During the pandemic, “new normal” became a cliché as many people speculated what the near and longer-term future would bring—in pet food as well as in every other industry and walk of life. With COVID-19 now becoming endemic and everyone learning how to navigate that, some glimpses of what may become normal business and life are starting to emerge.
Including at Petfood Forum 2022 last week in Kansas City. Thanks to a large turnout and positive atmosphere, the event signaled the pet food industry’s resilience and ongoing strength. Plus, there were puppies: lots of adorable, wriggling puppies!
Attendance at Petfood Forum 2022, including exhibitor personnel, students, speakers and our staff (disclosure: Petfood Forum is owned and organized by my company, Watt Global Media), reached about 85% of pre-pandemic levels. According to event experts, most conferences and trade shows now are hitting about 65-70% of 2019 attendance levels.
Further, everyone participating in Petfood Forum, as well as the pre-conference event, Petfood Essentials, seemed eager to connect and get back to “normal” business. A positive vibe and high energy permeated the shows in general—and not just during the special, packed 30th anniversary opening reception at a plaza in downtown Kansas City, or during Coach Ken Carter’s rousing opening keynote! (He can definitely work a room and get it energized.)
Innovation was also top of mind. Besides Petfood Forum exhibitors displaying new products and services—including a dog-like robot wandering the exhibit hall—a fun, spirited competition during Petfood Essentials on May 2 seemed to get attendees’ creative juices flowing. Throughout the day, teams brainstormed and developed a new pet food or treat product idea, then presented their concepts to judges at the end of the day. Ideas included pet food finder apps and services, custom pet food concepts, weight loss products and sustainable products and platforms (including treats specifically for cats).
Companies made news, too. The week before Petfood Forum, Marel had announced its intent to acquire Wenger Manufacturing, a stalwart of the extrusion and processing sector. During the show, a Marel executive shared insights on what led to the acquisition and his company’s interest in entering the pet food industry.
All this good did not (and still doesn’t) obscure the fact that pet food is facing significant headwinds like every other industry, including supply chain disruptions and delays, labor shortages and rising wages, and high inflation. (According to newly released U.S. government data provided by John Gibbons, pet food inflation in April 2022 was still on the rise, up 1.2% over March 2022 and 7% over April 2021.)
These challenges came up in multiple conversations during Petfood Forum and were addressed by several speakers in conference sessions. Yet the overall sense was that pet food companies and professionals are working through the problems, figuring out how to adapt to not only survive but continue to thrive—adding to the industry’s resilient reputation.