French pet food maker aims to im­prove an­i­mal care qual­ity

China Daily - - Q&A WITH CEO - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As French pet food man­u­fac­turer Royal Canin cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary glob­ally by ini­ti­at­ing talks on how to adapt the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment to an­i­mal needs, and whether AI pets will re­place real ones, the sub­sidiary of Mars Inc is fo­cus­ing specif­i­cally on one mis­sion in China: in­creas­ing the pen­e­tra­tion of ve­teri­nary clin­ics.

“The way Chi­nese do so­cial shop­ping on­line and mo­bile shop­ping is re­ally the most ad­vanced in the world. As for pro­fes­sion­als, how­ever, it’s still be­hind many coun­tries. And we want to pro­mote that be­cause an­i­mal care is not some­thing you can learn on your own,” said Loic Moutault, pres­i­dent of Royal Canin.

As one of the fastest-grow­ing mar­kets for the pet in­dus­try, China boasted a pet econ­omy of 170.8 bil­lion yuan ($24.9 bil­lion) in 2017, up by 27 per­cent year-on-year, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the Pet Fair Asia. The pet pop­u­la­tion in China reached 91.49 mil­lion, owned by 56 mil­lion house­holds.

In con­trast, there are only 77 uni­ver­si­ties in China that in­clude ve­teri­nary medicine as a ma­jor, and just one is de­signed specif­i­cally for small an­i­mals such as cats and dogs.

“De­vel­op­ing the pro­fes­sion­als and es­tab­lish­ing a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween pet own­ers and pro­fes­sion­als will be one of our big­gest chal­lenges in China. But once we achieve that, it will also be our big­gest op­por­tu­nity,” said Moutault.

Founded in the South of France in 1968 by a ve­teri­nary sur­geon, who suc­cess­fully cured the skin and con­di­tion prob­lems of the furry an­i­mals by re­plac­ing their diet from ta­ble scraps to cel­ery-based feed, the brand is now one of the top three glob­ally, to­gether with Nes­tle’s Pu­rina Pet­care and Col­gate’s Hill’s Pet Nu­tri­tion.

De­spite its dom­i­nant po­si­tion world­wide, the brand is largely ab­sent on the re­tail end, but re­mains a sup­plier to breed­ers, spe­cialty stores and vet of­fices.

To­day, China also stands out as the first mar­ket where Royal Canin op­er­ates a store of its own on Alibaba’s e-com­merce plat­form Tmall.

The com­pany has ad­vo­cated “mak­ing a bet­ter world for pets” for half a cen­tury — ar­guably the fastest-evolv­ing pe­riod in his­tory for an­i­mal science. Moutault talked to China Daily about the pro­gres­sion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pets and hu­man be­ings, as well as the role of the Chi­nese mar­ket.

How do you think the pet in­dus­try has evolved over the past half cen­tury since Royal Canin was es­tab­lished?

If you look at dogs, they used to live in the back­yard out­side, then moved into the liv­ing room or the base­ment, and later into the kitchen. Now they are sleep­ing on the bed with their own­ers.

That’s the evo­lu­tion of pet own­er­ship. Over time, an­i­mals have re­ally be­come part of the fam­ily. Fifty years ago dogs, were kept to guard, to bark and to work. Now they are more treated as a mem­ber of the fam­ily, and the mean­ing of own­ing a pet to us hu­man be­ings is much more un­der­stood and shared.

What are the rea­sons be­hind this evo­lu­tion? With so­cial me­dia and tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ment, why do hu­man be­ings need an­i­mals more than be­fore?

The more we ur­ban­ize our­selves and be­come su­per con­nected via tech, the more we long for a re­turn to na­ture. We call it trend and counter-trend.

I think what an­i­mals have given us is a con­nec­tion. Every hu­man be­ing is wired to care for an­other life. If you want to feel good about your­self, you need to care for oth­ers. Of course it can be your friends, par­ents, and kids, but it also can be a pet.

