MILWAUKEE — After four years with Fromm Family Foods, Danielle Opetz set out to achieve her doctorate in Nutritional Sciences in order to further her career in companion animal nutrition. But simply earning the degree — as if anything about a Ph.D. is simple — wasn’t enough. Over the course of her doctorate studies, which she finished at a record pace in just two and a half years, Opetz also established her own freelance pet nutrition consulting business, Nose-To-Tail Pet Nutrition.

Achieving all this by the age of 31, this driven pet industry professional employed a powerful mantra to get her through this challenging — and rewarding — season of her career.

“Temporary discomfort for long-term success,” she said. “…When you uncover something you’re passionate about, use that positivity and drive to push yourself to learn more, propel your career progress, and fuel continued advancement over time.”

In the following Q&A, Opetz shares what inspired her to join the pet industry, and how her educational prowess has taken her career to new heights.


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

Opetz: In the past seven years, I’ve worked for Fromm Family Pet Food and also started by own business — Nose-To-Tail Pet Nutrition — and in that time I also obtained my master’s and doctoral degrees with focuses on animal health as it relates to companion animal nutrition. Today, I am the doctor of companion animal nutrition for Fromm Family Pet Food, which is a fifth-generation family-owned and operated company based in Wisconsin. Fromm is dedicated to providing exceptional foods to pet families everywhere through a variety of products, in several different formats and textures, for dogs and cats.

In my heart, I always knew Fromm is where I wanted to be post-doctorate, and they welcomed me back with open arms. They continue to offer an environment that is enthusiastic and ambitious for its employees, with a fervor for being an innovative leader in the pet food industry and remains steadfast in its dedication to animal health, wellness, food safety, and quality nutrition. I mention those things because I am also incredibly passionate about them, and they are things I aspired to have in my own position within the pet food industry.

My day-to-day job includes components of education and training, product development and innovation, and being an industry representative and liaison. My responsibilities include professional development in technical mastery of pet nutrition, product processing, and the scientific basis of products we manufacture for dogs and cats. Fromm’s deep history, the science behind the products it manufactures, and its cutting-edge product innovation bring together a unique and exciting blend of all things I would consider myself wildly passionate about.


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

Opetz: I’ve always had a passion for helping animals — I recognized that early in my career. Back when I was in high school and college, I worked for several veterinary clinics and non-profit organizations, including the Wisconsin Humane Society. During my time there, I became increasingly familiar with a local product that we sold at our shelter store and that product happened to be produced by Fromm. Growing up in the area, I’d heard of Fromm but wasn’t overly familiar with it at the time. So, as time went on and I became more familiar with their product offerings, before I knew it, I was selling a bag of Fromm pet food with almost every adoption I processed, which kind of brings things full circle.

Being the person I am — always having a thirst for learning — I decided to research the company further, and that’s when I stumbled upon a job opening for a customer service representative. Of course, I applied, and shortly thereafter in 2016 I started working at Fromm. From there, I quickly progressed and moved up within the company, taking on many different leadership roles and responsibilities over the years, which have led me to where I am today.

I currently lead a team of pet professionals to develop innovative product offerings for the pets we love, as well as research ways to continually improve our current product offerings for dogs and cats. As our internal nutrition expert, I interact with many departments within the company or branches thereof, which allows me to have key impacts and share exciting ideas. This new era of my career makes me feel like a little kid in a candy store — I can’t wait to share and bring some of those ideas to fruition.


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

Opetz: My biggest personal and professional challenge is also my proudest professional accomplishment. I take immense pride in the opportunity to pursue my master’s degree in 2018 and then my Ph.D. in 2021. In 2018, I also got married. So, in the last five years, I completed two higher-level graduate degrees while living in a different state than my husband, and started my own consulting business on top of graduate school and conducting research full time.

My Ph.D. demanded significant dedication and perseverance, especially when considering my demanding research and school schedule in conjunction with balancing personal responsibilities. I really owe it to my husband for his endless love and unwavering support as I embarked on that academic journey. He honestly helped me make it look easy.

Over the course of those years, I had a motto — temporary discomfort for long-term success. Those words got me through difficult and challenging times, and through moments where I thought things were impossible. Balancing work, personal responsibilities, and the pursuit of higher education was no easy feat. As a personal goal, I wanted to finish my Ph.D. in record time, which was incredibly successful but also forced me to take on the near impossible — full course loads, leading research, conducting lab analyses, analyzing data, writing manuscripts and dissertation chapters, consulting for my business, and balancing any remaining time with family, friends and loved ones, all simultaneously for two and a half years.

