Disclosure: Purina invited me to their “Meet Purina – Digital Influencer Symposium” from Wednesday, June 24th to Friday, June 26th. This post, as well as the trip, was sponsored by Purina but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
If you were to be invited to any city in the world, I’m guess St. Louis wouldn’t be tops on the list (sorry, St. Louis – I think you’re lovely!). But if you were to be invited to the headquarters of any brand, what would get you excited? Chanel? Disney? Toyota?
For me, it’s Purina. Not only am I consumer of Purina products (well, not me… my pets), but the checkerboard has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a rural area with feed stores sporting the Purina logo and watched endless commercials for Chuck Wagon dogfood.
(Sidenote: Most of the Purina folks I met were too young to remember that commercial!)
But it’s not just my nostalgic love of all things Purina or my pets love of their food, it’s that I really believe that Purina cares about pets. Yes, I know. It sounds like a commercial but after attending the Better With Pets Summit in NYC last fall, I learned how much of their work goes beyond packaging and marketing pet food.
My experience in St. Louis to visit Checkerboard Square (what they affectionately call their headquarters) only affirmed that.
I was lucky enough to travel with some of the most influential bloggers and Instagrammers in the pet space (I actually met the teams behind Dogs of Instagram and Cats of Instagram!) and spent a very busy 2 1/2 days learning about everything that Purina does. Let me tell you. These are my people.
I couldn’t possibly cover everything that impressed me with Purina so I’ll present what the biggest highlights were for me.
1. Purina really does love pets.
Almost everyone who works at Purina has a pet. And if they don’t have a pet, they’re still pet lovers. In fact, the team that hosted us for the symposium provided their bios with everything you would expect from a corporate bio. But it also included information about their pets, past and present, and a picture with their pets, of course.
2. You really can bring your pets to work.
There are some dogs that come to work every day. It’s okay. It’s allowed. It’s encouraged even! We met some of the office regulars including a cat and two dogs that come in almost every day. While we were there, Purina actually set a world record for the most number of pets at work in a single day. I couldn’t stop snapping pictures and even did a full Periscope broadcast while everyone was outside for the official photo.
Despite all the complications that can be seen with bringing your pets to work, Purina makes its easy for their employees and even offers advice to other companies that might be considering a pet-friendly workplace.
We toured an area that was once a parking lot and is now a beautiful garden complete with gazebo and koi pond, perfect for a pet-friendly walk in the park.
And if you’re looking to get down to “business,” you can take time in The Barkyard, an on-campus dog park convenient to all the buildings.
3. Research and Development is a high priority.
Again, it wasn’t until I attended the Better With Pets Summit last fall that I realized how much research can go into innovating in the pet food space. In particular, I was impressed with once again hearing from Janet Jackson, Vice President of PetCare Nutrition Research. And yes, it’s Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.
I’ve learned about some of the amazing things the R&D team has done behind breakthrough foods like Purina Pro Plan Bright Minds for aging dogs and I’m a believer.
And then hearing from Ragen T.S. McGowan, a Senior Scientist in the Behavior Group, suddenly made my resume feel very short. She’s not only a smart lady but her research on bringing on more desirable behaviors with shelter dogs through touch and affection is having an impact. That alone makes my heart swell.
4. Quality matters to humans and pets alike.
It’s one thing to develop products that do amazing things for pets. But it’s another thing if you can’t get them to eat it because it tastes so bad. We explored the ways in which Purina innovates in flavor and taste (and it’s probably in ways you wouldn’t expect).
We met Chef Amanda Hassner, a real chef that makes real food. If you get points for creativity in the kitchen, Chef Amanda wins. She served us so many unusual dishes, served family style, that I felt like I was on an episode of Chopped! (My favorite was the peanut butter and bacon sandwiches).
But there is real pet food in the building. And we were invited into the Pilot Manufacturing Facility to get an idea of how things are run. (Photos inside weren’t allowed and most manufacturing is down elsewhere in the country but I’m providing you this vision of loveliness so you can imagine the tour along with me).
What really floored me was the quality process that all food undergoes. Get ready, y’all. This is where it gets fun.
Meet John Bear, Vice President & Director of Manufacturing for Purina Petcare. There wasn’t a question he couldn’t answer, because trust me, I had a lot of them.
But the best part was watching quality assurance in action. As you can see, Preston the Westie was pretty excited when all of the sudden 12 cans of food were opened.
The first picture shows part of the QA process. Examining the texture and quality of the meat. And that includes giving it a good sniff.
In the second picture, you can see that while I’ve sniffed many cans of pet food over the years, it’s not something I would want to do occupationally.
And finally, I’m telling everyone EXACTLY how I feel about sniffing cans of pet food.Remarkably, though, they look at the quality of the meat, the proportion of other ingredients like vegetables and rice, and ensure the gravy is the right consistency. And yes, they’ve even tasted it before (I asked. I had to.)
5. A strong history guides a strong future.
While Purina is no longer in the animal feed business (that portion of the business is now a separate company entirely operating under the name Purina Mills while Purina PetCare focuses exclusively on dog and cat food), they still fall back on founder William Danforth’s idea of creating food “Where Purity is Paramount.”
They talked quite a bit about Danforth and even read several quotes from a book he authored in 1942 called “I Dare You!” – a sort of motivational book written for his “personal friends and daring youth who may cross my path.”
That book looked oh-so-familiar. I collect old books from time to time, usually because I like the way they look or the subject matter or sometimes even the inscription on the insider. Sure enough, when I got home, I dug through my collection and pulled this out.
Looks like I’m even more of a Purina girl than I thought!
This was an amazing, jam-packed two and half days of all things Purina. If you’re interested in something in particular about Purina, ask me. I may have learned about it. And it would also give me a reason to share about 1236 other photos that didn’t make it into this post!