GREEN BAY, WIS. — As director of strategic accounts and international expansion for Carnivore Meat Company’s Vital Essentials brand, Sue McCarthy has had her hand in fueling double-digit growth for the raw pet food brand. But her role in the industry has more to do with passion than profit, and her focus on advancing customer education, food safety and sustainability makes this clear.
“As salespeople in the industry, our responsibility goes beyond simply selling products,” she said. “We play a crucial role in educating our retailers and their associates about different pet food options’ unique qualities and benefits.”
In the following Q&A, McCarthy shares her career accomplishments, challenges, and her advice for up-and-coming pet industry leaders.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
McCarthy: I am the director of strategic accounts and international expansion at Carnivore Meat Company for their flagship brand, Vital Essentials. Vital Essentials is a rapidly expanding raw pet food brand rooted in Green Bay, known for being a raw pet food pioneer.
As pet ownership continues to rise and pets are increasingly regarded as cherished family members, there has been a surge in demand for top-quality, nutritious pet food. This is where Carnivore Meat Company’s Vital Essentials brand steps in. We have witnessed remarkable double-digit growth in the raw pet food segment as pet parents seek convenient yet high-quality raw food options for their beloved pets.
Vital Essentials is at the forefront of this movement, making it effortless for pet parents to provide their pet with a genuine raw diet, delivering minimally processed proteins through our freeze-dried and frozen raw offerings through easily accessible serving formats. The growth in this category presents an exciting and promising future for our brand. Recently, we embarked on relaunching the Vital Essentials brand, focusing on bringing our “butcher cut proteins” to life across all aspects of the brand.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
McCarthy: For nearly two decades, I have immersed myself in the dynamic world of the pet industry, benefiting greatly from the guidance of influential mentors and forging invaluable partnerships with various retailers and distributors.
When I first encountered Carnivore Meat Company, I recognized an incredible opportunity to join forces with a small yet mighty leadership team, where I can leverage my prior experiences and share my love of both animals and people with our customers and consumers.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
McCarthy: One of the significant challenges in this industry stems from the evolving expectations of pet owners. With growing awareness of the importance of pet nutrition, owners are becoming increasingly invested in understanding and providing the best possible diet for their beloved pets. As pet food professionals, we must go above and beyond by establishing trust and educating pet owners about the nutritional benefits, or lack thereof, in their pets’ food.
Building that trust requires constant efforts to stay informed about the latest research and advancements in pet nutrition. We must be prepared to address the concerns and inquiries of pet owners and guide them in making well-informed choices for their pets’ wellbeing. By actively engaging in education and ensuring transparency about our products, we can foster strong relationships with pet owners, allaying their concerns and instilling confidence in our offerings.
While these challenges demand continuous learning and adaptation, they also serve as opportunities for growth and further enrich my work in the pet industry.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
McCarthy: One professional accomplishment I hold dear and take immense pride in is the opportunity to pursue my MBA while working at a previous employer. This achievement stands out to me because it demanded significant dedication and perseverance, especially considering my demanding schedule that involved frequent travel and weekends spent with my family of five.
Balancing work, personal responsibilities, and the pursuit of higher education was no easy feat. However, I recognized the value and importance of furthering my knowledge and skills to excel in the pet industry. The decision to embark on an MBA program was a testament to my commitment to personal growth and professional development.
The experience of earning my MBA not only expanded my theoretical knowledge and practical skills but also instilled in me a deeper understanding of business strategies and leadership principles. I am immensely proud of this achievement, as it symbolizes my unwavering commitment to personal and professional development and showcases my ability to overcome obstacles in pursuit of my goals.
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
McCarthy: Supporting all customers in an omnichannel world in the most customer-centric way is at the top of my mind.
First is the promotion and support of independent pet stores. This is an ongoing challenge in the face of various retail channels, the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the evolving ways in which consumers access pet food. It is crucial for us to advocate for and strengthen independent pet stores, as they play a vital role in introducing innovation, providing personalized service and guidance to pet parents.
By addressing these key areas, we strive to create a positive impact in the pet industry, supporting all of our retail partners.
PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
McCarthy: Three trends influencing the industry today are education, food safety and sustainability.
As more people become pet owners, they’re also educating themselves on how to better care for their pet’s longevity and overall wellbeing. Pet owners are opting for pet food that reflects their eating habits and are choosing high-value, ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients with nutritional benefits for their pets. Many pet owners also seek pet food that mirrors their dietary choices. This trend reflects a shift towards treating pets as family members and providing them with the same level of care and nutrition as humans.
