In this age of consumer demands for transparency, are pet food companies learning to better tell their stories and communicate not only what they make, but why and how they make it, and what they stand for? Judging by new pet food campaigns and products introduced at SuperZoo 2018, June 25-27 in Las Vegas (in addition to pet food programs and promotions already in the marketplace), the answer is yes.

Some stories are as straightforward as color-coding protein sources — a seemingly simple concept, perhaps, but one that makes a lot of sense considering the continued focus on pet food proteins and that color is one of the most recognizable elements of packaging. Yet other stories aspire to reach further.

Highlighting pet food’s economic impact

One noteworthy campaign comes from the Pet Food Institute (PFI), the trade association representing the U.S. pet food industry. Under its recently retired president and CEO, Cathy Enright, Ph.D., the institute embarked on initiatives to step up communication about pet food and the industry, including to consumers on topics such as nutrition, food safety, pet food ingredients and manufacturing. That effort is continuing under new president and CEO Dana Brooks.

At SuperZoo, Brooks said a major focus at the beginning of her tenure is to tell the story of how much pet food contributes to the U.S. economy. She and a PR representative handed out a “National Pawprint” fact sheet, highlighting data like the 180 million food bowls needing to be filled in U.S. households owning a pet (two out of three households), the US$1.4 billion of pet food and treats exported in 2017, the 31 states with facilities operated by PFI member companies, employing nearly 30,000 people and generating an additional 398,416 jobs in associated industries. Bottom line: the U.S. pet industry overall has a total impact of US$221 billion, according to PFI’s sources.

Brooks said she wants to expand the economic impact data state by state and continue to add reference information to the PFI website, particularly to reach consumers. One example is a relatively new FAQ section.

From farm to pet food bowl

The economic impact of pet food definitely reaches to the farmers who grow ingredients or raise livestock that become protein sources. In a bid to be transparent as well as to showcase local sourcing of such ingredients, several pet food companies include photos and information about their farmer partners in their marketing and even on their packaging.

The latest company to highlight its connection to local farmers is Champion Petfoods, especially with its DogStar Kitchens in Kentucky. (The company is headquartered in Alberta, Canada, and interestingly, is now a reported acquisition target of Nestlé Purina.)

The relaunch of Champion’s limited ingredient dog food line, now called Singles to emphasize a single source of protein at high fresh-meat levels, features farmers from Kentucky as well as neighboring states (Indiana, Tennessee) on its packaging. During SuperZoo, company executives discussed how building a local supply chain and partnering with nearby farmers and other suppliers (including even for shipping pallets) has been a focus since the Kentucky facility’s beginnings, with the hiring of an ingredients procurement professional two years before the kitchens were built in late 2016.

Focusing on pet food digestibility

Amidst all the marketing and information (and often misinformation) about pet food brands, ingredients and nutrition, many pet owners are overwhelmed and confused about what is best to feed their furry family members. At the same time, most pet food companies have struggled with how to best educate consumers on pet food nutrition, especially the importance of dogs and cats receiving the proper levels of essential nutrients, not just certain ingredients.

Halo, Purely for Pets believes it has found a solution, via a campaign to explain pet food digestibility to consumers and promote what it claims is the superior digestibility of its dog and cat foods. The campaign’s trademarked slogan says it all: “The proof is in the poop.”

While the Poopsie cartoon character accompanying the slogan is a bit much for me — especially considering how it was everywhere at SuperZoo, from huge sponsorship signs to take-home notepads to the Halo booth — I do see how this could be an effective way to educate consumers. Digestibility certainly isn’t an easy concept to explain, but every pet owner understands and has to deal with pet poop!

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dphillips@wattglobal.com