March 24, 2016


Kemin: Leading a precision, consumer-driven science



Kemin Industries began on a shoestring budget in 1961 in a vacant wool barn on the outskirts of Des Moines, USA. Founders R.W. and Mary Nelson invested their US$10,000 savings in the business, which had just two product lines then - mould inhibitors and pig feed flavourings.


Today, the company manufactures and distributes over 500 specialty ingredients used in the feed, food and consumer markets. Much credit for the company's rapid development has been given to current president and CEO, Dr. Chris Nelson, who is also R.W. and Mary's son. Under his direction, the company quadrupled in size and now operates in 90 countries with manufacturing facilities in Belgium, Brazil, China, India, Italy, Singapore, South Africa and the United States.


In a recent visit to Kemin's Singapore office, Dr. Chris Nelson shared with LIVESTOCK and FEED Business recent company developments such as the adoption of encapsulation technology as well as its cultivation of oregano. He also shared insights on how the feed and livestock industry is being increasingly driven by consumers.


LFB: What consumer-driven trends do you see in the feed and livestock industry?


Kemin's vision is to improve the quality of life by touching half of the people of the world every day with our products and services. This is done with over 500 specialty ingredients that are incorporated daily into the feed and drinking-water of food-producing animals, and in the food and healthcare products used by consumers. To do so, we need to understand what the consumers want now and in the future. This is what Kemin does best.


In Asia, for example, we see a rapid expansion of the dairy sector. I see a really significant growth in milk-based beverage products containing flavours and other ingredients, such as vitamins, although consumption of such products is not yet typical of Asia culturally.


There is no doubt that rising incomes have something to do with it, but we're seeing increasing realisation among the younger people that straight-sugar drinks are not that satisfying, and much less nutritional. So why not go for something that's delightful to drink and nutritional at the same time?


As we all know, crude protein is one of the chief high-cost ingredients in feed, especially dairy feed. The cow's rumen - or stomach - needs large amounts of crude protein to generate an adequate amount of amino acids for the animal to optimise milk production.


So the challenge for us at Kemin is to help our customers optimise milk output while keeping crude protein costs as low as possible. This is then passed down to the consumer in the form of milk-based beverages that are safe, wholesome and affordable.


This brings us to our philosophy of precision nutrition or the use of particular nutrients in the intestinal tract to achieve the highest possible efficacy.


This idea came after it was discovered that amino acids, which are rate-limiting in the rumen, can be made to bypass the rumen into the small intestine where there is maximum absorption. This is a fabulous way feed manufacturers can reduce use of crude protein to produce feed at a lower cost while achieving better production level in the cow.


In regions where corn is mostly fed, lysine is often the number one rate-limiting amino acid. And Kemin is one of the top bypass lysine producers in the world. In other parts of the world such as Asia, however, the rate-limiting amino acid can vary depending on the forage.


Our bypass amino acids are produced using encapsulation technologies at two facilities: Cavriago in Italy and Des Moines in Iowa. Our type of encapsulation technology is unique in that it uses spray freezing, which provides a higher degree of integrity than other types used, such as spray cooling.
Kemin's encapsulation facility in Des Moines, Iowa, US
Amino acids are like chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies. In chocolate chip cookies, the chips are covered with dough. In our case, amino acids are coated with edible fat molecules, which allow amino acids to bypass the rumen.


Encapsulation, incidentally, is a core technology of Kemin.


We realise, however, that like other animal feed technologies, encapsulation may be adopted haphazardly. It takes time to establish scientific evidence. What may work in Wisconsin may not work in California. Or in Malaysia for that matter. So we see the adoption of encapsulated amino acids as an on-going process throughout the world. But we do see that, eventually, we will be manufacturing encapsulated amino acids in Asia.


How about consumer-driven trends for other species?


Apart from encapsulated amino acids in ruminant nutrition, the trend in monogastric nutrition is the dramatic reduction or elimination of antibiotics in feed. This trend is not only a result of governmental changes but one driven by consumers themselves.


