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When Dan Smith went to work at Purina in St. Louis 27 years ago, he thought, “I’ve always had pets; this’ll be fun.” After he had spent some time at the company in the research and development division, he realized he had found a like-minded community that shares his passion for “making a difference in the lives of pets and people.”
Dan now heads Purina’s global R&D team of more than 400, all “doing many different things on behalf of the pets we all love” and enjoying “rewarding careers.” Purina is always looking forward. To help guide his team, “we use the word ‘imagine,’” said Dan. “We focus on an area of needs for pets, and then imagine the future.” One example is a 14-year study that started with a simple premise: “Imagine that your dog or cat could live a longer, quality life, with a healthier body.” The conclusion—counterintuitive for a company that makes pet food—was summed up in two words: “eating less.”
By feeding dogs less, we can “not only extend life, but also extend the age at which chronic related illnesses started to take place—for example, osteoarthritis….So we made the decision, globally, to reduce the feeding instructions on all of our products. It was the right thing to do.”
Another study began with: “Imagine a diet with a blend of nutrients that allows the pet to reduce or maybe even eliminate weight gain.” With 50 percent of dogs and cats considered overweight, that’s a critical challenge. “We did the research and found a nutrient in soy isoflavones that we could add to the diet and increase metabolism by 13 percent,” said Dan. This compound is now in Purina’s weight management line of foods.
Purina continues to produce successful “imagine” innovations, including a high-protein formula that can reduce or eliminate insulin use for a diabetic cat and personalized pet food, Just Right by Purina, that’s ordered online with the input of the owner and the nutritional expertise of Purina.
Smith is also excited about FortiFlora®, a probiotic nutritional supplement for dogs and cats that resulted from the question, “Is there something we can put in the food or on the food that would allow a pet’s intestinal health issues to be restored within three to five days?” This line for dogs and cats is available through veterinarians and has done “tremendously,” said Dan. “And now our goal is, can we get that to one day.”
Examples of future “imagines” that Purina’s R&D team will be tackling include: clean, white teeth (“and no dog breath”) and “healthy vision” for pets. “We believe in the future, and the promise that it holds for our pets,” he concluded. “We also believe that one day the challenges our pets face today will be nothing more than a memory,” citing pet obesity and renal health in cats. Dan Smith and his team continually challenge themselves to make a difference in the lives of pets—and, by extension, for the “people who love them.”