Dr Elise Malandain discusses changing pet rearing trends and the need for sustainable nutrition, as well as digital developments, reflecting a deep bond between pets and owners.
By Dr. Elise Malandain
Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. Loving a pet is more than companionship – it has become scientifically proved to reduce stress, improve well-being and get us out for regular walks. This strong connection between humans and their pets has led to a remarkable change in the way people view them.
These pet parents place more value on how they care for their furry friends, considering the nutritional and emotional impact of their upbringing and projecting the decisions they make as consumers onto their animals. They want to reduce the environmental impact of the food they buy while ensuring their pets stay happy and healthy.
This rise in the humanization of pet ownership is something we factor into every element of the pet parenting experience.
Making sustainable nutrition a priority
Just like humans, our pets feel and function at their best when they eat healthy. Pet nutrition is important for many reasons as it directly affects the current and future health and well-being of our pets. Balanced, reliable and nutritious ingredients empower pet parents, instilling confidence that they are providing optimal care for their pets.
Nutrient-rich pet foods keep our pets’ coats healthy, boost their immune systems and help their digestive systems function properly. That’s why it’s so important to determine the perfect formula that goes into each product, while ensuring our ingredients are safe, nutritious and scalable.
Our role is to help pet parents make sustainable choices and contribute to the wider responsible food ecosystem. We also need to consider the future security of our supplies. The ingredients we’ve used in the past may not always be available in the future, so we have a responsibility to continue to innovate with ingredients that are safe and nutritious for cats and dogs and that will still be around tomorrow, and that includes alternative proteins. This goes hand in hand with being disruptive in the materials we use and considering our carbon economic allocation, experimenting with different materials such as insects.
Food safety risk management
Everyone has a right to safe food – and that includes pets. Considering that humans may eat a wide variety of foods during their lifetime, pets tend to eat the same food day after day, so special care is needed to ensure that all pet foods – from raw ingredients to finished products – manufactured to appropriate quality and food safety standards (QFS). This happens through a rigorous process of research, technology and regulation.
Genomics offers a step change in the way we manage food safety risk through access to faster, more accurate data-driven information. We control hygiene risk by identifying potential sources of microbiological contamination and determining the best response plan for eradication. This is in parallel with the design of our plants and equipment, as well as operational processes, which aim to seek out and destroy things like salmonella and other micro-activities throughout the supply chain.
Safety is also limited to providing pet parents with clear and accurate information. In developed markets, regulations and legal controls are usually in place to ensure that relevant standards are applied. However, in some emerging markets, where standards may not be fully established, we need to support the development of consistent quality, food safety, nutrition and labeling standards for pet food around the world.
Provision of bespoke nutrition and care
Changing attitudes towards pets and their inclusion as part of the family have influenced a more careful approach to pet care and pet food purchasing decisions. Dogs and cats have specific nutritional needs, which vary according to the age, size and behavior of the animal. They also need the pleasure of a tasty meal with attractive textures. If not consumed, the best diet is useless!
Science underpins every product innovation at Mars Pet Nutrition. Through Waltham Petcare Science Institute, we accelerate ingredient development based on the changing needs of pets. The first step is to recognize that an ingredient is safe and nutritious. We then determine how it performs – looking at palatability and digestibility – in a formulation, whether with wet or dry food. Finally, we need to ensure that we can scale components, building the solutions we need, where we need them, and by when.
The energy density of both the ingredients and the finished products is of utmost importance in the development of a new product. Indeed, research has shown that as our pets’ lifestyles have evolved, their energy requirements to maintain a healthy body weight are lower than we thought 20 years ago. This research led us to reformulate our products and feeding guidelines to lower the number of calories recommended for pets to consume daily (15 percent for adult dogs and 5 percent for adult cats), while still meeting their nutritional needs. Needs.
It is our responsibility to educate today’s pet parents about the proper serving size, form and type of product to feed their pet to ensure they stay healthy and happy.
According to a research by McKinsey & Co., 66 percent of consumers now consider sustainability when making a purchase. This is parallel our own research which found that 40 percent of consumers actively seek out products and services that align with their own values, and 57 percent are willing to change what they buy to reduce their environmental impact.
Our packaging transformation journey is focused on doing what’s right for the pet parents we serve, the pets we love and the planet we all share – and that means redesigning packaging for circularity and reducing the use of virgin plastic throughout our portfolio.
Simple innovations can make a big difference. For example, Pedigree Schmackos has reduced 23 tonnes of plastic and 60 tonnes of paper in its pouches and pouches, and DREAMIES™ cat treats have reduced the amount of plastic used to make their 60g packs by 10%. In North America we have redesigned 75 million of our medium and large dry food bags, reducing packaging materials by 5 million kilograms.
Our packaging refresh has also led to other benefits, such as modernizing our supply chain from 53 types of packaging to 19. This change has greatly improved the efficiency and sustainability of our entire process. In addition, we have seen similar benefits in shipping with reduced packaging resulting in 73,000 fewer pallets and significantly fewer trucks to transport.
We also lead many progressive waste management partnerships with governments, NGOs, suppliers, packaging manufacturers and peer companies to collectively demand change. This includes our partnerships with Delterra to tackle plastic waste and develop circular economies in the Global South and with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) New Plastic Economy initiative. We have signed the EMF Global Commitment, in support of our shared goal of ensuring that packaging never becomes waste.
Today’s pet parent operates in a digital world, so our ambition is to introduce them to digital innovations that help them connect with their pets more easily.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) helps put pet owners’ minds at ease with clear and accurate information 24-7 so they can provide their pets with the best possible care. Specifically, we use artificial intelligence algorithms to categorize and route pet parent support issues to groups around the world based on reason for communication, priority or skill set required, enabling us to anticipate issues and needs in advance . For example, the Whiskas chatbot helps pet parents find their nearest veterinary clinic or connects them to a place where they can buy products easily, allowing us to anticipate pet parents’ problems and needs in advance. We had more than 100,000 interactions with pet parents in the first half of 2023, with 95 percent of conversations saved so they can ask questions whenever they want/need.
We also know that sometimes pet parents have more complex nutrition and health questions that require certified expert support. Last year, we introduced IAMS PETConnect™, a digital teleconsultation service that allows pet parents to chat online with a certified Veterinarian seven days a week. The service fills the “white space” between a Google search and a vet visit when pet parents need reliable support quickly. In turn, we gain valuable insights into the health-related solutions pet parents seek from their pet food, further fueling our product and service offerings.
Our pet parent-centric philosophy underpins everything we do, which is why we rely on the latest science, technology and data to meet today’s pet parent – and consider the needs of tomorrow’s pet parent.
About the Author:
Elise Maladin is Global Vice President of Research and Development at Mars Pet Nutrition where he oversees the innovation, research and quality processes to help grow the Mars Pet Nutrition brands through pet nutrition and pet-focused innovations. Elise has worked at Mars for over 20 years, with previous positions including Vice President of Innovation at Mars Pet Nutrition, Vice President of Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Mars Wrigley, and Head of Global Scientific Communication at Royal Canin. As a trained veterinarian, Elise is committed to creating a better world for pets.