Pandemic bond boosts wet, premium, says Mars Petcare exec

After leading the largest division of the world’s largest pet food company through half a year of the pandemic, Ikdeep Singh believes the pet food industry in 2021 will be influenced by the bonds forged between pets and people during pandemic lockdowns.

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Ikdeep Singh

In the middle of one of the most tumultuous years in recent history, Ikdeep Singh was hired for the role of North American divisional president for Mars Petcare in August 2020. He took on leadership of the largest division of the world’s largest pet food company in January during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He believes the pet food industry in 2021 will be influenced by the bonds forged between pets and people during pandemic lockdowns. More wet formulations and “culinary experiences” for pets may be the reward for pandemic companionship. Like many others, Singh’s family also dipped its toes into the waters of pet ownership during the pandemic.

“We just got my daughter a fish a few weeks ago and I’m really excited for her to experience having pets for the first time,” he said. “I’m looking forward to adopting our first dog as a family in the very near future.

“I grew up with dogs, so I know firsthand how much they enrich our lives. My very first dog was an English Bull Terrier named Suzie. Growing up, we were best friends, and I can still remember how excited I was to come home from school to play with her.”

People depend on that joy pets bring to their lives every day, and likewise the animals depend on us for their daily nutrition. That mutually beneficial interaction among pets and people may have inspired Singh in his leadership of Mars Petcare in North America as he transitioned from his previous role as president of the L’Oréal Group.

“After more than two decades working in consumer goods, I’ve developed a passion for the CPG industry knowing it can positively impact consumers’ everyday lives,” he said. “What especially intrigued me about the pet category, beyond my love for dogs, is that basically 100% of a pet’s nutrition is dependent on the food that we, as Mars Petcare, provide. Improving pet health is both inspiring and meaningful to me. This is why I’m honored to lead our North American portfolio...”

Not only did Singh find himself transitioning into the pet food industry, he took the helm during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Question: How have you adapted your leadership style to the demands the pandemic?

Singh: One thing that’s been clear to me since joining Mars is the absolute priority we place on putting the safety and wellbeing of our associates first. The pandemic has been a life-changing experience for all of us in one way or another, and it’s forced us to adapt and operate in a new “normal.” I believe strong leadership, especially during the most challenging of times, comes down to three things – knowing who you serve, supporting your people, and having strong values.

Understanding who you serve – for us, that’s pets and pet parents – and keeping them at the center of all you do is the only way to drive sustainable success for the business, always.

As it relates to people, watching those around me succeed and be at their best has led to some of the proudest moments of my career. While I have only been here a few months, making sure my Mars Petcare family of Associates have the resources they need to continue to learn, develop and succeed during the pandemic and beyond – personally and professionally – is a priority.

And finally, strong values. One of the reasons I joined Mars Petcare is because our Five Principles align with my own values. One of my fundamental beliefs is that the strongest businesses have a foundation of valuing differing opinions and perspectives. Creating an environment where Associates feel valued and respected is critical, because without them, nothing is possible.

Question: How will you apply you own experiences and leadership style to Mars Petcare?

Singh: I’ve always been drawn to companies who have a driving purpose that can help make a positive difference in the lives of the people and communities it serves. Mars Petcare is a company with a clear purpose and rich history of more than 85 years in the pet care industry, so being entrusted with the leadership of thousands of associates who have built amazing brands that pets and pet parents know and love is an honor.

Over the course of my career, I’ve time working in both beauty and baby, which are both highly emotional categories for consumers– much like pet care. Whether parents or pet parents, consumers care deeply about what they buy, the experience they have with products and how brands ultimately make them feel. Understanding these nuances, in addition to other vital factors to success, like keeping our purpose: a better world for pets at the heart of what we do, associate development, brand evolution and data-backed innovation, shape how I approach my journey with Mars Petcare.

Question: What are your top predictions for trends in the next few years of the pet food industry?

Singh: The pet industry is a dynamic category and I believe there’s tremendous evolution and growth to be had. Because consumer decision-making is often emotionally-led, personalizing the pet parent experience and understanding emotions through data will continue to be a necessity.

As an example, we’ve actually seen firsthand how the relationships between pets and people have evolved, particularly in the last year. In our “Pets in a Pandemic: BETTER CITIES FOR PETS 2020 Report,” 50% of pet parents said spending time with their pets was the primary benefit of working from home. With pet parents spending more time with their pets, consumer behaviors are shifting as well – like their desire to add variety to their pet companion’s diets. One way they’re doing this is by feeding more wet food, and we’ve actually seen the wet food category grow 1.5 times the total market in the past year. As a result, we recently announced a US$145 million investment in our Fort Smith manufacturing, which will enable us to support the growing U.S. business where Mars Petcare is the industry leader in wet food for dogs. 

We’re also rolling out product innovations based on what we know consumers want. In Q1 alone, we are launching Sheba Bistro and Cesar Wholesome Bowls, two innovative products in the wet food category that elevate the meal experience for pet parents and their pets. I like to call these "culinary experiences" for pets.

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