ST. LOUIS — It’s fitting that today’s pet owners see their dogs and cats as members of the family, because the amount of time and care that goes into the research, development and testing of their food is not unlike — and in some ways even more exacting than — that of baby food, according to Susy Tejayadi, Ph.D., former chief scientific officer at Instinct Pet Food.
“Pet food product development is as challenging as that of baby food,” she said. “Both industries are highly regulated and the food that you develop is the sole source of nutrition for your end consumers.”
In the following Q&A, Tejayadi shares why she decided to focus her expertise on the development and safety of pet food, and details her greatest challenges and accomplishments throughout her nearly 20-year career in the pet food industry.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Tejayadi: I started my career in the pet food industry in 2004 at Hill’s Pet Nutrition. In 2011, I joined Instinct Pet Food as part of the senior leadership team and my responsibilities primarily were to oversee research and development, regulatory affairs and nutrition. One of my passions is to keep finding new ways to improve product safety of raw pet food, and in the last six years I have been collaborating with third-party research institutions to develop multi-hurdles technology in raw pet food as one of the ways to minimize the risk of pathogen contamination.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Tejayadi: As soon as I received my Ph.D. in food science, I worked as a scientist in the human food industry and my area of focus was to develop new products. Many years later, I thought that developing new products for pets would be very interesting, since I love animals. In 2004, I was recruited by Hill’s Pet Nutrition as a senior scientist and became a manager of product development three years later. As new forms of pet food started to expand rapidly, I took an opportunity to become part of the senior leadership team at Instinct Pet Food. In early 2023, I retired from Instinct and am now doing consulting work for pet food companies, including Instinct.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Tejayadi: At Instinct, I helped develop accurate product claims. I believe it is important for pet food brands to be transparent and truthful in their messaging. This is one of the biggest challenges I faced, since not everyone follows the guidelines set by AAFCO when it comes to product claims.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Tejayadi: I am most proud of my leadership in managing and developing my team for their success. I continue to challenge them and can be demanding at times, but they always had my support.
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Tejayadi: Since Instinct is known for its raw pet food, it is important for us to continue to be the leading raw brand most recommended by veterinarians and our business partners. We are constantly looking to further improve our food safety and to further our research collaborations with third-party research institutions to collect data that supports the health benefits of feeding raw to our pets.
PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?
Tejayadi: Pet food product development is as challenging as that of baby food. Both industries are highly regulated and the food that you develop is the sole source of nutrition for your end consumers. The rigorous testing we have to do prior to launching a product in the market is much more involved than launching a new product for human food.
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.
Tejayadi: I love both equally. I just lost my dog, James Bond, and miss him dearly. James loved to eat, and one day in the office he got caught taking food from the trash (oops!). I currently have two cats: Indiana Jones and Maya Angelou. Both are European Burmeses. They are buddies and like to cuddle with each other, and with me too.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Tejayadi: Most leadership teams in the pet food industry are still male-dominated despite efforts to develop more diverse teams in recent years. My advice to other women in the pet food industry is to not be intimidated as a leader and have a clear set of values and beliefs. When faced with challenges — and you will be — those values and beliefs will guide you to make the right decisions.
Susy Tejayadi, Ph.D., has more than two decades of experience spanning product development, nutrition, regulatory, and food safety and quality. She spent nearly 12 years with Instinct Pet Food in various R&D, food safety and regulatory roles. She spent more than six years as a product development manager with Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and prior to that, served as principal scientist with Mead Johnson Nutritionals for seven years. Tejayadi is currently a board member of the Animal Protective Association of Missouri, and served as an advisory board member for Five Acres Animal Shelter from 2014 to 2019. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in food science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.