In the past, changes were driven largely by new science or government regulations. In the next 50 years, however, we will see changes, including those on feed formulation, being driven by consumers.


Low-level use of antibiotics has benefited feed productivity in several ways, such as lowering feed-to-gain ratios. There is no absolute scientific conclusion yet that antibiotics used in food production animals are harmful to humans, although there are reasons to be worried. But from a consumer standpoint, there is no question we have to squarely address the issue. So the question is: can we do anything to replace antibiotics?


The first thing we have found is that there is no single product that can replace an antibiotic. We will probably need a combination of approaches. We see this as a journey involving the collaboration between the feed miller and the farmer, with changes in feed and probably animal husbandry as well. While Kemin is on the feed side, we also work with feed customers on the husbandry side.


Kemin is unique in that we offer a variety of products, which may be used to replace antibiotics. First we have a butyric acid product called ButiPEARLTM. We know the great benefits that butyric acid bring to the animal in the small intestine, due to the preference of the acid by cells in the villi. The problem is that butyric acid is easily absorbed into the bloodstream before it reaches the small intestine, such as in the mouth, oesophagus and stomach. As with bypass amino acids, encapsulation is the secret tool to ensure that butyric acid makes it to the small intestine. Butyric acid then makes the villi healthy.


Next we have acidifiers, which lower the pH in feed  and eliminate pathogens. We offer lactic acid in a scientifically-proven combination with other organic acids, which is unique to other acidifiers in the market.


Then we have probiotics. We have a patented Bacillus subtilis strain, which was incidentally co-invented by the current president of our animal nutrition and health division in Asia Pacific, Dr. Tan Hai Meng. We see very unique opportunities for this strain as a specific-disease controlling probiotic.


One of our newest products is an essential oil from oregano, ORSENTIALTM. Better known as the principal spice used in pizza, we have bred our own clonal lines of oregano in our specialty crop section. After looking at close to 500 different lines for molecules, which are deemed effective as a novel gut health molecule for use in an antibiotic free portfolio of products, we are now growing the species in Texas. This makes us one of the largest oregano growers in the United States. Our clonal line of oregano ensures the optimal ratio of the two key antimicrobial ingredients that can give the best benefit to our customers, especially in the aquaculture industry.
Kemin's cultivation of oregano in Texas, US
Although such replacements for antibiotics will necessarily bring more costs for the farmer, I would say that it is the farm, big or small, that is most responsive to the consumer, which will lead the adoption of such products. For Asia, there is no question the region has recognised Europe as a key export market for antibiotic-free animal-derived food products. Moreover, there is a growing consumer segment in Asia for antibiotic-free food, in line with the general trend for safe and wholesome food.


You became co-chair of Iowa's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Advisory Council in July last year. Tell us more about your views on innovation in Kemin and beyond.


Together, with a variety of other people, I'm involved in all sorts of efforts to get children more interested in science. The key to inspiring innovation is to return people to their childhood when they were naturally curious, because innovation happens when we reignite their curiosity in things.


At Kemin, our culture has been the application of science to improve the quality of life. We see tremendous opportunities for animal agriculture, and many challenges have to be met by science. For example, the concept of antibiotics could be seen as a very difficult scientific problem to be solved by the scientific method.


There is potential for innovation in every corner of the world, and Kemin recognises this - we have a decentralised research and development strategy to take advantage of local learning, local geographies and the intellectual talents of our staff in our regional businesses. This is because animal feed is a very localised business, with many local issues. Returning to the oregano species, which we cultivated, the molecule we were looking for was actually discovered in our research laboratory in Zhuhai, China. We have found it very helpful to conduct research locally, and then to identify products that are most important for Asia.


If there were three things you would like to see being changed in the global feed and livestock industry, what would they be?


First, I would like to raise awareness on the tremendous value of animal nutrition to the human race.


Similarly, I would like to see more talk about the safety of protein food products, sometimes which are even safer than vegetable food products.


Third, I would like to see the industry realise the value of protein products. We in the industry have often allowed protein products to be commoditised, which in the process drives prices too low.


These are the three things I would change if I could wave a magic wand across the industry.

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