Posts Economy, Food

A research team that had previously focused mainly on food products had to make a decision: should they jump onto foreign soil, from food to pet health products? The answer gave rise to a unique product – and a completely new way of utilising Luke’s FoodPilot test hall.

Everyday life at the FoodPilot test hall of the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) in Jokioinen, Finland includes food product development. When Vetcare and Shea Beasley approached Luke with a new challenge, Luke learned how to use the FoodPilot hall in a more innovative way. The target group of the product being developed were not humans, but Border Collie Denny and other dogs with sensitive stomachs.

Luke and Vetcare end up developing a groundbreaking product, the first functional food meant for dogs. The sour-milk product is already on the market under the name of Canius®.

It started with cheese

Shea Beasley, Vetcare’s Product Development Manager, is a microbiologist. The industry’s circles are small, and Beasley was already familiar with MTT Agrifood Research Finland, one of the organisations that preceded Luke.

“MTT used to produce cheese which was incredibly good. We familiarised ourselves with dairy research through cheeses. When we were thinking about where we could find a small high-quality dairy that is able to make test products, we thought about the excellent cheeses,” Beasley says.

Luke was the missing piece.

“We at Vetcare had the required bacterial strains and the idea, but we lacked technical expertise. Luke has a dairy and expertise in dairy technology,” Beasley continues.

Dogs with sensitive stomach may find help in functional foods. Photo: Luke archive.

Beasley herself owns a dog with a sensitive stomach. At that time, dogs were given lots of sour milk to make their digestive system work better. However, it was the same sour milk that people drink.

“Evolution dictates what kind of microbes animals have in their systems. Naturally, there are differences between species,” Beasley explains.

Beasley’s idea was that beneficial microbes should be animal-specific, meaning that strains meant for dogs should be isolated from dogs. The sour milk for dogs that was created first and then the powder-form Canius® responded to this need.

Stage: FoodPilot test hall

The FoodPilot test hall in Jokioinen was effectively and innovatively utilised. The premises have been approved by the food authority, which lends credibility to the product. Furthermore, the test hall has versatile process equipment and competent employees.

The hall could be used for heat treatment, fermentation, drying, packaging and shelf life tests. Testing in pilot scale reduced the risks connected with the transfer to actual production.

“One of the key challenges was changing liquid into powder and prolonging its shelf life to make the product commercially viable,” Tuomo Tupasela, Senior Scientist at Luke, explains the development stages of the product.

It was a product development project aiming at an EU license for the product. Effectiveness research was also performed. Luke was responsible for shelf life tests of a variety of semi-finished products. Some of these tests are still ongoing. In addition, Luke developed bacteria identification methods.

The market for products and services for pets is growing. Canius® has been on the market since 2017, and it is also sold outside Finland. The product has been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Luke’s expertise on what the approval of a product requires assisted in the acquisition of the license and the internationalisation. Furthermore, an internationally established research organisation made the product more credible.

Beasley praises Luke’s service-centred attitude. She mentions flexibility and good communication.

“Whenever it seemed that something was not going as planned, somebody from Luke contacted us. They also notified us immediately once the challenge had been overcome.”

One of the key challenges was changing the liquid product into powder and prolonging its shelf life, says Tuomo Tupasela. Photo: Eetu Ahanen.

Successful test

A desire to experiment and develop is the key, particularly in product development. However, the risk of failure is always present in an experiment. Taking the risk was worthwhile. Feedback on the product from both veterinarians and dog owners has been very positive. In addition to creating a functional product, the participants learned something important.

“We have all the opportunities we need to further develop our expertise to reach more target groups. Cats are one of the potential target groups. This made us believe that we can go ahead with new raw materials and target groups with the expertise we already have,” Tupasela says.

Traditionally, the FoodPilot team’s raw materials have been milk- and egg-based, a tradition that stems from the times of MTT. Recently, also a fish challenge has been brought into the test hall. A new challenge requires the same kind of courage as the health product for dogs.

“We have studied the side streams of fish and how they could be better utilised. Therefore, it wasn’t difficult for us to start working with fish,” Tupasela says.

You will hear more about the fruits of the cooperation between Vetcare and Luke in the near future.

“We showcased our expertise and the customer was inspired and proposed another test together.”

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