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A David and Goliath Story for the Pet Industry



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Petfood Forum 2016 marked the first time pet industry media outside of the Watt Global Media family were invited to join the annual event in Kansas City, Mo., so, of course, Pet Product News wasted no time thanking the hosts and securing a seat at an experience pet food experts bill as “the hub of the global pet food manufacturing industry.”

While the exhibit arena, with 367 booths and 253 companies in attendance, is no Global Pet Expo or SuperZoo in terms of size, it’s a show floor completely unlike its industry cousins. These are the professionals who do the very detailed and delicate work of pet food processing and extrusion, working to ensure pet food safety, updating attendees on impactful government regulations, determining pet tastes and ingredient palatability, and discovering ways to use unconventional nutrients for greater product healthfulness.

The education seminars are a breed apart, as well. Many delve into the hot-button trends in such a hardcore, data-driven and smart way that one must be a copious note-taker who better not suffer from attention deficit disorder in any way in order to keep up. On the flip side, auditing the more scientific sessions provides lessons in a very specific and fascinating discipline. Taste preference drivers, sensory profiles, phytonutrients, recovering energy and water while reducing odor in extrusion, assessing carbohydrates, microbial reduction, micronutrients, breed-specific dietary carnitine, biomass ingredients, microbiological methods of validation … let’s just say I was glad my long-term memories of my biology minor courses in college remain intact!

What also might be of specific interest to you, independent pet retail readers, is what you already know and live during your workaday lives as the pet specialty professionals you are.

It’s you, pet specialty retailers, who follow your instincts, go along for the exciting ride with manufacturing mavericks, take risks in carrying their products and stump-speech their benefits to your customers so their pets can live enriched, longer and healthier lives. Together you set the trends that take years—if not decades—for the less-nimble, Goliath-like pet food manufacturers and mass retailers to begin to grasp.

Is it a surprise to you that the freeze-dried and dehydrated pet food categories are making bank? That premiumization continues to grow but that consumers are looking more closely at “value natural” foods as a way to achieve cost savings? That the natural, grain-free, limited-ingredient and raw frozen categories continue to surge in their respective ways in terms of sales, year-over-year growth and market share? 

Humanization, consumer awakening, kibble-plus (food enriched with freeze-dried pieces), clean labels, short ingredient lists, superfoods, mixers, toppers, GMO free, mission-based brands, eco-friendly packaging, traceability—all these topics resurfaced time and again in many of the education sessions. Are you surprised? I bet not.

As I listened to one of the speakers who represents the big-box side of the pet industry equation talk about how value for consumers hinges on the industry’s ability to better understand pets and owners, enhance their lives, establish credibility and trust with owners, address pets’ unique needs, help consumers enjoy an authentic and engaging shopping experience, and become solution providers—not just sellers of dog and cat food—it hit me like a ton of 44-pound kibble bags just how vital independent pet retailers and small pet food manufacturers are to the $60 billion-plus pet industry juggernaut.

The basics of this industry start with you. What this person talked about is what you have been doing for consumers each and every day since you opened your doors (and for some that’s been a long time!). It’s what sets you apart from and gives you the edge over big-box mass retailers and e-commerce encroachers.

It’s the Sojos, the Stella & Chewy’s, the Primals, the Vital Essentials and others who began years ago with the basics, went out on a limb, did the research, listened to instinct, took the huge risks and stood apart with products never before produced.

And it’s you, pet specialty retailers, who follow your instincts, go along for the exciting ride with manufacturing mavericks, take risks in carrying their products and stump-speech their benefits to your customers so their pets can live enriched, longer and healthier lives.

Together you set the trends that take years—if not decades—for the less-nimble, Goliath-like pet food manufacturers and mass retailers to begin to grasp. And that, my friends, is an awe-inspiring feat of first-order genius.

 

Ellyce Rothrock, involved in the pet industry for almost 25 years, is editor-in-chief of Pet Product News International, student of all market and consumer trends, and owner of two rescued German shepherd dogs, Fritz and Mina. Email her at erothrock@petproductnews.com.

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