It is very important to constantly monitor the performance of all products for the duration of their life cycle. Obviously, there are tests that are only performed prior to launch, but there are others that must be done regularly to know that we are meeting the attributes that we originally designed.
Regardless of the work carried out by the marketing team regarding image communication and product characteristics on the packaging, the expected scope in terms of its performance with buyers and pets must be clearly established.
A primary challenge for the pet owner to cover is to meet the expectations of food shapes, textures, colours and aroma; if this is not achieved, the product will never be offered to the dog or cat.
Regarding pets, all products must meet a minimum of attributes in order to be successful, which are mainly the following: compliance with the nutritional requirements for which the food was designed, acceptance and preference of the food, quantity and stool consistency.
There are attributes established in certain types of specialised diets (prescription foods) that must be evaluated with specifically developed protocols to test their performance.
Compliance with nutritional requirements
There are different entities worldwide (AAFCO, NRC, FEDNA) that have established minimum and maximum levels of nutrients for the different stages of life of pets. It is very important to take these as references to correctly design products that meet the expected nutritional performance. Additionally, there are also very valuable specific publications with update reports and suggestions of levels of certain nutrients.
The AAFCO establishes animal testing protocols to validate foods designed for stages of growth, pregnancy, lactation, and digestibility in dogs and cats.
Before launching, it is very important that an industrial batch of food is generated that meets the specifications established by the technical areas (formula, quality of ingredients, process controls, etc.). This product must remain in the cellar, preferably in its final packaging and with standard storage conditions for a period of four to six weeks prior to evaluation. This is in order to try to ‘tie’ the time spent in the canal distribution the food of the competition against which it will be tested. We must also have the basic analytical values of said product (proximal chemical analysis).
Parallel to the previous action, it is necessary to evaluate against which product or products of the competition will be compared. It is suggested to choose the local market leader. Of course, said product must belong to the same market segment in which our new product will participate.
Remember that the competition is constantly improving their food, so it is very important to repeat the acceptance and preference tests every six months. The animal colony that is used for the tests is also very important since there are issues with some breeds to overeat, others that are easy to have digestion problems, poor stool consistency, etc.
Acceptance and preference
The acceptance test is carried out in order to document the quantity of food consumed of the product to be evaluated during a specific period of time and in turn compare it with the quantities of the competitor’s food consumed during the same period of time.
An individual food is always tested per test and colonies of between 20 and 40 dogs or cats are generally used and the periods to be evaluated range from 7 to 15 days per food. It is very important to document the individual data of each animal in order to have a greater amount of data. The preference test in its two-bowl version is the most widely used by the industry to assess the performance of one food compared to another. It uses 20 to 40 animals, and its duration can be two or four days.
A known amount of food is offered in each bowl, always taking care that this amount is more than the pet can consume during the session. The bowls are presented aligned in front of the animal, one on the right and one on the left, taking care to rotate the position of the bowls the next day. The amount of time that the food is offered for consumption should be according to the animal’s physiology. It is generally accepted to use between 15 and 20 minutes for dogs and 17 to 24 hours for cats.
Both dogs and cats should be treated as individuals in order to have more observation and to avoid group feeding. At the end of the test, we will acquire a lot of valuable information to make decisions. In general, total consumption is reported both in quantity and percentage per animal and in group, as well as the consumption radius (higher/lower).
It is recommended to assign a percentage difference in the consumption of both diets that determines whether the animal preferred one diet or the other; this value is established subjectively (example: 20 percent) and consists of concluding if the difference between the consumption in percentage of both foods is less than 20 percent, then it is considered a tie, of course, if it is higher, it is reported as a preference.
At the end of each acceptance and preference test, it is suggested to carry out a statistical test in order to determine the strength of the results.
Amount and consistency of stool
A performance attribute expected by pet owners is that the food generates a little amount of faeces with a firm consistency. Of course, this is highly variable depending on the market segment in which the product participates.
To carry out this type of test, it is recommended to have an animal colony of at least 20 individuals.
The food is provided freely accessible, and an adaptation period of three days is allowed at least before starting to monitor the results. After those three days, the quality of the faeces of each dog should be monitored. This is done by comparing the stool with a table of reference photos.
In general, the stool scale determines that non-formed and liquid stools have a rating of 0, while dry and well-formed stools have a value of 100. The other values on the scale are 25, 50 and 75. There are available photographic scales made by some manufacturers that can be very useful to us to qualify the faeces.
In conclusion, it is very important to constantly test our products in order to know that we are meeting the performance expectations expected by our buyers.