Partnerships key to giving back during COVID-19

We take a look at four companies (Manna Pro, Merrick Pet Care, Wellness Natural Pet Food, WIlbur-Ellis) who have embodied the spirit of philanthropy in 2020, even as the global pandemic has changed the needs of the world.

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Those in the pet food industry are no strangers to philanthropy, but 2020 has brought out the importance of partnerships in a whole new way. | (Tess Stukenberg | WATT Global Media)
Those in the pet food industry are no strangers to philanthropy, but 2020 has brought out the importance of partnerships in a whole new way. | (Tess Stukenberg | WATT Global Media)

COVID-19 turned everything upside down and gave the pet food industry more incentive than ever to lend help to animal shelters, supporting programs and humanity at large in 2020. Everything from monetary and food donations to volunteerism have been bright spots in the pet food world in 2020, and in this annual feature we take a look at four companies representing the best of what pet food has to offer its communities. 

Manna Pro: 4-H fundraiser

manna-pro-4-hManna Pro, a company with deep agricultural roots, has found a solid partnership in 4-H, which today highlights youth development in many areas but also has a founding history in agriculture. | Courtesy Manna Pro

Manna Pro, which provides feeds, supplements and treats to companion and agricultural animals, has been an agricultural partner of 4-H (the U.S.’s largest youth development organization) for two years. This year, due to COVID-19, the company held a virtual fundraiser for 4-H that got youth and alumni involved all over the country.

“Manna Pro has deep agricultural roots,” said Teri Nichols, equine brand manager for Manna Pro. “Our company’s love for animals and their humane care is best described by our ‘Nurturing Life’ purpose. We like to work with organizations such as 4-H that are education-focused and share our passion for the well-being of animals.”

While most counties didn’t allow 4-H kids to show animals due to COVID-19, Manna Pro created a virtual mosaic and fundraiser, which took place during April 2020, to encourage participants to submit photos illustrating their “champion” mentality. The state with the highest rate of participation via photo submissions received a scholarship to support their local 4-H. Additionally, Manna Pro encouraged people to donate directly to 4-H, and matched donations at US$10,000.

Nebraska 4-H won the photo submission portion, receiving US$6,000. Kentucky 4-H came in second and received US$3,000, and Arkansas 4-H came in third and received US$1,000.

Manna Pro plans to continue its partnership with 4-H, focusing on the importance of educating youth on the care of animals as a positive way of life.

“We signed a new two-year agreement with 4-H,” said Nichols. “For every US$1.00 coupon redeemed on the sale of Manna Pro Calf Manna, Chick Starter/Grower, Bug Buffet treats, poultry feeder and poultry waterer, we will donate US$1.00 up to US$50,000 total to the 4-H community to support their animal well-being education efforts.”

Merrick Pet Care: “BBQ 4 Good”

merrick-baltimore-stanleyNFL Baltimore Ravens player Ronnie Stanley, a long-time Merrick partner, is pictured with his two rescue dogs, Lola and Rico. Ronnie is a big supporter of Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), which is the local shelter where he adopted both his dogs. | Photo courtesy Merrick Pet Care

Over the summer, premium pet food company Merrick launched its new, slow-cooked BBQ wet dog food recipes, and as the company often does with new products, it attached a philanthropic element to the effort. While the pandemic managed to change Merrick’s initial plans, the company pivoted and found success in partnership.

“We had always planned to promote the launch of our slow-cooked BBQ recipes this summer, but like many businesses we shifted our approach due to the pandemic,” said Jilliann Smith, director of communications for Merrick. “In talking with our shelter partners at the start of the pandemic, we were disheartened to learn that while interest in pet adoptions has never been higher, many shelters were struggling through financial losses from cancelled fundraising events, lower revenue streams and reduced donations. This inspired us to put together a plan that would not only raise awareness for our new BBQ products, but also give us the opportunity to support local restaurants and raise funds for shelter pets.”

