Purina Pulls Back Its Curtain
Purina invited members of the media to learn more about the company,
including how it ensures the quality and safety of its products.
BY CARRIE BRENNER
St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. opened its doors to the media for its Purina Behind the Bowl Symposium Sept. 12 and 13, giving attendees a rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at the company. In addition to participating in panel discussions, media members took part in mock food-quality checks, donned smocks and hard hats
to tour the Purina Pilot Plant, and explored the company’s cutting-edge Retail Innovation
In the Quest for Quality session, Purina representatives emphasized that the company
uses evidence-based research to improve pets’ lives and that science is a fundamental part
of Purina’s process.
“It’s about always making sure that what we do is founded on science,” said Kurt Venator, DVM, Ph.D., and chief veterinary officer for Purina, adding that the company works
with other experts in the field, too, such as university researchers, to conduct scientific
The Recipe for Success panel focused on how Purina procures its ingredients and the rigorous
process that potential vendors go through before supplying ingredients to the company, as well
as the ongoing quality checks Purina has in place for existing vendors.
Purina officials noted that the company performs 30,000 quality checks in every 24-hour period and that its goal is to prevent food safety issues from happening rather than to react to them.
The company gave the media a glimpse of its quality-check process. Its products must pass
a cross-functional technical review. There’s an emphasis on a variety of checks throughout the
production process and prevention versus detection, Purina officials noted.
Using to-scale color photos that showcased what Purina products are supposed to look
like, attendees were invited to perform their own sensory checks on samples of dry and wet
Purina food. Attendees compared the photos to the sample products—some of which were
intentionally spiked with incorrectly shaped or too-chunky kibble—keeping an eye out for
discrepancies in attributes such as kibble size, kibble shape, food color and, in the case of wet
food, moisture content.
The Role of Regulation in Pet Food panel included representatives from the Association
of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), Pet Food Institute (PFI) and U.S. Food & Drug
Administration (FDA). The panel discussed the importance of the Food Safety Modernization
Act (FSMA), how to handle recalls, including the value of being upfront when they happen,
and gaining pet consumers’ trust.
“The recall is absolutely critical to the food safety system,” said Cathy Enright, president and
CEO of the PFI. “Companies are evaluating, monitoring, measuring, testing, from the begin-
ning—the ingredient supplier—all the way through to that bag of kibble.”
Enright noted the importance of preventing food safety issues before they occur, adding that
FSMA is a key part of holding manufacturers accountable.
“The Food Safety Modernization Act changed food safety in this country from reactive—‘We
found a problem, now we need to correct it’—to preventive,” she said.
Attendees toured the Purina Pilot Plant, which is designed for research and development,
including testing prototypes of Purina products before they are produced in the company’s
much-larger factories in locations across the U.S. To retain a competitive advantage, the company makes much of its own manufacturing equipment.
The Retail Innovation Center, designed to mimic a retail store, is where Purina tests concepts
intended to give retailers a way to offer consumers an exciting in-store experience. It presents
creative stocking ideas and interactive technology. The Pet Aisle Navigator, for example, features
a touchscreen from which a consumer can select their type of pet. If a consumer selects “small
dog,” they will see “small dog” signs illuminate in the pet food aisle, directing them to potential
selections for their pet.
Purina officials also spoke about the company’s commitment to strengthening the bond between pets and people. Purina gives more than $30 million each year to pet welfare organizations
in monetary and product donations.
The company highlighted two recent programs designed to strengthen its commitment to pets
and the community. Purina has worked with the Urban Resource Institute (URI)—a nonprofit
organization that operates domestic violence shelters around New York—on its innovative People and Animals Living Safely Program. The company and URI have opened Purina Pet Havens
at three of URI’s six shelters so that residents and their pets can play in safety. The company also
donates pet food and supplies to those moving into URI’s pet-friendly shelter apartments. Dr.
Venator noted that concerns over a pet’s safety prevent some domestic violence victims from
leaving their abusers, and that very few domestic violence shelters in the U.S. are able to offer
accommodations for pets.
And last year, Purina collaborated with St. Louis Children’s Hospital to create the Purina
Family Pet Center. The comfortable space allows patients and their families to spend time with
their pets during the treatment process.
1: Purina resident Ava has access to a meeting room via her own pet door.
2: The Purina campus has several water features, including a koi pond, and a
dog park so employees can take their dogs out for exercise on breaks.
3: Purina chef Amanda Hassner prepared a lunch for media attendees. A favorite?
Brownies made with MCT oil, an ingredient in Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind formulas.
4: Vice president of research and development Dan Smith explained the Purina
Pro Plan Simply Fit product line, which is planned for release next year.
5: Vice president of quality management Chris Archer demonstrated one of the
ways employees check sensory samples to ensure quality and consistency.