FORT COLLINS, COLO. — Today’s pet food consumers represent a wide variety of priorities, preferences and desires, making it important for processors and suppliers to stay ahead of the trends and ensure the products they deliver are science-backed and nutritionally intact. For Amy McCarthy, vice president of pet nutrition North America at ADM, collaboration is the key ingredient for staying competitive and innovative in this ever-evolving market.

“From focusing on flavors and palatability to having an impact in developing kibble and treats that pets enjoy, working directly with our customers gives me an advantage in enhancing our products and services to benefit everyone,” she said.

In the following Q&A, McCarthy expounds on three major trends she sees driving this market forward — holistic nutrition, nature-focused approaches and “healthy indulgence” — and shares keen advice for other industry leaders, particularly for when times get tough.


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

McCarthy: My current role is vice president of pet nutrition North America, where our team helps ADM customers across the continent develop and produce innovative pet products. This includes healthy indulgence treats, functional treats, and ingredients for our portfolio. We help ensure that these nutrition products are aligned with category trends and consumer lifestyles and values.

I believe it’s an exciting time to be at ADM. In addition to our ongoing work identifying innovative products to offer to our human, animal and pet nutrition customers, we’re also focused on exploring ingredients that fit modern consumer lifestyles. For instance, we’re expanding our portfolio of alternative protein ingredients, such as non-GMO soy, insect protein, mycoprotein and cultivated protein, ensuring we have a broad range of solutions that includes everything from raw materials to finished goods. Our investments in pet nutrition — such as microbiome-focused products and healthy yet indulgent treats — mirror growth areas in the pet industry to secure ADM’s role as a preferred partner for global pet brands in developing foods, treats and supplements that pet parents and their companions will prefer.


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

McCarthy: I’ve worked on the supplier side of the pet business for about 20 years, giving me the opportunity to work with a variety of companies with different needs, ranging from small entrepreneurs to well-established corporations. From focusing on flavors and palatability to having an impact in developing kibble and treats that pets enjoy, working directly with our customers gives me an advantage in enhancing our products and services to benefit everyone.

At ADM, our deep formulation expertise coupled with our robust portfolio of ingredients offers even more of an opportunity to create indulgent pet products. Using my Ph.D. in animal nutrition and scientific background, I’m passionate about helping our customers find solutions to their most challenging concerns within the pet space. We collaborate directly with our customers to supply ingredients, advise on palatability in foods and treats, manufacture finished products, and, ultimately, play a role in what products show up on the shelf.


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

McCarthy: We’re making strategic moves within the pet health and wellness sector with a recent majority investment in PetDine, Pedigree Ovens, The Pound Bakery and NutraDine (P4 Companies), which provide premier private label pet treats and supplements. This investment builds upon our past acquisitions of Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, Protexin and Biopolis, as we expand our capabilities in the gut microbiome space for humans, animals and pets.

Notably, microbiome health has the potential to impact overall wellbeing for pets of all ages, from immune function and digestive health to oral care and skin condition. With strategic investments like these, we combine best-in-class health and wellness solutions and state-of-the art production facilities with ADM’s extensive pantry of ingredients, application development expertise, rapid innovation capabilities and a consultative approach that helps our pet nutrition customers stay ahead of the curve.


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

McCarthy: Some of the leading pet nutrition trends are focused on holistic wellbeing, including premium products that use quality ingredients sourced from nature. With flexitarian lifestyles trending in human diets, many pet owners are also seeking out plant-forward foods and alternative proteins for their pets. From highly palatable legacy ingredients like corn, soy and wheat to wholesome ingredients like ancient grains, beans and pulses, the options for pet food are as varied as what may be found on their owners’ plates.

Close-to-nature appeal is also especially relevant to flavors and colors for pet products. Nearly 80% of consumers believe it’s important that food products don’t contain artificial flavors, and over 60% of consumers are avoiding artificial coloring. Our Colors from Nature® portfolio provides a rainbow of shades for human and pet nutrition applications, including our recently launched PearlEdge™ line of bright white solutions that helps product developers avoid using highly scrutinized titanium dioxide (TiO2) and target clean labels. Our color library meets the needs of many manufacturing processes and stability requirements, such as shelf life, high heat, acidity and color interactions. “Close to nature” and other clean label cues are frequently perceived as higher quality, with 70% of both cat and dog owners saying the quality of ingredients makes a product more premium. Many pet parents are also searching for products described as “all natural,” non-GMO or organic. These descriptors can suggest to consumers that foods and treats are better for their pets and worth the premium price.

Today’s pet parents are equally interested in “healthy indulgence” products, as they continue to focus on rewarding their pets and enhancing their emotional bond. Fun and playful foods in eye-catching colors, exciting flavors and interesting shapes are currently on trend. For example, orange and yellow kibble can signal pumpkin, chicken or honey flavors, while rich greens indicate herbal or vegetal plant-forward ingredients. Culinary-inspired pet food and treats are gaining traction among pets and the people who shop for them.


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

McCarthy: There is an exceptional level of expertise and science-based innovation that is required for pet product development and formulation. One thing many people don’t realize is that pets require nutrients, not ingredients. The ingredients simply supply the needed nutrients for healthy dogs and cats, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Pet food formulas are made with quality ingredients to provide the right amount of nutrients and to ensure a complete-and-balanced diet for different life stages.

"One thing many people don’t realize is that pets require nutrients, not ingredients. The ingredients simply supply the needed nutrients for healthy dogs and cats, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals," said Amy McCarthy, ADM.

For example, high-quality protein can come from a variety of sources, including animals, plants and even insects. An ADM facility in Decatur, Ill., is at the heart of protein innovation in pet food as the future site of Innovafeed’s first North American farm for black soldier fly larvae (BSFL). We’ve entered a strategic partnership with Innovafeed to commercialize the use of BSFL as a novel source of protein and fat for pet nutrition products. Innovafeed will take advantage of our expertise in pet food and treat applications and our partnerships with leading research institutions to conduct joint research and development of dog food formulation, such as palatability studies and protein performance. While insect protein is currently a premium ingredient in pet nutrition, we look forward to increased supply fueling increased demand among mainstream consumers.


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. 

McCarthy: I am more of a dog person but appreciate cat personalities and antics. I have three dogs and no cats. I’m partial to Corgis; I just love their short legs and pointy ears and big personalities.


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

McCarthy: My advice for all people is to find something you are passionate about. If it’s the industry or the type of work you are doing, follow the path that leads you to fulfilment. When times are challenging and things aren’t going your way, your passion — or lack of it — will matter. I also think resiliency and grit are important characteristics in the workplace. To be successful, you need to be able to endure difficult situations and find the motivation to continue forward. Having passion for your work will make the hard times easier and the good times more fun.

Amy McCarthy began her career in the pet food space as director of nutrition at Sunshine Mills Pet Food before joining AFB International in 2004. At AFB, she held various leadership roles over the course of 15 years, including director of palatability research, senior director of product development and palatability research, vice president of research and development, and vice president of operations. She joined ADM in September 2019 as vice president of the company’s North American pet nutrition division. McCarthy earned her Ph.D. in animal nutrition from Louisiana State University. 

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