Under­standing prefer­ences

What makes a dog’s or cat’s mouth water? And what makes their owners reach for a certain pet food in the supermarket? The answers to these questions are essential for the product developers in the Business Unit Pet Food. To find out, they study the behavior of animals and their owners.

For many pet owners in industrialized countries, dogs and cats are no longer just pets. Owners consider their pets real members of the family and treat them as such, too. These four-legged friends are allowed to sleep in their owners’ beds; they get a cake for their birthday and have their own social media accounts. The phenomenon is known as the “humanization” of pets and becomes particularly evident when it comes to the question of the right pet food. “The demand for premium and special food for pets has increased significantly in recent years and by now exceeds the demand for products in the medium price segment,” says Tristan d’Herouville, Global Marketing & Communication Director at Pet Food. “The same nutritional trends can be observed as with humans. Today, pet food should be healthy and tasty, preferably produced regionally and organic. Much of this wouldn’t matter to the pets at all. But the special thing about pet food is: it’s not the consumers, meaning the pets, who decide what products to purchase. It’s the owners of dogs and cats. They make choices on behalf of their pets”. And that’s why owners are of growing importance at Pet Food. “We already know a lot about the preferences of pets,” says Virginie Malfait-Lajeat, International Project Manager at Panelis, the palatability measurement center of Pet Food. “Now we also want to know more about the pet owners, how they perceive their pets’ satisfaction and what their levers of choice of a product are.”

INNOVATIVE MARKET RESEARCH Virginie Malfait-Lajeat is an expert in market research and has developed in the last 20 years multi-sectoral knowledge in consumer understanding (food and baby food, hygiene, fragrances …). She joined Panelis at the Elven site in Brittany three years ago. Here, the BU Pet Food has been operating, for 20 years, one of the most innovative and pet-friendly hubs, dedicated to palatability measurement and observation of cats and dogs’ behaviors. 180 dogs and 500 cats’ live on a 32-hectare property – all trained connoisseurs, with a team of specialists (animal technicians, ethologists, statisticians …) – dedicated to animal welfare and pet science. All the animals here have undergone year-long training during which they were trained to recognize minimal differences in tastes or smells. The environment is controlled to secure the repeatability of the observations and optimally adapted to their needs. They are meant to feel at home here.

All the UN Sustainability Objectives are in the SymPortal:

Now we also want to know more about the pet owners.
Virginie Malfait-Lajeat, International Project Manager, Pet Food

Top left: New products. Bottom left: The behavior of the animals is recorded and evaluated. Right: Amande Fortier supervises the test dogs while they play.

State-of-the-art technology and new methods are used to determine the animals’ acceptability and preferences. Today, the experts at Panelis can very precisely determine what animals actually like and how they show it.

PET OWNERS PARTICIPATE Emira is a specialist in sensory science: “My job here is to give pets a voice.” Before she came to Pet Food, she was a research director developing sensory Methods for human food in university research programs. “It is amazing how similar the methods are for evaluating animal and baby food,” she says. One of her first projects with Panelis was to develop, with experts in pet behaviors, a method including pet owners’ insights into their pets’ behaviors. The result was the creation of an original procedure of pet food scoring in real life conditions thanks to the community of pet lovers called “Milou, Duchesse & Moi”. The community has grown to nearly 2,000 members. Pet owners must report the body language of their animals before, during and after feeding and, thanks to the statisticians, these data predict pets’ enjoyment. The advantage of this procedure is not only the real life environment, but also the possibility of asking the pet owners for their opinion.

The demand for premium and special food for pets has increased significantly in recent years.
Tristan d’Herouville, Global Marketing & Communication Director Pet Food

Top 3 behavior changes caused by aging

The evaluations show that the product loyalty scores measured with pet owners are highly correlated with their pets’ enjoyment. “Today, pet owners want to make their pets happy with the food they feed them,” summarizes Emira. This offers valuable insights for dog and cat food development in a competitive market.

MAKING USE OF SYNERGIES “Today we know a great deal about pets and their owners through the work of Panelis, which is a clear competitive advantage in this market segment. We want to use this knowledge to explore new topics and market opportunities outside the pet food market in the future,” explains Tristan. A current project by the Pet Food BU and colleagues from Scent & Care shows what this can look like. The project is developing a dog shampoo, relying on the “Milou, Duchesse & Moi” community. The members are being asked to evaluate fragrances in shampoo under real life conditions. “This is an exciting project that shows how the divisions at Symrise make use of synergies,” says Tristan. This model project could soon be followed by others.

Click here for glimpses of the sensory hub at Pet Food:

You can fine the social media platform for pet owners at:

Today, pet owners want to make their pets happy with the food they feed them.
Emira Mehinagic, Global R&D Manager, Product Performance, Pet Food

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