I recently spoke on pet food trends at the 29th Annual Practical Short Course on Feeds & Pet Food Extrusion, organized by the Process Engineering Research & Development Center (PERDC) at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, USA. It’s a trip I make each year, and I enjoy the opportunity to connect with industry members from all over the world — particularly interesting for me is getting to speak with people new to the industry, as the course is designed to “train production personnel in principles and characteristics of extruders and support systems for effective selection and operation” and so attracts many newcomers.

The importance of industry education

Each time I speak at or attend a conference in this industry, I’m struck by the importance of its existence. Obviously there is a lot to be said for “on-the-job” training — nothing can replace the feeling of actually getting your hands dirty (metaphorically or otherwise, depending on the job!). However, there is also a significant benefit to sitting in the classroom, surrounded by your peers, able to ask questions of the experts up front and build off each other’s thoughts in real time.

The learning process can be intense. For example, the Feeds course boasted a five-day curriculum with each day combining classroom lectures and in-plant demonstrations. It’s a lot to take in and makes for some very long days, but for everyone I spoke with this year, the time put in is worth it. Besides the vital networking opportunities, the plethora of knowledge imparted in a single space should not be understated. The 2019 course had 60 attendees from 11 different countries. Twenty-three different instructors volunteered their expertise on a wide variety of subjects related to pet food processing. At the end of the course, attendees received a certificate and left knowing significantly more than they had at the beginning of the week.

Educational opportunities at Petfood Forum 2019

Petfood Forum strives to provide the same kind of educational opportunities each year during its conference and trade show. With tracks focusing on pet food nutrition, ingredients, packaging and safety, as well as general sessions and panel discussions, the event tries to hit all the hot topics of the day while providing industry members at all levels with the chance to learn something new. Forum also offers a one-day, hands-on workshop with a different topic each year, where industry professionals have the opportunity to put concepts to work in a lab or plant setting.

Why? Because year after year, education is one of the reasons people tell us they attend. Once again, beyond the networking (which is the number one reason people flock to Kansas City for Forum!), beyond conducting business, this is an industry that appreciates and understands the importance of education. To stay on top of a constantly shifting market and continue working with customers whose needs continually change takes knowledge — knowledge events like the Feeds short course and Petfood Forum and all of the other industry-specific conferences during the year are more than happy to provide.

Briefly: keynotes and general sessions at Petfood Forum 2019

  • How nutrition and health can nurture the human-pet bond; Dr. Katy Nelson, host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” and associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia, USA
  • Premiumization: The evolution of pet food’s most important growth driver; Jared Koerten, head of pet care for Euromonitor International
  • Pet food lawsuits: Recent trends and the future of labeling litigation; Michael Annis, partner at Husch Blackwell
  • Omnichanneling: The wheres and whys of shoppers’ channel choices for pet food; David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts
  • Choosing dog food: Survey results of dog owners’ purchasing decisions; Maria Cattai de Godoy, assistant professor at University of Illinois-Champaign

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lbeaton@wattglobal.com