DECATUR, ILL. — Following several years in the pet food manufacturing side of the industry, Jennifer Adolphe, Ph.D., began seeking a different perspective of the industry, and eventually rerouted her career to the ingredient side of the business. This experience has allowed her to further advance her knowledge and expertise in various areas of companion animal nutrition. In her current role as pet technical sales manager with ADM, Adolphe has been a part of several exciting shifts toward more sustainable, functional and consumer-friendly ingredients that are fueling the future of pet food.
“Embrace opportunities to learn and grow, even if they may seem outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “By expanding your horizons, you can discover new passions and gain valuable experience.”
In the following Q&A, Adolphe shares the top three trends she sees driving the pet industry into the future, and how she is leveraging her background in companion animal nutrition to make these emerging trends a reality.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Adolphe: From a young age, I have been passionate about nutrition and its impact on health and well-being. I began my career in human nutrition and worked as a registered dietitian. After completing my Master of Science degree in human nutrition, I realized my desire to merge my expertise in nutrition with my love for pets. This led me to pursue a Ph.D. in companion animal nutrition. For over 10 years, I have worked in the pet food industry, having held positions at OmniPet Nutrition and Petcurean Pet Nutrition. Currently, I hold the role of pet technical sales manager at ADM, where I provide technical assistance, nutrition training, formulation services, and new product development for ADM’s customers in the pet food industry.
I joined ADM during an exciting period, as pet nutrition was becoming a focal point for the company. In my position, I am fortunate to engage with various facets of the business, spanning research, sales and marketing, and technical customer support. This allows me to offer a diverse range of pet nutrition solutions to our valued customers. We continuously strive to identify innovative ingredients to add to our portfolio, including plant-based proteins, insect protein and oil, microbiome-focused products, mycoprotein and cultivated protein. Moreover, we take pride in our extensive collection of finished goods, available in multiple formats, encompassing foods, treats and supplements, tailored to meet the preferences of today’s discerning pet parents and their four-legged companions.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Adolphe: After completing my Ph.D., I eagerly began my career in the pet food industry. Working at prominent pet food companies, I honed my skills in new product development, manufacturing, regulatory compliance, quality assurance, and sales and marketing. These roles allowed me to develop a comprehensive understanding of the industry and equipped me with the expertise to succeed in this exciting and dynamic field. Over time, my fascination with the ingredient supply aspect of product development grew stronger. I was curious to explore the pet food business from a different perspective, which led me to make the transition to my current position at ADM in 2021.
When I think of ADM, I often liken it to a private sector university. The vast array of expertise within ADM never ceases to amaze me. Our technical experts serve as a tremendous support network, providing exceptional service and guidance. This extensive resource becomes a powerful advantage for our customers, as they gain access to these invaluable assets when they choose to partner with us.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
"I have two mentors to thank for getting me through this challenging period — Dr. Greg Aldrich and Henry van de Vliert. They helped me to approach the challenge with determination and perseverance, which ultimately opened doors to other significant career opportunities," Adolphe said.
Adolphe: I view every challenge as an opportunity for growth. One of the most significant professional challenges I have encountered occurred early in my career within the pet food industry when I experienced a steep learning curve in a very short period of time. However, upon reflection, I realized that it was during this time that I experienced tremendous professional growth and development. I have two mentors to thank for getting me through this challenging period — Dr. Greg Aldrich and Henry van de Vliert. They helped me to approach the challenge with determination and perseverance, which ultimately opened doors to other significant career opportunities.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Adolphe: Shortly before my tenure at ADM, an exciting announcement was made regarding the partnership between Innovafeed and ADM to establish the world’s largest black soldier fly (BSFL) rearing facility in Decatur, Ill. My long-standing interest in insects as a novel ingredient for pet food made this development particularly thrilling as I joined ADM. In my role, I actively contributed to the establishment of a partnership agreement granting ADM’s pet nutrition business exclusive distribution rights for Innovafeed’s ingredients in North America. Furthermore, both companies signed a collaborative research agreement focused on pet nutrition and BSFL.
The Decatur BSFL facility will be strategically located alongside ADM’s corn processing facility, enabling an innovative industrial symbiosis model. This symbiotic relationship will allow Innovafeed to source feedstock and utilize waste energy from ADM’s facility, resulting in unique production advantages. The feedstock will be piped between the facilities and, consequently, this co-location will significantly reduce fossil fuel requirements compared to traditional insect rearing facilities that rely on dried feedstock transported by trucks. Additionally, Innovafeed will utilize waste heat piped from ADM’s corn facility to provide warmth for the BSFL rearing process. This repurposing of waste heat, which would have otherwise dissipated into the environment, emphasizes the circular economy focus of the partnership.
As an alternative protein, BSFL possesses several inherent advantages, including a short lifespan, high reproductive yield, remarkable feed efficiency, and the ability to be raised in a vertical farming model that requires minimal land space. They are efficient upcyclers, adept at converting low-quality feedstock into premium ingredients.
