Alexandra Wepner: How did Petfood Forum begin and how has it evolved over the years?
Steve Akins: It began in 1993 in the suburbs of Chicago. There was a segment of the industry that wanted to have an annual event that supplier companies could also participate in and so it started in the Wyndham Hotel as a little 10-12 table top event with about 100 attendees. This coming year will be our 24th year, and it has grown to just under 3,000 attendees and about 375 booth spots, with a full blown conference and exhibition that takes up the better part of three days in April each year. So it’s grown quite a bit, and it reflects the overall growth of the global pet food and pet treat industry as well.
Alexandra: What is the mission of Petfood Forum?
Steve: The primary value that attendees receive in coming to Petfood Forum is being able to network at the global industry’s only live conference and exhibition focused on all the technologies that go into how pet foods and pet treats are processed–from the sourcing of ingredients and raw products and materials, all the way through to the equipment and packaging used in producing the finished product. In addition, pet food market consultants and subject matter experts from all over the world and in various areas of the industry really drive the educational offerings at Petfood Forum. There is also the exhibition, which has grown and become more of a centerpiece than it used to be in the overall context of the conference and exhibition.
Alexandra: Who attends your events, and what can they expect to gain from Petfood Forum?
Steve: It’s pet food industry professionals and experts in food science, R&D, product development, pet food product formulation, ingredient technology, nutrition, plant management, quality assurance, food safety, etc. At Petfood Forum, we also see CEOs, owners, COOs, and other c-level executives involved in various aspects of the industry. There’s quite a bit of international attendance as well, and I’d say up to 20 percent of our attendees come from outside of North America, in addition to all the domestic attendees we have in attendance.
We also see at Petfood Forum a small number of retail chain buyers or small specialty retail shop owners, as they have interest in better understanding all that goes into how pet food products are manufactured. We’ve heard they are then able to take those learnings to their organizations and disperse that information appropriately among their colleagues.
Alexandra: One unique feature of the weekend is the Petfood Innovation Workshop. Can you tell us more about this event?
Steve: It occurs the same weekend as Petfood Forum. We partner with Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS, which has a very strong companion animal ingredient science program. Their Olathe, KS (suburb of Kansas City) satellite campus contains a state of the art test kitchen and we were invited to partner with them to offer supplier companies the ability to conduct live demonstrations. During the Petfood Innovation Workshop, attendees are wearing aprons and gloves and they are literally formulating products at the instruction of these supplier companies using the supplier company’s ingredients or technology, baking or cooking them in the test kitchen and then taking a test sample home in a “doggy bag” for their pets to enjoy. So, truly, the Petfood Innovation Workshop is a very hands on, immersive workshop for pet food professionals!
Alexandra: Last year, Petfood Forum moved to Kansas City, Missouri, from its traditional home in the Chicago area. What opportunities does this new location offer?
Steve: Kansas City is centrally located in the U.S. and is also home to the KC Animal Health Corridor. There are a number of pet food manufacturing organizations and supplier organizations that are within a 200 mile radius of Kansas City. In addition, we did a poll of some of our international visitors: in many instances, attendees would come to our show and then go to Kansas City afterwards to visit their business partners in the region. So it made a lot of sense from a logistical standpoint for the industry, and therefore from a business standpoint for us to locate Petfood Forum in Kansas City.
Alexandra: What is your favorite part of the event?
Steve: Well, I’m not very objective, but if I put my business hat on, it’s that collaboration. Business does happen at Petfood Forum, and to be part of helping create a live event that contributes to the well-being of companion animals around the world is very satisfying.
For more information on Petfood Forum Live Conferences & Exhibitions, visit petfoodforumevents.com.