Petfood Forum 2014 opened with the presentation, "Pet food is a religion: Why people care more about their dog's food than their own," by pet journalist and certified animal behaviorist, Steve Dale. After having his life changed by a Brittany Spaniel named Chaser and a piano-playing Devon Rex cat named Ricky, Dale started his career in the pet industry with a desire to help people who have pets with behavioral problems and to save pets' lives.
Dale shared a lot about his pet parent audience-readers of his column and blog, and his radio listeners-and what he hears from them regarding their perceptions of pet nutrition and the petfood industry as a whole. "Facts are trumped by individual opinion, rumor, emotion, creativity-anything but scientific fact-and it spreads like a virus," said Dale. So how should the petfood industry respond? Dale suggests that petfood makers:
1. Communicate. "Be personal and honest and avoid lawyer language."
2. Bust internet myths. "Educate vets, trainers and animal behaviorists about nutrition, too."
3. Give consumers the facts. "Science doesn't need to be a bad word and neither do words like by-products."
Dale also pointed out that during the 2007 petfood recalls, 80% of the questions he received were from consumers desperate for information. The more recent China chicken jerky treats illnesses and deaths in cats and dogs have once again raised mistrust among pet parents. This is the industry's chance to respond.