beet pulp, a by-product from the sugar industry.
In comparison, Miscanthus grass fiber can serve as a one-to-one replacement for powdered cellulose in a pet food formulation because both fiber sources are highly insoluble. Miscanthus grass fiber can also be combined with beet pulp or tomato pomace, which are more soluble fiber sources, to achieve a more balanced insoluble and soluble fiber profile, or “fiber matrix”. ideal, as Allphin described it.
Additionally, MFiber contains xylooligosaccharides (XOS), a prebiotic that may support digestive health, unlike powdered cellulose. MFiber Miscanthus grass is all-natural, non-GMO, produced in SF/SF facilities without the use of chemicals. Miscanthus fiber production does not require the large amounts of water required to produce powdered cellulose, making it a cleaner and more environmentally friendly option.
“Paper has its place in this world, but it doesn’t need to be in our pets’ food,” Allphin said. “That’s really where Miscanthus comes in. Miscanthus can replace powdered cellulose and really help this industry.”
From plant to packaging
Miscanthus is a perennial crop, meaning it grows back year after year without having to be replanted. It is purposely bred for the pet food industry, and while Allphin was quick to point out that certain by-products are excellent sources of nutrition for pets, this specificity gives MFiber a a head start on three important aspects: cost, traceability and sustainability.
Renew Biomass operates a vertically integrated business model for its MFiber ingredients, from the planting and harvesting of Miscanthus grass to the conversion facilities that process the final ingredients. Farms are operated in southwestern Missouri and a proprietary method is used to lightly process Miscanthus grass into powdered or pelleted fiber without the use of chemicals or water.
“Vertical integration allows us to control all aspects of the supply chain, from farming to manufacturing,” Allphin said.
MFiber uses proprietary planting and processing methods to mass-produce its Miscanthus grass fiber. The company describes its supply of Miscanthus as “almost limitless” and the fact that it’s grown and sprouted on marginal land on rural Missouri farms is a testament not only to the environmental and social aspects of sustainability, but also to its transparency. The company aims for 100% traceability, working alongside farmers from land preparation and planting to harvesting and transportation.
This allows reliable availability of ingredients. Where recent paper shortages have interrupted the supply of pulp and by-products such as powdered cellulose, Miscanthus grass is available year-round and unaffected by the same supply chain constraints. upstream supply.
“We are not a commodity,” Allphin said. “There is no limited market. We have plenty of acres and can plant more acres if needed. We don’t have to depend on another country or another industry to supply us with a product.
MFiber’s ingredients are also competitively priced. The company’s Miscanthus grass fiber ingredients cost about half the price per pound compared to powdered cellulose. Besides the opportunity for cost savings, MFiber also offers processors the opportunity to conserve natural resources. The company estimates that by replacing approximately 17.5 million pounds of powdered cellulose with the same amount of MFiber, processors can save more than $7 million in costs, as well as more than 150,000 trees and $2.6 billion gallons of water.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the papermaking industry released the second highest amount of toxins – namely methanol – into the air in 2020. The EPA measures this by through a Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program, which includes chemicals that cause chronic or significant human health problems, such as cancer, as well as harmful environmental effects. According to the agency, the papermaking industry released 114.6 million pounds of TRI chemicals into the air in 2020, making it one of the nation’s top air polluters.
In late 2020, the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) partnered with MFiber and Trayak to conduct a life cycle analysis (LCA) comparing the durability of Miscanthus grass fiber and powdered cellulose. The LCA focused on two phases: the material phase, or the environmental footprint of extracting materials from the environment, and the manufacturing phase, or the impact of converting those materials into final ingredients. .
According to research, for every million pounds, MFiber uses 86% less fossil fuels, 98% less water, and releases 87% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than powdered cellulose.
Specifically, replacing 1 million pounds of powdered cellulose with 1 million pounds of MFiber could save over 153.2 million gallons of water and avoid over 496,000 kg of CO2 emissions. Less reliance on fossil fuels could save enough energy to power 169 average homes a year, and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is equivalent to the impact of almost 1.2 million kilometers traveled by tourism every year. Additionally, replacing powdered cellulose with MFiber sequesters enough carbon in one year to equal 12,614 acres of US forests.
“There are so many companies that are really embracing sustainability and looking to us as a way to help them achieve their sustainability goals,” Allphin said.
MFiber is a champion-level member of PSC, partnering with the organization to continuously assess its sustainability performance and strategies. In 2021, the company’s sustainable business practices earned MFiber the title of Best-in-Class Ingredient Supplier for PSC’s Positive Impact Program.
Teaching New Tricks to an Old Dog
While powdered cellulose may be recognized as a conventional source of insoluble fiber in pet food formulations, MFiber hopes to change that narrative with the herb Miscanthus.
Research conducted by Kansas State University found that Miscanthus fiber performed on par with powdered cellulose in terms of functional nutrition, palatability, and during processing. The University of Illinois has also conducted research showing that Miscanthus fiber may provide gut health benefits for pets when combined with beet pulp or tomato pulp fiber.
According to Allphin, MFiber is found in hundreds of pet food and treat formulations on the market today, spanning the gamut from dry and wet diets to freeze-dried treats and injection-molded chews. The ingredient can be included in functional formulations, including those targeting skin and coat health, digestibility, gas and other gastrointestinal issues, hairball control in cats, and weight management .
“Seven years ago, companies might have been the first to start putting MFiber in their pet foods,” Allphin said. “But now, if you’re not using it in pet food, you’re kind of behind the ball.”
The company currently distributes the majority of its products in the domestic market, with approximately 10% of its business going to international customers in Asia, Europe and South America. With MFiber growing more than 20% over the past two years, the opportunity to change the paradigm for dietary fiber for pets is not a distant dream.
“Consumers want an all-natural product, they want clean labels, they want whole foods on product labels,” Allphin said. “We take this grass and all we do is grind it up and then your pet eats it all. MFiber is a product that meets customer expectations.
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