With the growing demand for raw and minimally processed pet food, ensuring food safety is paramount. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the quality and safety of the products they feed their pets. Brands need to prioritize rigorous quality control measures, proper handling and storage protocols to maintain the highest standards of food safety. As a company that offers raw pet food products, ensuring the highest standards of food safety is of utmost importance. We are committed to implementing rigorous quality control measures and adhering to strict protocols throughout our production processes to guarantee the safety and integrity of our products. Educating pet owners about handling and storing raw and freeze-dried pet food is also crucial to maintain its safety and prevent potential risks.
Environmental consciousness is becoming increasingly important to pet owners. They are looking for brands that actively minimize their impact on the planet, opting for eco-friendly alternatives such as raw and freeze-dried pet food, treats and supplements. Sustainability initiatives, such as responsible sourcing, eco-friendly packaging and waste reduction, are crucial for brands to align with the values of environmentally conscious consumers. Additionally, sustainability is a significant concern for us. We are continuously exploring and implementing end-to-end solutions to minimize our environmental footprint. This includes responsible sourcing of ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, and finding innovative ways to reduce waste and energy consumption throughout our operations. We believe in the importance of sustainable practices and aim to contribute to the overall wellbeing of the planet while providing high-quality nutrition for pets.
These trends highlight the importance of educating our customers and consumers, maintaining food safety standards and embracing sustainability practices for Vital Essentials to continue outpacing the raw freeze-dried category growth.
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
McCarthy: One aspect of the pet industry that may not be widely known to those outside the industry is that not all protein is created equal. The pet food market is saturated with numerous options, making it overwhelming for pet parents to navigate and make informed choices.
As salespeople in the industry, our responsibility goes beyond simply selling products. We play a crucial role in educating our retailers and their associates about different pet food options’ unique qualities and benefits. This education is essential for retailers to provide accurate information to their customers and assist them in making informed decisions about their pets’ nutrition.
By bridging this knowledge gap and providing accurate information, we can empower pet parents to make well-informed decisions about their pet’s diets. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that pet parents understand the potential advantages of raw feeding and the importance of proper nutrition for their beloved pet’s overall health and well-being.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?
McCarthy: For people starting their careers in the pet food industry, I would offer the following advice:
- Be resilient: The pet food industry is dynamic and ever-changing. Embrace challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. Stay resilient in the face of obstacles, adapt to changes, and maintain a positive mindset.
- Follow up and follow through: Building strong relationships is crucial in this industry. Take the initiative to follow up with colleagues, clients and industry professionals. Show your dedication and professionalism by consistently following through on commitments and delivering on your promises.
- Find passion in your work: The pet food industry is driven by passion and emotion. It is important to find joy and purpose in the work you do. Embrace the opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of pets and the satisfaction of their owners. Let your passion drive you to go above and beyond in your role and make a positive impact.
To summarize, the pet food industry is not just a job but a passionate and emotional field. By staying resilient, building strong relationships, and finding passion in your work, you can embark on a fulfilling and successful career in this 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.
McCarthy: Although I enjoy the personalities and quirkiness of cats, I am more of a dog person — I am lucky to have Luke, a seven-year-old Black Lab, the gentlest and sweetest pup that completes our family.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
McCarthy: My final advice for women in the pet industry:
- Support and uplift other women: Lift each other up and celebrate the accomplishments of other women in the pet industry. Support and promote one another, as collective success led to the overall advancement of women in the industry. By fostering a culture of support and collaboration, we can create a more inclusive and empowering environment for women in the pet industry.
- Advocate for gender equality: As a woman in the industry, advocate for gender equality and strive to create an inclusive and diverse work environment. Encourage equal opportunities for women in leadership positions, mentor young women entering the industry and support initiatives that promote gender equality and representation.
- Connection: As women in the pet industry, it is important to come together and support one another. Collaborate with other women in the industry to create mentorship groups where you can share experiences, insights and challenges. By building a strong network of women mentors and mentees, you can foster personal and professional growth while collectively contributing to the advancement of women in the industry.
Remember, your voice and contributions are valuable. By collaborating and embracing leadership advocating for equality, you can thrive and make a lasting impact in the pet industry.
Sue McCarthy joined the pet industry in 2007 as a sales representative at United Pet Group. From there, she served in various sales capacities at The J.M. Smucker Company and Natural Balance Pet Foods before joining Carnivore Meat Company at the start of 2023. McCarthy earned her bachelor’s in science from the University of Maryland, followed by an MBA from Colorado State University.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.