HODGES, SC. — Cécile Saint-Paul has dedicated her career to researching, understanding and applying the science behind palatability in dog and cat food. With nearly two decades of experience in this space, she is now leading the charge to expand Symrise Pet Food’s research and development team in North America.

“I love my role because I can see the benefits of my work in the business,” she said. “Being in the field with our customers and working closely with them to develop the best solutions that fit their needs is very exciting.”

In the following Q&A, Saint-Paul shares the top three trends driving today’s pet food market and offers advice to other women leaders in the industry.


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

Saint-Paul: I am the director of development and technical services for Symrise Pet Food in North America. My role is to develop and commercialize palatants and nutrition solutions, like egg proteins, to meet market expectations and customer partnership requirements. I am also in charge of our palatability evaluation center, where our cats and dogs test our scientists’ newest formulations.


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

Saint-Paul: I started my career at SPF, which later became Diana Pet Food, before growing into Symrise Pet Food last year. My first role at the Global Research and Development Center in Elven, France, focused on basic research to feed new palatants development. During those years, I learned much about cats’ and dogs’ feeding behaviors, palatability drivers and palatants processes. Some of my key projects were to boost palatability through extrusion processes, develop fish-based palatants, and identify cat feeding preferences drivers. This experience gave me a solid scientific baseline to move on to a business-related role and provide technical services to the pet food market and our customers. In 2010, I took the challenge to lead and grow our local R&D team in North America and moved from France to South Carolina.


PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?

Saint-Paul: My biggest challenge has been overcoming many supply crises, like the 2016-2017 avian influenza. Now we are more prepared than ever with a flexible portfolio, validated backup solutions, and a more comprehensive range of qualified suppliers. I remember being able to switch customers’ palatant solutions from chicken to pork with all the regulatory, product specifications and performance validations in less than six months.


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

Saint-Paul: I love my role because I can see the benefits of my work in the business. Being in the field with our customers and working closely with them to develop the best solutions that fit their needs is very exciting. Seeing their brands become more successful thanks to our partnership is the most rewarding feeling I have had at work. I am proud of our company, which has gained significant business with growing pet food brands in North America. I am also pleased to have transmitted that passion for customer partnership and business relations to some of my team members.


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

Saint-Paul: There are a lot, and we are at a turning point in our business. While we still carry some COVID effects, we strongly focus on maintaining supply and ensuring capacity to support organic market growth. I am looking forward to having longer-term development with our partners.


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

Saint-Paul: Because of humanization, key food trends carry over to the pet food market. Sustainability is growing, with a focus on alternative raw material usage that has less impact on carbon emissions. The customization of pet food is increasing through more specific wellbeing and health claims and the personalization of food formulation. The diversification in formats beyond dry kibbles — such as wet food served on its own, as a treat or a topper — are creating many new ways to please pets, whether it’s a lick-able paste or freeze-dried pellet format.


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

Saint-Paul: Pet food is like baby food in many ways. There are strong food safety, regulatory and nutritional restrictions. Feeding your pet the same food day after day has a substantial impact on their wellbeing and health. Even if many complementary formats are available, pets are usually kept on the same diets or brands for months or years. Like babies, pets don’t have the luxury of buying their own food, so pleasing the final consumer and the pet parent is critical in our industry.


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. 

Saint-Paul: I consider myself a dog person and I prefer being around large breed dogs.


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

Saint-Paul: Stay curious and keep pushing yourself by exploring outside your boundaries and asking for new challenges. The pet food industry is a small world but has many opportunities to grow.

Cécile Saint-Paul began her career in pet food as industrial project manager at SPF North America Inc., before the company became known as Diana Pet Food. At Diana, she held various roles in R&D, product development, technical services and marketing for nearly 15 years. Saint-Paul transitioned to her current role with Symrise Pet Food North America in June 2022. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the Université Paris Cité, followed by three master’s degrees — one in food science and technology from Polytech Montpellier, one in food products innovation, marketing and development management from Wageningen University & Research, and her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Clemson University.

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