BY LARUE PALMER
Kansas City, Mo., is considered by many to be the hub of the global pet food manufacturing industry, so fittingly, it was chosen again as the host city for
Petfood Forum, which was held April 3 to 5 and marked
its 25th anniversary this year. The event took place at
the landmark Kansas City Convention Center, and more
than 2,700 pet food industry professionals from more
than 30 countries converged to hear motivational keynotes, attend educational classes and breakout sessions,
and participate in some lively networking.
The inner workings of the pet food industry have
become a topic of great interest among consumers and
pet specialty retailers alike since the pet food recalls of
2007—and virtually every recall since then. As a result,
much of the pet food industry has been highly focused
on food safety.
Chris Mondzelewski, general manager of pet specialty for Mars Petcare North America in Franklin, Tenn.,
pointed out that the company’s research indicates some
65 percent of consumers consider safety first when buying a product.
Other product attributes that rank as top concerns for
today’s pet owners include nutrition, palatability, eye appeal and limited ingredients, just to name a few. Consider
the fact that 72 percent of U.S. pet owners choose better
nutrition as the top reason for purchasing natural or organic pet foods, according to Packaged Facts, a publisher
of market research in the food, beverage consumer packaged goods and demographic sectors.
One of the key attractions at Petfood Forum 2017 was
the Petfood Innovation Workshop. Dozens of attendees
piled in to four luxury buses for the 40-minute drive to
the Kansas State University-Olathe campus to take part
in an interactive workshop. Participants were separated
into six teams and rotated through various stations that
included games such as Pet Family Feud, which tested
their knowledge of consumer perceptions about food.
There was also a Palatability Myth Buster challenge,
plus tests of the various senses: smelling for flavors and
oxidation, tasting smoke flavors, and examining texture
A number of hot topics were discussed at the forum
in concurrent sessions, including some that would be of
interest to the retail sector, such as the science behind biologically appropriate pet diets, working novel ingredients into pet food formulations and buying trends among
the various customer demographics.
As is the case in any consumer-driven industry, the
customer is king, and that sentiment was evident across
the board in a number of vendor booths, breakout sessions and general talks. The buying power of certain demographics in particular was top of mind, particularly,
baby boomers and millennials drive the lion share of the
market. It is their tastes and concerns that influence pet
One of the marketing sessions, led by Bob Wheatley,
founder and CEO of Emergent, a
marketing, communications and
business consulting agency based
in Chicago, revealed some interesting psychological insights that place
U.S. millennial consumers—and
how they think—at the center of pet
food go-to-market strategies. The
most current data shows that millennials only recently edged out baby
boomers in buying power because of
sheer volume, and that more of them
are delaying starting families longer
than ever and choosing to have pets,
Wheatley said. Whereas baby boomers have more disposable income to
spend on premium product and will
take the time to go into specialty pet
stores and get educated about trends
and brands, millennials look for bargains online, yet they have the same
discriminating attitude about what’s
best for their pets.
The opening and closing keynote
speakers were among the who’s who of their respective
fields, and were the highlight of the three-day event. Ran-
di Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media
and the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,
kicked off Petfood Forum 2017 with an opening address
on how to use social media and other marketing plat-
forms to reach today’s consumers. She should know, as
she created and ran Facebook’s pioneering marketing
program from its beginning in 2005 until 2011.
The closing keynote speaker, the extraordinarily gifted
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., was hard-hitting and engaging.
Diagnosed as autistic as a child, Grandin, a professor of
animal science at Colorado State University, spoke about
animal behavior and the importance for pet professionals
to know about animal behavior and what responses to
expect. She is the author of several books, and a number
of films have documented her life.
Petfood Forum Puts Latest Trends in Focus
Pet owner concerns and buying power are driving the pet food industry, reported industry experts at the annual event.
INDUSTRY EVENT RECAP
Richard Rockhill, executive vice president of Lucy Pet Products, and
George C. Fahey Jr., professor emeritus of animal sciences at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kadri Koppel, assistant professor at Kansas
State University, spoke about the role of
sensory analysis in the “pet food-pet
Greg Watt, president and CEO of Watt Global Media,
and Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief
of Petfood Industry
More than 2,700 pet food industry professionals
gathered for this year’s Petfood Forum in Kansas City, Mo.