Posts in Pet food marketing

Pet food transparency

The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate

April 10th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate”

When communication is intentionally blurry, muddled, cloudy and befogged

It’s not often I get to employ a $50 word in a story, but in this case obfuscate may be the perfect verb to characterize the occasional disconnect from a pet parent’s desire for more clarity and transparency in how pet food is presented, and the sometimes confounding and less straight-forward information actually served.

Is it crystal clear to you?

Dirty water makes it hard to see the bottom of the pond.

In the eyes of the consumer, pet food is a leap-of-faith business. Brands make assertions about the quality, origins and freshness of ingredients; the correct and superior combinations of real food ingredients that ultimately make a difference in the health and wellbeing of four-legged family members.

  • What’s in the little brown kibble pellet? We’re required to believe it contains fresh, deboned chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef or vegetables, fruits and other human-friendly whole food ingredients. We also know that animals can’t talk and consumers aren’t food scientists. So trust and faith becomes the currency that defines brand relationships.

Transparency means transparent.

When at the butcher counter in your food store you can see the steak, its marbling, height and color. You can make judgments on its quality before buying. In contrast, kibble or canned pet food from brand to brand looks roughly the same and so verification of food quality by visual examination is not possible. Casting statements on ingredient decks can be confounding to many but the most ardent students of pet food ingredient terminology; those able to translate code for higher-quality proteins from something less than that.

Transparent behaviors in this industry couldn’t be more important. The frequency of pet food recalls serve as the reminder for vigilance…and can breed consumer skepticism. This uncertainty is amplified against an evolving food culture where people today want to know the backstory behind the foods they buy for themselves and for their pets. How did this new-found interest in ingredient transparency come to pass?

The desire for transparency is a cultural phenomenon that got traction when people fully connected the dots between the quality of the food they eat and the quality of their lives.

They expect no less of their pets’ diets.

If ingredients are sourced from local farms and ranches, brands should show and tell this story. If there are standards on the quality of ingredients to be used, they should be stated clearly and simply so it can be understood by anyone. The curtain raised on how manufacturing is done, what form ingredients take, how and why they are combined – the trail from farm to can or bag that helps belief materialize in a trusted, credible way.

  • If belief is to be achieved in what is essentially a faith-based business, truth must be multiplied by transparency and clarity. People want to see all the way to the bottom of the supply chain pond, so to speak. The sum of these interactions and conversations is to validate, rather than obfuscate, what we want people to know and believe about pet food.

Wordplay vs. Openness

The core essence of trust creation is the deployment of words and what they mean. When honesty and integrity rule the relationship with pet parents, then parsing definitions to create more palatable descriptions – while obfuscating the truth – is at best misguided and not based in sound strategy…and at worst is disingenuous.

Pets are no longer owned assets to be maintained. They are family. The impact of quality nutrition of their health and welfare is a real thing. Moreover, when answering what the customer wants, it is this: “healthy, high quality food choices, just like I prefer for myself and my family.”

  • So how are honesty and openness best served when the form the product takes leaves no trace of evidence on which to base judgments? Pull back the curtain and tell the story, fully, completely, in video where words and pictures combine to let everyone in to see for themselves.

Outside independent verification testing and deployment of Blockchain technology may close this loop fully to provide the assurance people want. But importantly, what’s embedded in your brand values and mission will inform how all this goes, and whether or not crystal clear is the true call to action for company behaviors.

What’s at stake?

Trust and brand reputation.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Pull Back the Curtain on Pet Food Creation

December 9th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, Sustainability 0 comments on “Time to Pull Back the Curtain on Pet Food Creation”

The case for super transparency…

For all of the talk about a desire for greater transparency in the food system, much of the pet food world’s product creation work remains behind closed doors. Is it time to open up the curtain and shed more light on ingredients, sources, standards and processes in service of securing greater consumer trust?

Unrelenting premiumization of the pet food business is being driven by the continued humanization of furry family members. At the apex of this anthropomorphic trend is a near lockstep upgrading of pet nutrition formula and nutritional bona fides that closely follow the food culture preferences of people.

No surprise the primary fuel for all of this is a belief held by consumers that the quality of the food they consume impacts the quality of their lives. Therefore, the same rule applies to their pets and the perceived nutritional benefits they can receive in their diets. In sum, people want healthier food solutions for themselves. Pet foods now face the same evaluation.

Thus the current drivers of human food preferences quickly find their way into the pet nutrition business. Chief among them is an increasing demand for transparency. According to a recent study by Innova Market Insights, the number one priority in 2018 for both human and pet foods will be cleaner labels. Innova calls this the arrival of  “Mindful Choice.”

What is that? Health and wellness is the leading call to action. However embedded in this trend are the same concerns people have about the food they personally consume – interest in sustainability, visibility to ingredients and sourcing, ethical production and safety. The Innova research study reports, 70 percent of consumers want to know and understand (human) food ingredient lists. This can be challenging in pet food where historically ingredient decks expressed on kibble packages are lengthy, complicated and employ terminology foreign to most people.

Additionally, the rapid migration of grocery shopping from packaged food center aisles of the store to the fresh perimeter departments is evidence of preferences for real, fresh, simpler food that is less processed. ‘Real’ food ingredients on labels are wanted. According to a recap of Innova’s study published in Pet Food Industry magazine, the number of human food products launched this year with a healthier claim increased to 49 percent. It’s a reflection of the growing desire to address consumer demand for healthier foods.

So, how foods are made will matter. Right now clean label is center stage. It should be noted that ‘clean label’ itself is an outcome of efforts made during product development; work which includes standards for ingredient sourcing, optimizing nutritional benefits, and committing to higher integrity around recipe formulations.

A recent study on the topic by Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute found that:

  • 73 percent of consumers read ingredient lists
  • 66 percent examine the nutritional panel
  • 94 percent say they would be loyal to a brand that adopts complete transparency
  • 99 percent say they will also pay more for a product that is transparent

Pet diets are for the most part a highly processed food where the more popular delivery vehicle of dry kibble in varying shades of tan to brown, appears to be identical from brand to brand. Deconstructing the kibble is another matter and it is in this arena where differentiation (and consumer trust) can be found.

What’s needed in pet food: super transparency

The Hartman Group’s Sustainability Report for 2017 says consumers expect companies to “openly share sustainability practices” and 73 percent of consumers are aware of what transparency means with respect to business practices.

Pet food brands with a strong nutritional story to tell could benefit from a super transparency approach. Kibble can’t really telegraph any specific information one-way or other. The ingredients used to make it, on the other hand, present an educational opportunity.

Pet brands that tell stories about ingredient sources, suppliers and product creation can effectively address integrity questions in a meaningful way.  What’s really bubbling underneath: issues surrounding health and quality of life.

Traditionally the pet food industry has operated behind closed doors, but the consumer is asking that the door open more fully. Far enough for consumers to have improved access to knowing more about the ingredient standards and food quality that goes into their pet’s diet.

No question; pet food and people food are not the same thing, even though some brands would like you to believe that the steak you had for dinner is inside the kibble bag.

  • When higher quality pet food makers take their commitments and standards on ingredients and bring them to life, they can improve their ability to secure trust and belief from the humans selecting foods for their four-legged family members.

Ultimately the desire for product transparency is a demand for validation and evidence of what most pet brands claim in their package messaging. The move to super transparency (which really means taking the consumer behind the product creation curtain) is a way to bring better understanding about what their pets are eating. And yes, pet parents truly care about this in the same way they care about how foods are made that they eat themselves.

Super transparency is now a furry business-building opportunity!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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