A Journey of Learning and Growth: Internship at Champion Petfoods

Kehan (Coco) Zhang, MSc student, had the incredible opportunity to participate in a Mitacs Accelerate internship placement at Champion Petfoods LTC in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada! Here is her story:

Over the past two weeks, I have had the incredible opportunity to intern at Champion Petfoods. This experience has not only broadened my understanding of the pet food industry but also deepened my insight into the dedication and expertise required to create high-quality pet nutrition. As someone passionate about pet health and nutrition, this internship has been a dream come true.

Photo of Coco at the Champion Petfoods entrance sign.

One of the highlights of my internship was the opportunity to engage with different departments. This multi-departmental exposure was invaluable, offering me a comprehensive understanding of the company’s operations. While working alongside the Research & Innovation team, I gained insights into the meticulous considerations involved in:

  1. Formulating diets
  2. Spanning research support
  3. Regulatory compliance
  4. Meeting nutritional targets
  5. Managing ingredient panels.

Additionally, I learned about the complexities of assessing new ingredients, navigating various regulatory requirements across different markets, addressing sustainability concerns, and ensuring financial viability. Witnessing the intricate timeline of product development underscored the collaborative effort required across departments to achieve success.

I also had the chance to visit the NorthStar Kitchener facility and engage in discussions about the challenges and procedures involved in the diet-making process. One eye-opening revelation was learning about the difficulties encountered in producing ACANA biscuits, primarily due to the inclusion of sweet potatoes in the recipe. As a consumer, I had never considered the challenge of using sweet potatoes for starch gelatinization to facilitate extrusion. This insight shed light on the complexity of product development, and I gained valuable knowledge from this particular aspect of diet formulation.

The pet food manufacturing tour provided a firsthand look at the intricate process of converting raw ingredients into nutritious pet food. Witnessing everything from sourcing fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables to the meticulous cooking, quality assurance, and packaging techniques underscored the dedication to ensuring food quality and safety at every stage. Additionally, spending three days with the product development team offered me a unique opportunity to immerse myself in their daily activities, which included tasks such as mixing fresh meat and conducting test runs. This hands-on experience was incredibly enlightening, allowing me to grasp the complexity and precision required in pet food production.

Coco holding a bag of Acana cat pet food at the Champion Petfoods facility.

Another aspect of my internship that stood out was the role of technology and innovation in Champion Petfoods’ operations. The company involves advanced technologies to ensure the safety, quality, and sustainability of their products. From state-of-the-art laboratory equipment in the Product & Development department to cutting-edge manufacturing techniques, technology plays a crucial role in maintaining the high standards Champion Petfoods is known for.

A group of interns conducting research in the Champion Petfoods laboratory.

Beyond the technical knowledge and hands-on experience, this internship provided invaluable networking opportunities. I had the chance to connect with professionals who are leaders in their fields. Their willingness to share their knowledge and experiences was incredibly enriching. These interactions have not only expanded my professional network but also provided me with mentors who can guide me in my future career.

As I reflect on the past two weeks, I am filled with gratitude for the experiences and knowledge I have gained. This internship has solidified my passion for pet nutrition and has provided me with a clear direction for my future career. I am excited to apply what I have learned and to continue growing in this field.

Written by Kehan (Coco) Zhang, MSc. Student

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