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.

Consumer Activism Report

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.

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