You probably don’t think of Mars Petcare as a center for startup incubation.
It owns a lot of brands you can buy at a local grocery store, including Pedigree and Whiskas. But in 2000, it bought Royal Canin, a pet food brand focused on health care, and, more recently, a string of veterinary clinics.
So, while Mars Petcare originated as a provider of packaged pet products – one with little direct insight into clients – it now had a direct line into pet owners. The trick, however, is bringing those products, services and insights together.
That’s where Leonid Sudakov – the US president of Mars Petcare Connected Solutions – comes in.
“All of our core businesses will have to go through a true transformation in the next decade to future-proof their brands,” Sudakov said.
That means establishing a direct line to consumers – not only to send messages them, but also to sell to them.
“Where my division is really engaged, is how do we become a real force for good for the future of our category?” Sudakov said. “How do we become the partner of choice for every disruptor, whether that’s a person with an idea, a startup trying to scale or someone in the core business trying to do something different?”
For instance, in 2016, Mars Petcare acquired Whistle, the so-called “Fitbit for dogs.” In so doing, Mars Petcare gained insight into the activities of dogs across the nation.
Sudakov, who owns a cat, four donkeys, four horses and four ponies, spoke with AdExchanger at the IAB Leadership Conference last week about orienting these very different departments around a single goal.
AdExchanger: Many of your recent acquisitions – from Whistle to pet health clinics – give you a direct line to the animal owner.
LEONID SUDAKOV: Exactly. For 70 years, since we first got into pet food in 1936, we’ve been primarily a grocery pet food business. When we acquired Royal Canin in the early 2000s, it opened the door to therapeutic nutrition, which you sell to the vets. That brought us closer to the world of health.
The idea is that the more you understand the health conditions of your pets, the more you can design products and services, starting with pet food but not exclusively, to fit their needs.
I can’t imagine that every acquisition is used to sharing data. How do you get them invested in doing that?
The competitive aspect of our business is that we have so many touch points that allow us to serve consumers.
Ensuring the entire organization understands that and sees the value and benefit of data is a massive priority. [The pet care] industry historically is not data-centric. There are no unified disease codes. It’s about the doctors making the right decisions on the spot, not about saving or using data for the future.
We’ve defined our dual strategy as better care and better business. If we can match our primary care data from Banfield with our specialty emergency care data from Blue Pearl with activity data from Whistle, we can actually create a data platform that can add years to pets’ lives.
That lets you win over all the doctors and all the industry opinion leaders. You’re not trying to mine the data to get more value, you want to do something to help the industry transform.
How are we going to buy pet food in 10 years?
Like any other consumer goods industry, I believe a lot of the engagement will happen digitally. Half of the category growth is online. You’ll be guaranteed to have the right food in the right quantity, delivered when you need it.
Amazon does that, Chewy does that. Is that something you need to build?
I don’t believe there will be one solution. We’ve partnered very closely with Amazon, Petco and PetSmart to figure out what will happen from those channels.
If you build a direct-supply model, that’s a great opportunity if you can own that buying portal.
We’re in it already. I’m so excited about our Royal Canin flagship store [in China], which is about learning how to build a direct-to-consumer business. We need to continue to scale it. It’s important to move from business innovation in the abstract to living it day in and day out. That’s where we are.
How about in the US?
We have quite a few live projects in the US. It’s a market where we have fantastic and strong leading brands, so I see us operating various models in the US as well.
GDPR will bring more restrictions around collecting consumers’ data. But if you know that Bob Jones’ cat has kidney issues, is that data about Bob Jones or about his cat?
In the case about the health of the cat, it’s quite separate from the data of the pet owner. The critical part is that we’re very conscientious of GDPR and protecting the privacy of our consumers. But we can use the insights in the data we have about pets to build better care. So, it’s not just trying to know the pet owner, if you have medical records from a pet, you can predict the medical outcome better and be preventative.
Do you have the infrastructure to create that messaging?
That’s what we’re working on. We are about to launch this predictive analytics machine that will connect all of this. To create that, you need to have what Google has in the human world: a scale of data inputs to run a predictive diagnostic algorithm. That’s where the scale of our business helps. We want to do this in the next three years.
What’s the challenge now? Data collection?
We’re engaging thousands and thousands of pet owners, distributing free devices and starting to build this data collection mechanism. Then we’ll start matching what we get from the device, the type of behavior we see, so we can recognize what’s a gait or tail wagging or a jump.