The following is Part 2 of excerpts from an interview by Petnet VP of Food, Steve Pelletier with Cathy Enright, CEO of the Pet Food Institute. Read Part 1 here.
Steve: There has been a sea change in the pet food industry from just 10 years ago. For example, the humanization of pet food and the predilection of the average pet owner to purchase higher quality foods. How has your membership reacted to this? Do you think that your overall membership base has waited too long to respond to this change?
Cathy: Given the variety of pet food and treats available, I would say our members have done a great job in meeting the demand for on-trend ingredients. What pet lovers may not see, however, is their commitment and investment in continual improvement in safety and nutritional science.
When you visit your favorite store, you’ll find options that help families who are looking for certain ingredients, expecting non-kibble varieties, or have specific requests regarding ingredient sourcing. PFI plays a role in this regard by providing information about these options and what they mean in terms your pet’s nutrition and well-being.
Beyond new ingredients, we also see the convergence of three “new normals” that I believe are shaping the pet food and treat industry. First, our dogs and cats are now considered part of the family and we have a stronger bond with our pets than ever before. In addition, the consumer right-to-know is here to stay and that means an expectation for transparency, including about pet food. Lastly, we are in a period where science and the preponderance of evidence is discounted. Our membership is and will have to continue to respond to these realities.
Steve: As CEO, what are your two biggest challenges for the rest of this year and next?
Cathy: One question that still surprises me is whether PFI members actually care about the well-being of dogs and cats. This communicates to me a skepticism about the industry that has emerged as a result of the “new normals” identified above, and an issue I believe is the association’s responsibility to address.
For sure, I see the commitment of our members to safety and advancing nutrition, providing complete and balanced nutrition and treats for fun/training time, developing recipes from a variety of ingredients to meet shoppers’ preferences, but that’s just the business end. PFI sees the love that our members have for cats and dogs every day. Beyond supporting pets in their own office buildings, they welcome and help pets in their communities, for example by building parks or supporting pet-friendly policies at domestic violence shelters. They also are there during emergencies, working closely with relief agencies to help ensure pets in need are fed. PFI needs to tell this story loudly, and is going to continue to celebrate the important role of pets in all of our lives and ways we can all help support pets.
Steve: Can consumers reach out to PFI or are you strictly B2B? If you do have a direct consumer contact point, what are some examples of your consumer interactions?
Cathy: We’re actually not a B2B association. Our role is to advocate and inform. With regard to interactions with pet lovers, I do that every day with one-on-one in conversation with legislators, regulators, media and shoppers. The first question everyone asks is, “What’s the best food for my pet?”
My favorite interaction thus far, however, was meeting with people and their pets at Blog Paws last May. I really enjoyed speaking with both fans and detractors. After all, we have a common bond—our love for pets.
On a grander scale, please stay tuned; we’ll be broadening our platform for communicating with pet parents by launching our Facebook page in 2018! Until then, we encourage interested pet lovers to visit our website at www.petfoodinstitute.org and our Twitter handle, @USPetFood, where we regularly add new content and information on issues related to pet food safety, nutrition and ingredients. Our blog posts have covered allergies, by-products, pet dehydration and even provided tips for storing pet food to prevent insect infestation. One that might be of particular interest was our blog post discussing the role of carbohydrates in pet food. As mentioned earlier, we also recently a new interactive infographic series, “Nutrition from Nose Tail,” which looks at the specific ways that nutrition supports your pet’s health.
Steve: Anything else you would like to share?
Cathy: Pets are so integral in our lives—we are dependent upon them for joy, comfort and sometimes activity. The last thing I want is for pet parents to worry unnecessarily. We want shoppers’ questions to be answered.
Steve: Thanks for your time Cathy.