Pet food experts: How to be transparent with consumers

Connecting with pet owners via social media, promoting pet foods’ nutritional value and having a shorter ingredients list are ways to be more transparent.

photo by Stokkete, Bigstock.com
photo by Stokkete, Bigstock.com

The pet food and human food markets share many trends and challenges, including the consumer demand for transparency — and associated questions and concerns over how to meet it. Several speakers at Petfood Forum 2018 offered insights and ideas for how to move toward transparency.

Have a robust social media strategy and dedicated resources to implement it. That may seem like a no-brainer today, but Larine Urbina, vice president of communications for Tetra Pak US and Canada, presented research bolstering the importance of connecting with consumers via social media, especially with “super leaders”: the 7 percent who are the most digitally and socially active and likely to be the earliest adopters, influencers and trendsetters.

The good news for pet food marketers? These consumers, particularly millennials and Generation Xers, like interacting with brands. Data from SproutSocial.com shows that 58 percent of consumers overall use social media to access branded content, Urbina said, while 30 percent of millennials and 32 percent of Generation X interact with brands at least monthly. Plus, research conducted by Tetra Pak and TNS indicated 70 percent of super leaders globally interact with brands at least once a week — and 78 percent expect brands to reply, while 79 percent say interaction with brands on social media improves their opinion of the brand.

Promote your pet foods’ nutritional value — possibly through veterinarians. While some research over the past few years has pointed to consumer skepticism of scientific, fact-based claims, David Sprinkle, publisher and research director for Packaged Facts, believes the industry has “room for improvement in terms of making our case for our products and providing the objective science to back it.” (See www.PetfoodIndustry.com/articles/7147.)

He presented exclusive survey results of US consumers, with 75 percent saying they are willing to pay more for foods that are healthier for their pets. At the same time, only 56 percent say they trust pet food information backed by scientific research, with 40 percent neither agreeing or disagreeing; but the percentages increase when the information is provided by a veterinarian: 62 percent say they trust that.

Other suggestions from Petfood Forum speakers:

  • In human food, “clean and green” labels typically mean 10 or fewer ingredients, said Judy Seybold, chief nutrition officer for ItemMaster. While that may not be realistic for complete and balanced pet diets, which by definition must provide all the nutrients the pet needs, it may be a rule of thumb to consider, especially for treats and meal enhancers.
  • Transparency is a moving target, said Daniel Henke-Cilenti, marketing director of the Purina brands. There is no one right or only way to deliver it, but you have to start somewhere. One of Purina’s methods is through its new online ingredients center.
  • The pet food industry needs to create a general and consistent understanding of what marketing terms actually mean, said Henriette Bylling, CEO and owner of Aller Petfood Group. If the industry can’t agree on common definitions of terms like holistic or natural, she asked, how can we expect pet parents to know what they mean?

While that may be a tall order, Bylling’s point — that pet food companies have an opportunity and need to educate pet owners about their products — may be the essence of achieving transparency.

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