I know, at this time of year, everyone does one of these blog posts or columns trying to sum up the year for an industry or assign accolades and criticisms to entities within the industry. But as cliché as they may be, people tend to read such posts or columns (I know I do), so I'll jump on the bandwagon and issue my "purrs and growls" for the petfood industry for 2012 and look ahead to opportunities for the coming year.
... To the industry for its resilience and continued growth despite a still challenging economy around the world, rising prices and scarce supplies for key petfood ingredients, uncertainty over pending regulations and a host of other challenges. It's true that we are greatly aided by the continuing humanization of pets, especially in developed markets, and the increase in pet ownership and concurrent spending in developing markets -- all of which lead to more and more pet owners around the world wanting to feed their pets the best that they can. But petfood manufacturers and marketers (and their suppliers) have to take advantage of those trends and even help push them, and for the most part, that's exactly what the petfood industry has done.
... To all the petfood manufacturers and marketers that regularly give back to the greater pet community. Since that encompasses nearly every company I know of around the world, it's difficult to single out any single company or effort. Suffice it to say that whether it's an ongoing donation program of product, money or both to a local animal shelter or petfood bank, a large social media campaign to engage consumers in donating to a pet-related cause or stepping up to join relief efforts for animals affected by a natural disaster, companies in our industry do it regularly and well.
... To the US Food and Drug Administration, Office of Management and Budget and federal government in general for delaying the issue of regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) for so long and keeping our industry anxiously awaiting and wondering what's to come. Most governments move very slowly in developing legislation and regulations, and in the US, a presidential election year grinds any of that development to a halt. But come on, FSMA was signed into law in January 2011 -- nearly two years ago! While some regulations were issued relatively soon after, most have been delayed so long that some groups have even sued FDA and OMB.
Though the election is past, now the US government is grappling with the so-called fiscal cliff. Still, some experts, such as Dr. David Acheson of Leavitt Partners (who developed the precursor to FSMA in 2007 when he was with FDA), believe pending regulations will be released for comment soon into 2013; you can hear his thoughts on that in the archive of a recent webinar (including in the question and answer period at the end). As everyone in the industry has been saying for two years now, stay tuned.
... To the industry for an overall lack of innovation in product development. That assertion may seem contradictory to the "purr" above about the industry's continued growth and resilience, but it's difficult to make the case that petfood's growth over the past few years is due to a rash of innovative new products. If you have been to any of the major pet trade shows -- such as Global Pet Expo or SuperZoo in the US each year, Interzoo this year, even Zoomark last year -- you no doubt have been hard pressed to find many petfood or treat products touted as new that are truly new and innovative. Most are extensions of existing lines or just another example of a continuing trend (for example, grain-free formulations, whole ingredients, etc.). And that's not just my opinion; I often hear the same from others in the industry attending these same trade shows.
That leads to what I think is a key opportunity for our industry in 2013 and beyond: getting back to developing truly innovative products. We know that new discoveries about companion animal nutrition are being made all the time; surely some of those can lead to new types and categories of products. Ditto for technology for ingredient development, processing and the like. Equipment manufacturers and ingredients suppliers (to name just two categories) are continually innovating, which should lead to the same from petfood manufacturers.
There's no doubt that ingredient prices and supplies will continue to be a challenge as our industry competes with human food for many of the same ingredients, but that also opens the doors to further industry innovation in terms of developing and formulating with novel ingredients. The same is true for another challenge: the continuing uncertainty over petfood safety regulations. That offers the opportunity for petfood manufacturers to improve their safety systems if necessary, make sure everything is documented (a key part of FSMA) and tell their safety stories to consumers.