Adventures in Pet Food

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, shares her insights and opinions on all things pet food, addressing market trends as well as news and developments in pet nutrition, food safety and other hot topics for the industry.

What it takes to innovate with petfood product development

Are your petfood products truly innovative? Do you have a system for product development in your company? While those two concepts might seem contradictory -- innovation and systems -- you need both to ensure robust new product development, according to Jeff Johnston, VP of research and innovation for Champion Petfoods.


Johnston presented his ideas and insights on new product development earlier this week at the Alltech 29th Annual International Symposium in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, reporting that Champion, based in Alberta, Canada, went from producing private-label, value-priced products to developing and producing its own high-end brands, Orijen and Acana. That process, which took several years, included establishing a business philosophy and model. Champion created a motto, "Biologically appropriate: nourish as nature intended," and decided that it would develop a dedicated, loyal supplier network and never outsource production. This meant also getting rid of ingredients and processes that no longer fit, Johnston said.


Basically, you have to build a system to achieve true innovation. Specifically, Johnston recommended that you:

  • Publicly declare your intentions to be innovative. By giving Johnston his title, for example, Champion made that declaration.
  • Build a system for harvesting ideas. Coming up with ideas is easy; collecting and figuring out how to evaluate them requires a process.
  • Build a diverse product development/innovation team, including members from various functions throughout the company and with different backgrounds, talents and levels of experience.
  • Get employees interested in innovation and product development.
  • Stay connected with and interested in your customers, who are often a fount of new product ideas.
  • Connect with strangers. Johnston, for instance, says he regularly visits human food companies to get ideas or at least learn about new processes, safety and sanitation practices and, of course, products.


Johnston also offered suggestions for where he thinks petfood companies can innovate, such as with sustainable ingredients, nutritional research, processes and safety. And he talked about how a company needs to commit to innovation and product development by dedicating people, money and focus, adding that how much you spend on R&D isn't as important as making sure the money is spent effectively.


In other words, Johnston said, be sure you're engaging in purpose development, which is all about maximizing fit with your business strategy while minimizing time to market. 


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