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Purina Pulls Back Its Curtain


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Vice president of quality management Chris Archer demonstrated one of the ways employees check sensory samples to ensure quality and consistency.

St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. opened its doors to the media for its Purina Behind the Bowl Symposium Sept. 12 and 13, giving attendees a rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at the company. In addition to participating in panel discussions, media members took part in mock food-quality checks, donned smocks and hard hats to tour the Purina Pilot Plant, and explored the company’s cutting-edge Retail Innovation Center.

In the Quest for Quality session, Purina representatives emphasized that the company uses evidence-based research to improve pets’ lives and that science is a fundamental part of Purina’s process.

“It’s about always making sure that what we do is founded on science,” said Kurt Venator, DVM, Ph.D., and chief veterinary officer for Purina, adding that the company works with other experts in the field, too, such as university researchers, to conduct scientific research.

The Recipe for Success panel focused on how Purina procures its ingredients and the rigorous process that potential vendors go through before supplying ingredients to the company, as well as the ongoing quality checks Purina has in place for existing vendors.

Purina officials noted that the company performs 30,000 quality checks in every 24-hour period and that its goal is to prevent food safety issues from happening rather than to react to them.
The company gave the media a glimpse of its quality-check process. Its products must pass a cross-functional technical review. There’s an emphasis on a variety of checks throughout the production process and prevention versus detection, Purina officials noted. 

Using to-scale color photos that showcased what Purina products are supposed to look like, attendees were invited to perform their own sensory checks on samples of dry and wet Purina food. Attendees compared the photos to the sample products—some of which were intentionally spiked with incorrectly shaped or too-chunky kibble—keeping an eye out for discrepancies in attributes such as kibble size, kibble shape, food color and, in the case of wet food, moisture content. 

The Role of Regulation in Pet Food panel included representatives from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), Pet Food Institute (PFI) and U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The panel discussed the importance of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), how to handle recalls, including the value of being upfront when they happen, and gaining pet consumers’ trust. 

“The recall is absolutely critical to the food safety system,” said Cathy Enright, president and CEO of the PFI. “Companies are evaluating, monitoring, measuring, testing, from the beginning—the ingredient supplier—all the way through to that bag of kibble.” 

Enright noted the importance of preventing food safety issues before they occur, adding that FSMA is a key part of holding manufacturers accountable.

“The Food Safety Modernization Act changed food safety in this country from reactive—‘We found a problem, now we need to correct it’—to preventive,” she said.
Attendees toured the Purina Pilot Plant, which is designed for research and development, including testing prototypes of Purina products before they are produced in the company’s much-larger factories in locations across the U.S. To retain a competitive advantage, the company makes much of its own manufacturing equipment.

The Retail Innovation Center, designed to mimic a retail store, is where Purina tests concepts intended to give retailers a way to offer consumers an exciting in-store experience. It presents creative stocking ideas and interactive technology. The Pet Aisle Navigator, for example, features a touchscreen from which a consumer can select their type of pet. If a consumer selects “small dog,” they will see “small dog” signs illuminate in the pet food aisle, directing them to potential selections for their pet.
Purina officials also spoke about the company’s commitment to strengthening the bond between pets and people. Purina gives more than $30 million each year to pet welfare organizations in monetary and product donations. 

The company highlighted two recent programs designed to strengthen its commitment to pets and the community. Purina has worked with the Urban Resource Institute (URI)—a nonprofit organization that operates domestic violence shelters around New York—on its innovative People and Animals Living Safely Program. The company and URI have opened Purina Pet Havens at three of URI’s six shelters so that residents and their pets can play in safety. The company also donates pet food and supplies to those moving into URI’s pet-friendly shelter apartments. Dr. Venator noted that concerns over a pet’s safety prevent some domestic violence victims from leaving their abusers, and that very few domestic violence shelters in the U.S. are able to offer accommodations for pets. 

And last year, Purina collaborated with St. Louis Children’s Hospital to create the Purina Family Pet Center. The comfortable space allows patients and their families to spend time with their pets during the treatment process. 

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