BERN, KAN. — With more than 20 years of experience in procurement for pet industry brands, Cindy Yakich, currently chief procurement officer at super-premium pet food and treat co-manufacturer Alphia, is poised to navigate her company through today’s volatile supply chain environment. She noted two key strategies for mitigating disruptions for the company.

“We focus on building the right relationships with the right suppliers to help streamline and make sure supply is as consistent as possible, as well as clear visibility with forecasting and planning, what we’re doing and when we need things,” Yakich said.

From her first role in the pet food industry to helping launch Chewy’s proprietary consumables business to her current position with Alphia, Yakich recounts her career journey, how her work has helped the co-manufacturer mitigate supply chain disruptions, and keen advice for other industry members.


PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.

Yakich: My career started more than 20 years ago when H.J. Heinz was still in the pet food business. I started with the packaging/procurement team. I then grew my role and responsibilities over time as the company transitioned to Del Monte, where I ran all ingredient procurement for both food and pet food sides of the business. My responsibilities included all raw materials as well as cross-hedge and anything tied to board-traded commodities. When the company acquired Natural Balance, I took over contract manufacturing for the company, which included Natural Balance as well as all the other products we contract manufactured for both food and pet food sides of the business. I continued to run contract manufacturing for a couple more years after The J.M. Smucker Company acquired the Natural Balance.

Eventually, I joined Chewy. At the time, Chewy didn’t have proprietary brands on the consumables side. So, my sourcing team, along with the R&D team, started the proprietary consumables business. During my time there, I was able to grow that across just about every segment in pet food industry: kibble, canned, frozen, treats, and some niche markets as well. We rolled out hundreds of SKUs for the proprietary brands for

I joined Alphia in 2021 as the chief procurement officer.


PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?

Yakich: I was interested in sourcing and procurement at the time and, looking for a new opportunity, went to Heinz soon after college. Heinz had business units that crossed food categories and pet food categories. Packaging, CPG and pet often intertwined because of the similarities — especially in packaging and ingredients. They follow a lot of the same food safety requirements. The FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] and AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] in general follow a lot of the same policies, procedures and requirements.

Looking back, procurement wasn’t something that was really studied in college. It wasn’t a full program or focus back then. Procurement wasn’t something I had a passion for at the time, I just fell into it. I liked it and grew into it, and then realized I was good at it.


PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.

Yakich: One of my proudest moments was building out the proprietary brands at Chewy. We started it from scratch, including developing formulas, commercializing products, and building strong brands for Chewy. We moved fast and we were nimble. We were a small team, but we were still able to launch products in 90 to 120 days. That’s rare in the pet food market today. It was a fun and exciting time, challenging too, but I was the managing the full gamut launching product from start to finish.


PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?

Yakich: Cost, inflation, supply chain, shortages… It’s an undetermined future right now. We said at the start of COVID, “Who knows where we’re going?” I feel like we’ve begun to exit that to some degree, but we’ve replaced it with the uncertainty across the globe and in Ukraine. The inflation from COVID and supply chain concerns with what’s going on in the Ukraine have exacerbated the issue.


PFP: How would you describe the current state of the supply chain, and how has your work helped Alphia and LANI mitigate supply chain disruptions?

Yakich: I don’t think we’ll be able to say today that there won’t be disruptions — there are too many factors involved. However, two things will help mitigate disruptions as best as we can: partnerships and visibility. We focus on building the right relationships with the right suppliers to help streamline and make sure supply is as consistent as possible, as well as clear visibility with forecasting and planning, what we’re doing and when we need things.


PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?

Yakich: Pet humanization continues to grow as people become more knowledgeable. It ebbs and flows over time, probably because of cost. With today’s costs and where inflation is going, people are likely to switch down depending on whether they can afford some of the higher-end products. But treating pets like children is a trend that will likely continue to grow.

The second trend is innovation around styles of food. What’s the next biggest thing? Some people don’t want to feed their pets kibble, so they’re looking for something different that will offer their pets a different experience.

The third trend is probably continued growth around functional, special diets to treat non-prescription health conditions. For instance, lower-fat diets and improved skin and coat.


PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?

Yakich: Food safety requirements and the processes we go through to create a pet food or pet product are as stringent or more stringent than for the human food industry. Many times, the process is more regulated. The science and nutrition work that goes into the process is incredibly involved; it’s more than just tossing ingredients in and creating some kibble. Like a human, a pet needs a full nutritional profile, they need to have the right vitamins and minerals and the right protein levels. But a pet doesn’t have the luxury of getting that full profile from varying meals throughout the day.


PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?

Yakich: When I think about sourcing and procurement, it’s key to be knowledgeable in the markets in the areas you’re buying from. Become an expert in those markets and those areas. Know where things are coming from, know the markets, the players, what your requirements and needs are, and then put all those pieces together. It takes time to learn and understand markets. You won’t become an expert overnight, but the people who are willing to dig in and educate themselves using the resources available that become the knowledgeable experts. Then you can understand supply and demand fundamentals, conduct strong negotiations, and build those partnerships with key players that will help the company be successful.

 Yakich's two dogs, Punchy, a 3-year-old Boxer, and Elvis, a 9-month-old French Bulldog. Yakich's two dogs, Punchy, a 3-year-old Boxer, and Elvis, a 9-month-old French Bulldog. 

PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them. 

Yakich: I’m a dog person. I have a Boxer named Punchy (3 years old) and a French Bulldog named Elvis (9 months old). They’re big kids that don’t always get along, but they’re a big part of the family.


PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?

Yakich: If you’re willing to work hard, spend the time, and educate yourself to understand the industry and where it’s going, there are unlimited opportunities. There is nothing holding women back. It’s a matter of finding your niche, finding where you fit, and how hard you want to work to continue to grow yourself and grow within the industry.

Cindy Yakich began her career as a procurement planner for H.J. Heinz Company’s North America business. She has previously worked in ingredient procurement, risk management, contract manufacturing and sourcing roles with Big Heart Pet Brands and The J.M. Smucker Company and Chewy, helping to launch Chewy’s proprietary consumables business in 2021. Yakich earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ohio Northern University, as well as an MBA from Robert Morris University.

Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.