The Importance of Transparency in Pet Food
Earning and maintaining the trust of consumers by demonstrating what we ask them to believe about our products is essential to the continued success of the pet industry.
The similarities and connections between what consumers want in their own diets such as non-GMO, natural ingredients and what they expect in pet foods has been a recent topic of industry conversation. Consumers now expect product transparency, ingredient disclosure and truth in communication when making decisions on their pet food purchases.
A landmark study by Deloitte, in collaboration with the Food Marketing Institute in 2016, revealed the tectonic move away from legacy human food purchase drivers of taste, price and convenience. Replacing them are the more refined and specific issues of health and wellness, visibility to the supply chain, ingredient sourcing, sustainability and safety.
The digital transformation of the pet food industry has made one thing clear: anything that can be known will be known. Today, consumers want the backstory on product creation. They want to know what’s in the food they consume for themselves, as well as their four-legged family members.
The recent 2018 Global Food and Drink Trends study from Mintel research highlighted the underlying reason: “… widespread distrust has increased the need for food and drink manufacturers to be forthcoming about their ingredients, production processes and supply chains. This places pressure on manufacturers to offer thorough and honest disclosures about how, where, when and by whom food and drink is grown, harvested, made and/or sold. Food and drink transparency can take many different directions, but the various claims serve a singular purpose: to help consumers feel more confident about the safety and purity of the food and drink that they purchase.”
For pet food brands, this means accurate labeling and revealing more information about ingredients, sources and process in the story conveyed to pet lovers. Pet food is unique in its role as the primary vehicle for pet owners to express love and care for their dogs and cats. The simple understanding here is the inseparable link, in the minds of pet owners, between the quality of the foods pets consume and the quality of their pets’ lives.
Yet, in our industry, we’ve expected extraordinary faith and belief from those who buy our foods. The most widely purchased form of pet food by far is kibble—a product where the physical appearance remains largely the same from one brand to the next. We ask consumers to have faith that the brown nugget contains high-quality, real-food ingredients.
Pet food marketing is a study in the parsing of words and phrases intended to convey associations with fresh food ingredients people routinely consume in their own diets. What’s new, and fueled by today’s at-your-fingertips availability of digital information, is consumer demand for validation and verification of what we ask them to believe about our assertions of ingredient integrity.
Gone are the days when unsubstantiated claims and self-declarations of nutritional excellence can be promoted by words alone. The bar has been raised and our collective job is to respond with candor about what’s in the foods we create.
At Champion Petfoods, we provide a live demonstration feature at our trade show presentation that reveals exactly how our ORIJEN and ACANA pet foods are made—what’s in them and what isn’t. In online channels, we show our NorthStar (Canada) and DogStar (U.S.) kitchens and walk visitors through a virtual tour. We tell the stories behind our relationships with regional farmers, fisherman and ranchers. All of this is vital to understanding and validating what pet lovers demand to know.
Pet lovers want…
1. Visibility to the supply chain and ingredient sources.
2. Verification and validation of food safety.
3. Authentication of product quality.
4. Awareness of product creation steps and process.
Seeing is believing, so Champion Petfoods regularly invites retailers, distributors and media to visit and tour our kitchens to see the whole process unfold in front of them. When we say our pet foods meet AFFCO standards and are approved by the National Research Council, its helpful to witness this process unfold in real time.
Transparency is not a passing fad; it is a sea change for an industry that has operated too long behind closed doors. Demonstration of what we ask consumers to believe is now an essential step in earning trust.
In fact, trust is everything to the success of business growth and the future of our industry. PB
Julie Washington is chief marketing officer of Champion Petfoods LP.