Consumer activists & their impact on the pet food industry

A report, Consumer Activists and Their Impact on the Pet Food Industry, details pet food industry’s most dangerous market influencers: Pet food safety activists. In it, three activists are named: Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food, Dr. Jean Hofve of Little Big Cat and yours truly. The report will be the subject of a presentation at Petfood 2.0, an industry event held in Chicago this year.

In the report, author Robert J. Silver, DVM, CVA portrays activists as aggressive and angry extremists who are out to “take down the industry” by proving pet food manufacturers are greedy and dishonest.

He describes us as “highly connected and bent on exposing potential injustice,” and believes a company’s best strategy is to cooperate with us instead of ignoring us. Clearly uncomfortable with the influence over the market and of the control of consumer awareness we have, he offers suggestions on how best to work with us: by making us an ally and not an enemy.

He suggests that by allowing activists to engage in the process it helps to redirect our energy towards finding workable solutions within the system. In the end, he feels that, giving us an opportunity to work within the industry, pet food companies may be able to reduce the “negative consumer-driven publicity campaigns.” He reminds manufacturers that anger arises when we are denied pertinent information or a perception of control.

He explains that consumer activists can wield great influence in areas of regulation including trade, and product safety by forming alliances among regulators, and corporations. Since pet food companies can be visibly wounded when their mistreatment of consumers arouses the ire of consumer advocates, it should be obvious to small business owners that they can ill-afford to engage in business practices that might draw the attention of consumer advocates.

Because the multi-billion dollar pet food industry depends on consumer trust in a brand, the role of the pet food advocate is critical to maintaining a brand’s reputation. Earning consumer trust is the holy grail of a successful campaign, and when it comes to decision-making, consumers turned to blogs in droves when making a purchase. Blogs were found to be the third most influential digital resource at 31% behind retail sites (56%) and brand sites (34%).

Consumers, skeptical of the safety of pet food products, turn to pet food safety advocates to provide them with guidance who ensure that consumers are well informed about the pros and cons of the food they feed their pets. As consumers research products to make informed decisions, published experiences and impressions in social networks and blogs have become the peer-driven digital equivalent to Consumer Reports.

We wield enormous influence over the public’s perception of the industry and their attendant purchasing habits. We raise awareness of issues affecting pets, expose unsafe products, and questionable practices in government and industry that threaten the welfare of animals.

Consumer advocates like us have, in part shaped current trends in the market. We like to think that it is our investigative reports that have the most influence, or maybe it is simply the threat of bad publicity that keeps a companies’ from stepping out of line that holds the most influence. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that we make a difference. We know we have the ability to effect a behavioral change in consumers by mentioning a specific pet food brand or manufacturer.

The report suggests that companies that understand the interests of consumer activists can tap them to reap larger profits or break into new markets by forging unlikely alliances among the main actors in the process: activists, industry, and regulators.

SOURCE
Consumer Activism Report

REFERENCES
Power to the People: The Unexpected Influence of Small Coalitions
Strength in Numbers by J. Gunnar Trumbull
Nielson Report: Under the Influence, Consumer Trust in Advertising

UPDATE: I have no association with Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food, either personally of professionally, or the Association for Truth in Pet Food.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (9) Write a comment

  1. In the world of “advocacy” the term “radical” is tried and true. The parties in control, whether they be agribusiness conglomerates, or whatever else, continue to access it as a term of derision. It is a holdover from the 60s. All those hippies, those draft-dogers, hollering in the streets! Your enemies want to connect you with the image as the screaming, placard-carrying nut blocking traffic and burdening taxpayers with bills for police overtime. Today, “activist” and “radical” are also used to draw association with certain animal welfare organizations that many might be critical of. In political theory, it is known as “symbolism,” and when it goes on long enough, it becomes a legal truth.

    You get used to it.

    Really, one must often take “radical” steps to get attention focused on an issue. What’s “radical.” Radical can mean a lot of things, and not necessarily much that is so “radical” and shocking when thoughtfully analyzed.

    You really may have to shout for help, when you are drowning. And consumers are drowning, in a sea of mis-or-non-information, courtesy of big business, and aided by own own government, when it comes to pet foods.

    The moment you object to anything, you will be labeled as “activist,” a term meant to destroy you. Of course, your enemies are there to object for their own views. But they, are not “activists,” are they?

    I think everyone must combat the use of the term “activist” and “radical” at every chance they get.

    So I always describe you as Food Safety Advocate.

    Reply

    • Maybe my experience of growing up on a hippy commune in Northern California rubbed off on me, because I don’t mind the term “activist” or “radical”, but I understand that those terms are not meant to be flattering ones. Most Americans, I believe, equate activist with radicals and anarchists. I understand why industry uses those labels – it is to discredit my work and to marginalize the work of all food safety advocate as a bunch of Birkenstock wearing, granola eating, flag burning, radicals. But, what we really do is disrupt the conversation, by introducing ideas that fall outside the margin of popular belief systems (like table scrap are bad, etc.).

      Reply

  2. As consumer advocates you have influenced many petsumers to think before they buy: to read labels, question ingredients and generally make a fuss. The pet food industry knows that change is blowin’ in the wind; plus “The customer is always right”… and they better believe it. Mr Silver is correct – suggesting that they should work with you as an ally rather than an enemy. Good job and excellent post.

    Reply

  3. Food Safety Advocates such as yourself may indeed be “angry” on behalf of consumers but that is certainly justified. But is advocating for reasonable disclosure on labels of products that we feed (sometimes poison) our family members with “extremism”? No consumer would think so. Only a “greedy and dishonest” agribusiness conglomerate interprets things that way. The “industry’s most dangerous market influence”? Sounds good to me.

    Reply

      • And enduring the punishment, is part of the process of advocacy. Note, how opponents (global agribusiness in this case) use the term “activist.” It is the quick-to-the-draw insult, attempting to attach an image of one carting a placard and shouting outside a corporate headquarters (as if, actually, that were a bad thing, anyway). You are a Food Safety Advocate. Simply advocating for common sense and reasonable disclosure to consumers. You mention two years… having endured “advocacy” on a different issue, I can tell you that the “bad guys” have, as part of their playbook, the intent to “wait you out.” They try to ignore or sideline critics for long periods of time, since experience (history) has shown that those critics will burn out and be unable to endure long periods without substantial progress, and, the lack of reward (be that financial, or otherwise). Staying the course, surprises them, and becomes a problem. That, in part, is what you describe.

        Reply

        • Either they burn-out or sell-out — two things I have no intention of ever doing. You won’t find any “Lists” or pet food reviews, endorsements, sponsors or pet food related products for sale here either. And there never will be. Integrity is a bitch, but someone’s got to do it.

          Reply

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