By now, most of us who were invited to Eukanuba’s “Influencer” summit have written to some extent about our visit. As we describe our experiences at the Pet Nutrition Center and the Leipsic Manufacturing plant, some of us might be wondering if our readers trust us to give them the REAL “low down” on what we saw. Proctor & Gamble, a huge company with a lot of money, flew each of us to Ohio, welcomed us with gift baskets in our hotel rooms, wined and dined us for two days, then pressed a parting gift into our hands as we left. This was, after all, an “Influencer’s Summit.” Who was influencing whom?
As bloggers, we know who our readers are, and for the most part, we tend to write to that audience. The questions and sensitivities I brought to Ohio were from the perspective of an active member of the dog fancy; To that end, I was conscious of what – and how – fellow owner/breeder/handlers go about feeding their dogs. Some of what I’ll be writing in the coming days might surprise you, and this is where the relationship between us comes down to trust. Do I have yours? Do you believe I can be fooled? Could my opinion of Eukanuba be bought with a gift basket and a Chinese dinner?
I tell a good tall tale in the interest of embellishing the humor in a story, it’s true. When you read one such piece, we both know that my tongue is planted firmly in cheek and I’m winking at you. Of my reports about “Behind the Paw,” none will be like that.
So let’s get started with some interesting statistics about the Leipsic Manufacturing plant we toured on our first day: Six hundred million pounds of dog food are made at this facility every year. The bag of dog food pictured at the right? It took two minutes for it to go from being a flat, empty bag to one filled with kibble and set on a pallet ready to be shipped; Every minute, 26 of these bags are filled and sealed, and every 90 minutes, a pallet is filled and ready to be loaded onto a truck or train. From the time raw ingredients are received at the plant and made into the food in this bag to the time it’s packaged, this bag of dog food passed 168 different safety and quality tests. The tests are as much for a child’s benefit as they are for a dog’s because Eukanuba knows that I wasn’t the only parent who dug dog food out her toddler’s mouth with one hand while removing a pacifier out of a dog’s mouth with the other.
An electronic system test value was run on every ingredient in our bag of dog food (which, by the way, is Eukanuba’s Naturally Wild recipe) and this is more than the USDA requires. To ensure that the food in our bag is equal to human grade food, the Leipsic plant includes a world class microbial center which we saw during our tour, but only after walking through a series of disinfectant solutions and putting booties over our shoes. In addition, metal detectors are at every stage of the process to ensure that the food in this bag contains ONLY dog food and no unwelcomed surprises. And finally, the series of numbers that a laser coder burns on the bag are unique to this bag. The numbers indicate the day and the hour the food was made. Eukanuba knows exactly where each bag of dog food goes and how it gets there so that in the event of a recall, there is absolute traceability and the bags can be pulled off the shelves immediately, if not before they even get there.
Before entering the vast “wilderness” of computerized machines that test, cook, extrude and package dog food, we met with plant manager, Michael McCleary, who gave us a hint of what to expect once we passed through the doors leading to the assembly lines. We learned that Eukanuba & Iams pet food is the third most complex business under the Procter and Gamble umbrella, and that the Leipsic plant is P&G’s largest dog food manufacturing plant. This explained my impression of Mr. McCleary as an amiable, but serious manager juggling quality control with employee safety. You’ll be “meeting” him in a video clip later on in this blog.
Strict safety protocol required the removal of all jewelry and stuffing our hair into hair nets.
I might have shrieked,”No!” had I not noticed that helmets were next, followed by ear plugs and safety glasses. We broke up into groups and followed our assigned tour guides who took us into the world of making dog food. We saw assembly lines filling and packaging bags of dog food. We saw a laboratory where ingredients are tested for quality and safety, and we spoke with “Ray” (another fella you’ll be meeting in the video), the lab’s quality leader.
We weren’t able to see kibble being extruded because these days, machines with moving parts are covered by a “hood,” but one of our tour guides brought us a tray of freshly made, still warm dog food. And yes, I ate one. It had the texture and taste of bread dough and I’m happy to report that I’ve not grown a tail since eating it. The butt wiggling thing, however, IS new ( please note: I’m winking at you here).
Our tour ended back where it started, in the company of Mike McCleary. We were shown safety charts, records and graphs, but honestly, what we bloggers remember most was the in-house video I’m sharing with you here. Having met many of the people in the video including Dr. Campion, Mike McCleary and Ray, we recognized the enthusiasm and dedication of each person in the video to be sincere. If only from a marketing perspective, we were incredulous that the video wasn’t on television as an ad.
To my “handlers” at Leipsic, I’m sorry I was so high maintenance. I’m sorry I was always wandering off into areas that were probably off limits. I’m sorry I talked with everyone I encountered and held them up by asking if they had a pet and did they like working there. I’m sorry I looked behind doors, ran my finger over a window ledge and asked unexpected questions (what determines the shape of kibble? Where does flavoring come from?). And yes, I sampled the dog food. But wait. I’m lying. I’m not really sorry.
- Had I not done any of those things, I wouldn’t be able to write as an eye witness that the plant is immaculate. By comparison, my own kitchen isn’t fit for making my own dogs’ food – something my mother-in-law has suspected for some time;
- Had I not talked to everyone I met, I wouldn’t have been able to be surprised by the level of education of the employees, most with degrees in engineering. This, a distinct deficit on my part for underestimating people wearing overalls and helmets;
- Had I not been so nosey, I wouldn’t have realized that these employees are happy. I learned that every Procter and Gamble employee is a stock owner which explains their work ethic. Work hard, work smart, make money; It’s what compelled one of my fellow bloggers to ask if P & G was accepting resumes;
- Had I not been trusting of my intuitive nature, I wouldn’t have believed the workers to be genuine in their enthuthiasm about dog food, and in particular, THIS dog food. By asking off-the-cuff questions, I learned from the people I encountered that they are caring dog and cat owners who truly believe in their product. Eukanuba/Iams calls this “Total Pet Passionate Employee Ownership,” and it was impressive to see.
Trust me on this.
Coming up: Dog Food 101, Eukanuba’s Pet Nutrition Center (or how is dog food tested, anyway?) and our Q & A session with Eukanuba.