["The pet retailer PetSmart worked with Edison Nation to invite new pet product ideas from pet owners and other consumers on its website earlier this year.", "Del Monte focused on a core group of pet-obsessed consumers who, when asked what their dogs would like to have for breakfast, overwhelmingly answered, \"Bacon and eggs.\""]

Earlier this year, Petfood Industry editor-in-chief Debbie Phillips-Donaldson posted a blog on Petfood-Connection.com , asking members on the social networking site what they thought about the latest R&D strategies for the release of new petfoods, treats and supplements. Besides providing relatively inexpensive ways to get ideas and feedback from target customers, these new strategies and programs offer speed to market. Here is what some of you had to say:

Jeffrey Michael Bond (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)-"I do not believe that these are just fads. I am hearing of other industries and companies, including a large soup company, doing the same thing … The challenge is in asking the right questions to elicit the responses that are of use."

Edgar Islas (Queretaro, Mexico)-"I remember the experience of focus group research, I often remained suspicious, because the results sometimes had a lot to do with skills of the moderators. This is a new era where social networks already have great value per se, and the challenge is to obtain the information we need to build our projects."

What's happening in the industry now? How are social networking sites acting as the new web-based focus groups? Is this the most effective way to approach developing new products for pets?

Petco uses consumer surveys

Recently released survey results from Petco indicate consumers want to feed their pets the same level of healthy, nutritious food that humans enjoy, but they don't really understand how to choose a healthy food for their pets. In response, the company has teamed up with its own experts, suppliers and external pet nutrition experts to launch an educational effort for store personnel and consumers based on understanding premium pet nutrition.

The main components of Petco's nutrition education initiative, according to the company, is educating consumers. The company created a library of educational materials and pet nutrition guidance for consumers online, and its team of experts will hold pet nutrition workshops in every store during the month of November.

PetSmart goes directly to the source

Rival pet retailer PetSmart worked with Edison Nation to invite new pet product ideas from pet owners and other consumers on its website earlier this year. "If you've come up with an innovative toy or other product that you know dogs and cats would go nuts for, this is your chance to move it from vision to reality," proclaimed the website posting announcing the call for submissions.

This year's contest was looking for solutions to pet boredom. The contest offered cash and a percentage of the product's profits, if it became a PetSmart product. PetSmart and Edison Nation were particularly interested in new toy or interactive play concepts that kept pets entertained and challenged them mentally.

The social scope of Del Monte

Del Monte developed the newest product in its Snausages line, Breakfast Bites, using input from a social network of dog owners it formed. According to an Advertising Age video and article, Del Monte developed its new Breakfast Bites product in just six weeks with the guidance of the exclusively formed group of pet consumers.

Del Monte focused on a core group of pet-obsessed consumers who, when asked what their dogs would like to have for breakfast, overwhelmingly answered, "Bacon and eggs." Culling information from the group also told Del Monte these consumers were interested in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in petfoods and treats. Six weeks later, the bacon and egg-shaped Breakfast Bites were created, solely off of customer feedback from the group.

Use your head!

Virtually anyone in an organization can come up with a moneymaking or moneysaving idea. Employee empowerment used to be the key to this old adage, but more than ever consumer empowerment can cultivate successful ideas. Companies that encourage everyone in the organization to think about new products provide a powerful network of connectivity-so why not use the same approach when handling consumer's ideas, thoughts and questions regarding new products, functional ingredients and the latest supplements?

From the salesperson on the floor of the pet specialty boutique to the nutritionist formulating the petfood flavors, the functionally connected enterprise with a clearly stated and understood vision and mission, and open lines of communication will maximize its capacity to introduce new products and grow its business.

Video online!

See the Advertising Age video describing the marketing and developing of Del Monte's new Snausages line, Breakfast Bites, at adage.com .