Fauna Foods Corp. has earned a glowing reputation over the years as the distributor has been meticulously choosing the best pet products for clients, which include stores, veterinarians, groomers and more in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The company has helped raise the standard for products in the pet care industry. Pet Age recently spoke with Ira Slovin, who’s been running Fauna Foods since he founded the New York-based regional wholesale distributor since 1975.
How is the pet industry different today compared to 1975?
In 1975, the pet industry consisted mostly of farm and feed stores across the country. In cities, pet food was available through local supermarkets and was mass produced, meeting minimum nutritional value.
Across the Midwest during the mid 1970s, there were small manufacturers who produced food for the farm as well as products for dogs and cats. These producers had a small reach and supplied the local feed stores.
The pet industry evolved through the late 1970’s and 1980’s as more stores opened. Entrepreneurs opened large format chains devoted to the sale of pet foods and products. Manufacturers expanded their research and development, trying to formulate the most nutritious products possible.
In 2008, Wall Street discovered the pet industry. This resulted in the purchase and sale of several manufacturers. Independent pet distributors were consolidated into national distributors. The individualized family owned and personal touch the industry was founded on was a thing of the past.
Today, we see the pet as a member of the family. There is a high emphasis placed on nutrition. Different feeding philosophies have emerged such as raw, gently cooked and freeze-dried. The quality of staple products such as kibble have improved, and manufacturers offer an array of protein sources and health features.
The business has changed and evolved from the small cottage industry to a multi-billion-dollar entity. Today, there are more channels to purchase quality pet products not only the supermarkets, but e-commerce, FDM, neighborhood pet and local and national chains.
What do you consider important traits for a leader?
Someone who inspires passion and motivates others to follow. A leader is a person with vision, the path to realizing that vision and enlisting others who share this vision. Understanding what it will take to reach these goals and inspire, manage and support the team around them to work confidently and creatively toward this shared vision. A leader also understands their own weakness and surrounds themselves with people who complement them to make the organization stronger. A person who demonstrates empathy, listens to others in the organization and fosters an environment of connecting with others are essential traits to any leader. Most importantly, a leader promotes team members to bring new ideas and empowers employees to embrace their own leadership qualities to act independently or through delegation.
What makes a strong regional distributor in the pet industry?
A strong regional distributor fosters bonds and trust with their retail and manufacturing partners. They communicate efficiently and effectively as there are less layers of management. We do not treat retailers as a data point. We care about every customer, not just about their business, but about them personally.
They also search for products that are innovative and differentiate the independent retailer from competitive channels. We understand each of our client’s stores and their needs. Through consultative selling, we educate retailers on the products we present, target specific SKUs with the rationale of why it would fit into their store rather than just showing a new product. It is not just about placing a product on the shelf but also understanding how the product is right for that customer.
Finally, a strong regional distributor works with their retail partners and manufacturers to create a game plan and in-store programs to grow both the store and the brand. While regional distributors place a high emphasis on their partners, we are equally committed to maintaining, improving and providing superior logistical services. We are more than just truckers; we are value creators.
What value do regional distributors offer to the pet industry?
Regional distributors offer a key and crucial component, knowledge. This intimate knowledge of our territory includes the needs of our retail partners, the types of products that can have success and go to market strategies which have been effective in the past. This beneficial information is helpful for manufacturers entering the area.
Secondly, regional distributors can be agile and pivot to our partners’ needs and changes in the business climate. We respond to changes and needs quicker, which provides superior customer services for all our stakeholders. The regional distributor is one of the most important parts of the supply chain for both manufacturers and retailers. Without regional distribution it would be much harder for companies and products to come to market and grow.
Lastly, the value regional distributors offer is focus. Regional distributors tend to have smaller baskets of goods, so we concentrate, build and develop everything in our portfolios.
What has been the secret to your longevity in the pet industry?
Over Fauna’s 46 years in business, the company has faced many challenges. At times it was extremely challenging, but we always persevered. The secret to our longevity lies in a few key factors.
The first has been our ability to constantly reinvent ourselves. The second is our resiliency, our ability to assess the situation and understand what actions need to be taken and continually employ the grass roots approach that has made Fauna Foods successful. Third, is our connection to our partners. They know we have their best intentions and will work honestly with them.
Lastly, my secret is the company and its people. There is no way we could continue to be in business and prosper for over four decades without the people that make up Fauna Foods.