Pet food brand building

Jodi Watson talks about brand building in the pet food sector
Jodi Watson

Jodi Watson, senior executive with more than 20 years of success in the retail/wholesale, currently works independently and serves on True Leaf Pet’s and Dakota Supply Group’s board of directors. She connects companies to vendors for potential partnerships for Emissary out of New York. She holds a master’s degree in human centered design, design methods, and a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management with a focus on international business and French. Watson has held numerous board seats and committee positions with businesses, advocacy groups and non-profits.

Petfood Packaging: On the occasion of the Petfood Forum in Cologne last month, you talked about "Building a direct-to-consumer business for pet food." In your talk, the consumer plays a decisive role. Can you explain this briefly for our readers?

Jodi Watson: Consumers want to connect with brands directly. In a category as emotive as pets, pet parents want their favorite brands to know them and engage with them, but brands are woefully behind in achieving this. In fact, according to recent research, 4 out of 5 consumers claim that brands don't "know them" yet the consumer goes to their website with a 52% intent to buy direct from them. You can imagine their dissappointment and potential frustration when that's not possible.

Petfood Packaging: For the manufacturing and marketing of pet food, there are many factors aside from the contents that must not be neglected. From your point of view: what role does packaging play?

Jodi Watson: Packaging plays a huge role here. In fact, it's one of the key ways that consumers make decisions of which products to buy, which products are safe, and which products will provide the best solutions. Recently, TrueLeaf Pet, the company for which I sit on their Board as Vice Chair, redesigned all of their packaging, and it's gotten them noticed by retailers and consumers, winning them praise and new orders!

Packaging plays a huge role

Petfood Packaging: How important is the packaging design?

Jodi Watson: I think design is incredibly important in everything a business does. It's part of your brand promise and delivers a message to your consumer that helps them understand who you are. Often companies don't have huge marketing budgets to promote themselves, so it's packaging that the consumer may see in a store, on a shelf, that tells the story of who that company is and what they stand for. Good design not only delivers an important aethestic, but it can send a powerful (or poor) message about the company and their products overall.

Petfood Packaging: When you take a look at the international pet food market, where do you see trends?

Jodi Watson: Internationally, pet is growing rapidly, and the trends of humanization and premiumization are continuing to permeate worldwide - this trend translates to much more than food. It shows up in services, supplements, health and wellness and even packaging! Consumers often say they love their pets more than some of their own family members, and they will go to great lengths to extend the same lifestyle trends that they believe in onto their beloved pets Additionally, more than 40% of millenials now have pets, and they will greatly influence the future of the pet industry overall as their buying power increases.

Petfood Packaging: Where do you believe there are growth markets in our industry?

Jodi Watson: Services such as health and wellness are some of the fastest growing areas for pet. Consumers are embracing naturalpathic and homeopathic treatments for their pets as well as search for unique or niche diets that enhance their pets' lives and wellbeing. Online continues to take market share from traditional pet specialty, growing 67% YOY with "natural" pet food and products fueling a lot of that growth. I also think that manufacturers going direct to consumer will continue to expand and put pressure on pet retailers to find unique ways to market and attract new customers. International markets like Russia, China, and Asia as a whole are fast growing and relatively nascent opportunities.  

Petfood Packaging: From the point of view of environmental aspects, today the focus is on packaging. What would you say to the critics?

Jodi Watson: Packaging needs to be functional, safe and efficient. Not only to deliver a fresh product but to get to the final destination in tact and looking good. With the growth of online, unnecessary packaging, boxing or additional plastic should be reconsidered and exploring new ways to deliver challenging items such as cat litter, cans and large bags of food is very important.

Petfood Packaging: How can you as a consultant assist the industry on its path to “greener” products?

Jodi Watson: I would tell manufacturers and retailers to listen to their customers, get feedback on what works or doesn't work, look at their data on returns or damaged shipments. All of these data points will point them to the answers. I also think we need to explore new sources for proteins and nutrients for pets that put less pressure on our oceans and earth.

Petfood Packaging: What do you think the challenges for our industry are in the medium term?

Jodi Watson: Innovations in pet food, supplements and packaging are needed if we are to keep up with the growing demand and interest in the pet industry. Continued studying of efficacies around proper diet and exercise is as important for our furry friends as it is for ourselves, in order to extend our pets' lives and well being as they age.

Petfood Packaging: Where will the pet food market be in 10 years?

Jodi Watson: The pet market has quickly adopted human trends over the past 3-5 years, and I would expect that this rate of adoption accelerates. As we continue to look for ways to improve our own cognition, health and wellbeing, I believe we will continue to do so for our pets as well. Being on the forefront of the industry in pet wellness with TrueLeaf Pet, I've seen firsthand the benefits of foods and supplements with ingredients such as oregano, hemp and CBD. The industry as a whole, including regulations, now needs to catch up to ensure there is a standard of excellence we all follow.

Petfood Packaging: Ms Watson, thank you for this conversation.

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