Putting Pet Food in Focus

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry/Petfood Forum, explains what attendees can expect to find at this year’s Petfood Forum and why retailers should attend.



Tell us about Petfood Forum, which will be held April 29 - May 1 in Kansas City, Mo. What is the mission of this annual event? What types of industry professionals does it attract? Organized and put on by Petfood Industry and WATT Global Media, Petfood Forum is known as the pet food industry’s global conference and exhibition focused on technologies utilized in the processing of pet foods and pet treats. It has become a prime opportunity for industry global networking and business, as well as for education on the latest research and trends in the pet food world.


Located in the heart of the Animal Health Corridor in Kansas City, Mo., the 2018 show boasted just under 3,000 attendees and more than 250 exhibitors filling almost 430 booth spaces. Exhibitors included industry suppliers, co-packers and service providers, and attendees included professionals working in nutrition, ingredient and processing technologies, packaging, food science, R&D, product development, food safety, QA/QC, purchasing, import/export and regulatory compliance.


The 2019 show is expected to be the biggest yet, with more than 300 exhibitors filling 545 booths, and an estimated audience of 3,300 attendees.


This year, Dr. Katy Nelson will deliver the opening keynote at Petfood Forum. Why was she chosen? What issues can attendees expect her to touch on in her address? Dr. Nelson was chosen because as a veterinarian and media person, she has her finger on the pulse of many issues critical to pets, pet owners and the companies that serve them/provide food and products for them. Specifically, she will address the human-animal bond and its benefits and importance, which research continues to prove. She will offer insights into how pets’ nutrition and health might be tied to the bond and, separately, the types of questions and concerns about nutrition and pet food that she encounters in her veterinary practice. 


What are some of the key issues in the pet food industry right now? How will these issues be reflected in Petfood Forum’s agenda? 

There are several “hot button” topics currently affecting the industry, and Petfood Forum always strives to cover everything our attendees might want—or need—to know about. One such topic is e-commerce and retailing disruptions, which we are addressing with educational sessions focusing on omnichanneling, how to succeed on e-commerce platforms and digital packaging design, as well as an expert panel discussion on how to navigate today’s disruptive, continually morphing world of distributing and selling pet food.


We actually have several panels scheduled to address some of the major industry topics, including science versus marketing and how perceptions affect pet food product development, an update on the canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) investigation, and a look at the “future of pet food.”


Finally, there are some evergreen issues we always cover as they change and expand to fit current industry trends: novel ingredients (this year we’re focused on insect protein, wood as a protein and beta glucans, among other ingredients, as well as regulatory issues with new ingredients); pet obesity (with a session on calculating pet food energy needs); safety (we have an entire concurrent session track on pet food safety this year!); and consumer trends (two sessions will focus specifically on new consumer survey results, which we’re very excited about).


Each year, Petfood Forum offers a robust schedule of both general sessions and concurrent breakout sessions. Are there any topics that you believe will be highlights of this year’s program?

Everything I just mentioned! We are particularly proud of our panels this year, as we believe they hit topics the industry has top-of-mind right now and we have some excellent industry experts on board to contribute their insights.


Our concurrent session tracks—nutrition, ingredients, market and packaging, and processing and safety—are choices we put a lot of thought and effort into, and we feel our speakers in each track are perfect to represent the various aspects of their chosen topics.


Our Student Program presentations are in their second year, and after a wonderful reception from Forum attendees last year, we hope the students will receive a similarly warm welcome this time around. The oral and poster presentations are very research-focused and highlight various topics in companion animal nutrition. Those presenting are part of the future of the pet food industry, and we hope to provide them with industry exposure, as well as let industry professionals know that questions are being asked and research is being done at all levels—and who knows, we might match up a student or two with a future employer!


What can retailers, specifically, get out of attending Petfood Forum? Are there any sessions that you think will be particularly useful to retailers?

Retailers can use Petfood Forum’s educational sessions and trade show floor to get an overview of how pet food is researched, manufactured and marketed, with all the latest research and data. All the e-commerce and retailing-related sessions will be of particular interest, of course, as will those highlighting consumer survey results and trends. Retailers might also find interest in ingredient-focused sessions, in terms of ensuring they stay on top of the game when it comes to potential new products and industry trends.


Aside from the informative sessions you have planned, what are some of the other key features Petfood Forum offers attendees? Our networking opportunities continue to be the No. 1 reason why people attend Petfood Forum. Of course, our exhibit hall is a huge draw, as is our growing Student Program, which includes networking opportunities of its own focused on student-industry interaction. We also open our doors to various local pet charities, which bring pets for adoption and liven up the atmosphere while gaining awareness for their organizations.


Is there anything new about this year’s Petfood Forum that bears mentioning?

Among the new elements in 2019 are the China Pavilion, which highlights and focuses on Chinese suppliers to the industry, and a product presentation stage that will allow selected companies to show off their latest products and services. The Student Program is being expanded, with student-specific networking events and meet-and-greets added to the schedule, in addition to the second-annual student abstract competition and other existing events.


Very notable for 2019 is the Association of American Feed Control Officials Pet Food Labeling Workshop, which will be held in association with Petfood Forum. The Workshop will take place on Thursday, May 2, at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, the headquarters hotel for Petfood Forum.


What are your goals for Petfood Forum in 2019 and beyond? How will this important event continue to evolve?

Obviously, we are aiming for success in 2019 and beyond. To the Petfood Forum team, that means providing the pet food industry with access to the world’s top pet food suppliers, information on the latest trends and research via our education sessions, and unique networking opportunities attendees just won’t find anywhere else.


In the future, we hope to continue growing to accommodate more exhibitors, larger attendance and expanded programming—and, since we’ve sold out our exhibit hall (the largest in the history of Petfood Forum) for the sixth consecutive year, it’s safe to say we’re well on our way to continuing to meet that goal! PB


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