I take pride in my continued involvement in this partnership, which has successfully introduced a groundbreaking ingredient to the North American pet food industry. The collaboration between ADM and Innovafeed represents a significant step forward in providing high-quality ingredients while contributing to the circular economy within the pet food sector.
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Adolphe: As our mission revolves around supporting ADM customers with innovative solutions, keeping consumer trends top of mind is essential. Our team developed a comprehensive report with invaluable insights into the key trends shaping the pet food industry, our 2023 Pet Insights Report, and we’re currently compiling data to inform next year’s insights.
The 2023 report identifies various business growth opportunities that we and our customers are actively exploring. These opportunities include the development of pet supplements with functional benefits for both physical and behavioral health and providing science-backed real-food solutions for proactive health support. Transparency and traceability of ingredients are also highlighted as crucial factors, alongside the importance of sustainably sourced novel proteins.
By keeping these trends and growth opportunities in mind, we aim to support innovative products and services that cater to the dynamic and discerning demands of pet parents. Our commitment to staying at the forefront of industry trends ensures that we remain a reliable and valuable partner for our customers.
PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
Adolphe: The three trends that I believe are having the most influence on the industry today are sustainability, novel proteins and functional nutrition.
Sustainability has emerged as a top priority for both consumers and businesses. Pet parents are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of pet food production and are actively seeking options to reduce their environmental impact. Businesses that prioritize sustainable practices are gaining a competitive edge and meeting the evolving demands of conscientious consumers.
The demand for novel protein sources in pet food has been steadily increasing. Insect protein, precision fermentation, and cell cultivation are future-forward proteins. They can offer unique nutritional profiles, address specific dietary needs or allergies, and support sustainable sourcing practices.
Functional nutrition focuses on providing targeted health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Pet parents are increasingly interested in pet food that promotes overall wellbeing, addresses specific health concerns, and enhances the quality of life for their pets. This trend reflects the growing understanding of the connection between nutrition and pet health, driving demand for products that go beyond traditional nutrition formulations.
"These three trends — sustainability, novel proteins and functional nutrition — have a profound impact on the pet industry by driving innovation, meeting consumer expectations, and addressing evolving environmental and health concerns," Adolphe said.
These three trends — sustainability, novel proteins and functional nutrition — have a profound impact on the pet industry by driving innovation, meeting consumer expectations, and addressing evolving environmental and health concerns. By incorporating these trends into their products and practices, businesses can position themselves as industry leaders and meet the changing needs of pet parents.
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
Adolphe: People outside of the industry may not realize that it is a robust and rapidly growing sector that encompasses various segments, including pet food, pet care products, veterinary services, grooming and more. It is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, and has a vast economic influence, especially as pets are playing a more important role in the modern family. Pets are considered beloved family members, and pet parents often spare no expense when it comes to their wellbeing. This deep emotional bond drives the demand for high-quality pet products and services, leading to continuous innovation and specialization within the industry. This has led the pet industry to increasingly embrace sustainability and social responsibility, reflecting a growing awareness of the environmental and ethical considerations associated with pet products and services.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?
Adolphe: For young people starting their careers in the pet food industry, I recommend being open to exploring different avenues within the industry. Embrace opportunities to learn and grow, even if they may seem outside of your comfort zone. By expanding your horizons, you can discover new passions and gain valuable experience.
Find mentors to help navigate your career as well as provide guidance and support. Mentors can offer valuable insights, share their experiences, and help you navigate the challenges and opportunities that arise in your career journey. Also, look for individuals who can advocate for your career advancement. Sponsors are influential figures who can provide opportunities, recommend you for projects or promotions, and help you gain visibility within the industry. These individuals may be the same as your mentors, or they may be additional individuals in your network. Cultivate relationships with sponsors who believe in your potential and can help you thrive.
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.
Adolphe: For the past 20 years, Australian Shepherds have been an integral part of my family. From my first generation of Aussies that included Roxi, Timber and Chip, to my current furry companions, Sydney and Willow, these dogs have brought immense joy into my life. What I adore about Australian Shepherds is their vibrant personalities and their ability to keep me active. Their energy and zest for life never cease to amaze me.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Adolphe: While it may seem like a cliché, I strongly believe in the importance of discovering and pursuing your passion. Whether it’s finding the right industry or engaging in work that truly fulfills you, following a path that resonates with your interests and values is crucial. If one path does not feel right, explore other options. Adaptability and openness to new opportunities can lead to unexpected and fulfilling journeys.
Jennifer Adolphe, Ph.D., first joined the pet nutrition industry in 2012 and has held several nutritional and research and development roles at various industry companies since. She has contributed to several pieces of research published in nutrition, veterinary and animal science journals over the last two decades. Adolphe earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the University of Manitoba, followed by a master’s degree in nutrition sciences from the University of Saskatchewan. She went on to achieve a doctorate in companion animal nutrition sciences from the University of Saskatchewan, during which time she was the recipient of many awards and scholarships for her academic work. In addition to her role at ADM, she is an adjunct professor at the University of Saskatchewan and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration through Penn State University.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.