Tak­ing care of a pet is re­ward­ing. And be­cause car­ing for a pet is eas­ier in many ways, as it is not de­mand­ing and of­fers un­con­di­tional love, the re­sponse is more im­me­di­ate and grat­i­fy­ing.

What we see around the world is that pet own­er­ship is al­most cor­re­lated with the devel­op­ment of a coun­try. The more de­vel­oped a coun­try is, the higher rate is its pet own­er­ship, as we can see in Switzer­land, Canada and Ja­pan. With the devel­op­ment of the Chi­nese econ­omy, the rate is also go­ing up.

Sci­en­tif­i­cally, it is also proven that as we in­ter­act with an­i­mals, there is the hor­mone of love, oxy­tocin, that is pro­duced both within the bod­ies of hu­man be­ings and the an­i­mals, which calms and de-stresses you.

How is Royal Canin adapt­ing to this evo­lu­tion?

The big dif­fer­ence be­tween hu­man food and pet food pro­duc­ers is that no hu­man food pro­ducer is re­spon­si­ble for more than two or three per­cent of your diet. But when you give the food to your cats or dogs, 80 per­cent, if not more, of its calo­ries comes from the prod­uct. So our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are much big­ger than any hu­man food providers.

But mean­while, it also gives us a much more pow­er­ful im­pact on the health of an­i­mals. For ex­am­ple, if a dog is limp­ing, and we put him on a mo­bil­ity diet, he can soon run again.

So for us, the change was 50 years ago. We started with one ap­pli­ca­tion, which was re­ally der­ma­tol­ogy. Our port­fo­lio moved from one stock­keep­ing unit to 350 for­mu­las. We un­der­stand much bet­ter the early stage of an­i­mal life or even be­fore birth.

What has also changed is we are do­ing this through an in­creas­ing num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als. To­day we work with 200,000 pro­fes­sion­als around the world. The ac­cess to in­sights and ob­ser­va­tions, as well as the abil­ity to con­duct clin­i­cal tri­als and build ev­i­dence is much big­ger than when we started.

How would you char­ac­ter­ize China’s pet food mar­ket?

Royal Canin is a lead­ing brand in China, which is very un­usual as we are ex­pen­sive and dis­trib­uted within a small net­work. I guess this is be­cause peo­ple who have pets want to take care of them prop­erly and this has en­abled us to de­velop very fast in China.

I was very im­pressed by the Sin­gles Day cam­paign by our Chi­nese team, who not only cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties via the shop­ping fes­ti­val with price dis­counts, but by livestream­ing things like how to take care of pup­pies and kit­tens. So it’s a com­bi­na­tion of ed­u­ca­tion and pro­mo­tion. Sales ex­ceeded 90 mil­lion yuan in one day.

Will China be­come the largest mar­ket for the brand?

Yes, China will be­come the largest. It will take time. I don’t want to give a pre­dic­tion about the time be­cause I want qual­ity growth, which means sell­ing through the right channels, and build­ing the mar­ket first.

Cur­rently it is the third-big­gest mar­ket for us, af­ter the United States and Rus­sia.

How did you start work­ing in the pet food in­dus­try?

I joined Mars’ cho­co­late depart­ment with the fi­nance team. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, I helped to de­velop the mar­kets in East­ern Europe for pet food, where Mars cre­ated the cat­e­gory.

What I re­ally like with this in­dus­try is that it’s highly emo­tional, just like baby care. It’s not like buy­ing soup or a bag of potato chips. Peo­ple are very in­volved, which means you can play a very im­por­tant role and it’s fun.

Very of­ten when I go to din­ner in pri­vate, peo­ple ask what I do. I tell them I work for Royal Canin, and they start talk­ing about their pets im­me­di­ately. They tell me the prob­lems of their cats and dogs, and we just con­nect.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing and very re­ward­ing. You don’t get that from sell­ing cho­co­late or sham­poo.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The stand of Royal Canin at the Grand Prix Royal Canin ex­hi­bi­tion in Moscow on Dec 3, 2016.

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