The company kicked off its “BBQ 4 Good” program in late June 2020 to take advantage of the upcoming 4th of July holiday in the U.S. The program encouraged dog lovers to order barbecue from partner restaurants in Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; or Chicago, Illinois, and for each order Merrick made a donation to a shelter local to the city (Austin Pets Alive!, Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter — BARCS, PAWS Chicago). In return, pet parents received a “doggy bag” with a can of one of the new BBQ recipes to take home with them alongside their orders. Additionally, diners nationwide could order through DoorDash using a BBQ4Good promo code and, in return, Merrick made a donation to North Shore Animal League America (NSALA).

Overall, more than 4,600 orders were placed as a result of the program and Merrick donated more than US$57,000 to the partner shelters.

Wellness Natural Pet Food: Dogtoberfest


In 2019, Wellness participated for the second year in Dogtoberfest, which has been an in-person event but switched to digital in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. | Photo courtesy Wellness Natural Pet Food

Boston, Massachusetts-based Harpoon Dogtoberfest (Harpoon is a beer brand with breweries in Boston and Windsor, Vermont) was held for its third year in 2020, but of course things had to change because of COVID-19. After two years of in-person events, the whole thing went virtual, and natural pet food company Wellness entered its third year as an event sponsor by presenting the Festminster Dog Show online.

“Although the event was quite different this year, our community embraced the change and made the virtual event a success,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for Wellness. The dog show itself “is a festive costume contest inviting dogs to strike their best pose to win exciting prizes. For the first time, this year’s contest took place on social media — pet parents were invited to post video and photo entries of their pups in four main contest categories on the Dogtoberfest Facebook page. Wellness and Harpoon selected finalists in each category, and Dogtoberfest ‘attendees’ voted for winners via Harpoon’s Instagram page. We donated Wellness vouchers and Wellness CORE dog treats as prizes for each category winner.”

The event, which benefited the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), the Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society and the Kenary Brain Tumor Research Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has raised over US$6,000 so far.

Wellness’ charitable arm, the Wellness Foundation, has the goal of ensuring that every pet on the planet is born, bred and raised with love, and the company’s partnerships all reflect that goal in one way or another.

“In April, a peak point of the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked with Best Friends Animal Society to increase our ongoing donations to provide 136,000 pounds of dry food and 46,000 pounds of wet food to shelters across the U.S. to ensure pets had healthy food in their bowls during a challenging time,” said Leary-Coutu. “We also wanted to help our local community in Boston, so we donated over 33,000 pounds of pet food to the Greater Boston Food Bank. Our COVID efforts allowed us to provide 300,000 meals to at-risk animals locally and across the nation.”

Wilbur-Ellis: 100th anniversary Giving Program

Food and feed nutrition solutions provider Wilbur-Ellis is celebrating its upcoming 100-year anniversary (which occurs on June 29, 2021) by giving back.

“As we celebrate, we also wanted to give back to our communities,” said Jeanne Forbis, vice president of communications at Wilbur-Ellis. “This is a tradition at Wilbur-Ellis and it’s especially important right now, with the pandemic creating so much need across the country and the world. So, we developed a 100th anniversary Giving Program.”

Each month the company will post a question for adults and another for kids in employees’ families about how the company can continue to thrive. The questions are posted on Wilbur-Ellis’ 100th Anniversary website, and for each response received the company will make a donation to the Red Cross in the U.S., Canada and Asia-Pacific, the areas where Wilbur-Ellis employees live and work. Everyone is invited to participate, including employees, the kids in their families, customers, business partners, retirees and friends of Wilbur-Ellis.

“At the end of the program in June 2021 we’ll announce the total contribution to the Red Cross, which builds on our longtime support for the organization, including a US$100,000 donation in April 2020 to support the Red Cross’ COVID-19 response,” said Forbis.

So far, the program has had a great response and a lot of engagement, which benefits everyone involved.

“Over the past few months, for example, we asked adults where they saw the greatest growth opportunities for Wilbur-Ellis, how their food and buying habits have changed with the pandemic and what they would tell kids about the importance of STEM, which plays an important role in the industries we serve (agriculture, animal nutrition, chemicals and energy),” said Forbis. “For kids, one example was asking what they want to be when they grow up and what they need to study in school to get there. Part of the idea of posing these questions is to spark conversations between parents and kids about topics that are important to their futures — and to the future of the company.”

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