It was not easy in the least, but I recognized the value and importance of furthering my knowledge and skills to excel in the pet industry and pursued all of that without hesitation. In my opinion, that decision was a true testament of my commitment to personal growth and professional development.

Being a part of cutting-edge research that I conducted during my Ph.D., coupled with the practical industry experience that I gathered prior, gives me the ability to provide integral support to animal health and nutrition, which I believe is very unique at my age and career stage. For that, I’m incredibly proud of myself.

I feel like I have such a non-traditional pathway within the pet food industry because I started with a pet food company, then I went back to school, and now I’m back with that same company. Instead of going straight from my undergraduate degree into a master’s or Ph.D. program, I took some time and went to industry, I think that ultimately strengthened my ability to pull different aspects of the job together and provided me with a deeper understanding of nutrition as well as leadership principles.


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

Opetz: I think functional nutrition is top of mind for many industry partners, as well as customers and consumers. Nutrition is a powerful tool that helps to support pet health. Consumers are learning more about pet food products and wanting to dive deeper, and we’re seeing pet parents have a greater understanding and appreciation for nutrition. We have consumers calling in and asking about specific ingredients or specific formulas, so I think it comes down to everybody wanting to learn as much as they can about the foods they’re feeding, as well as different formats of foods that are available.

I always say, “Everything starts within the gut,” so knowing more about the food we put into our bodies and our pets’ bodies can set them up for long-term success, as well as benefit their total wellness.


PFP: If you could pick one trend influencing the industry today, which is the most important and why?

Opetz: I would say functional ingredients is No. 1. Again, many consumers are looking for purpose-driven formulas, and they want to know that the product they’re feeding — whether it be a food, supplement or treat — is going to really benefit their pets.

Functional ingredients are certainly a hot topic within the industry. I mentioned gut health earlier — functional properties of ingredients that elicit beneficial effects to the gut microbiome are definitely something that consumers are interested in. This can be achieved through prebiotics, probiotics, fiber sources that feed beneficial bacteria, and other ingredients. I believe consumers are excited about the functional properties of purpose-driven ingredients, knowing they’re providing their pet with something that’s beneficial for their health in the long run.


PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?

Opetz: When things seem impossible or the challenge becomes greater than you thought you could handle, just keep going and never give up. There is light at the end of that tunnel, whether you believe it or not and sometimes the light can be hard to see, especially when you’re on a journey that seems endless. But if you remain highly determined, wildly passionate, flexible and adaptable, and have the motivation and strength to persevere, you will be successful no matter the conditions. In the end, that perseverance will pay dividends for you and your career.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is to find a mentor or a company that can offer inspiration, support, and experience. I’ve had many different mentors over the years, but my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Kelly Swanson, unequivocally supported the success of my journey with his patience, motivation, enthusiasm, guidance, and immense knowledge. He provided continuous support, and I couldn’t imagine having a better advisor, mentor, and collaborator during my Ph.D. endeavor.

But I’ve also had a company (Fromm) cheering me on from day one through every endeavor I’ve pursued without hesitation. Fromm is a family-owned and -operated company, and I honestly feel like I’m part of the family. I feel at home there — they’ve provided me with excellent mentorship and guidance throughout the years to help mold me into the intelligent professional I am today. In a long-winded way, I will be eternally grateful for everything my mentors and Fromm have done and continue to do to support my success.


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. 

Opetz: If you had asked me this three years ago, I would have told you I’m 100% a dog person. However, my Ph.D. was focused on feline obesity. Therefore, today, a small fraction of my heart does belong to cats. Overall, though, I would say that I’m a dog person. We have three rescue dogs in our family — two Great Danes and one Dachshund Chihuahua — who bring us so much happiness. We couldn’t imagine life without them.

: The pups of the Opetz family — Duke, Bella, and Rousey — with Danielle and her husband, Kodie.

From left: The pups of the Opetz family — Duke, Bella, and Rousey — with Danielle and her husband, Kodie.

Source: Chasing Sunsets LLC

Duke, the solid black Great Dane is our newest addition. We adopted him earlier this year from a shelter in Northern Wisconsin. He was 7 years old when he came to us, severely emaciated and with a multitude of medical issues. Over the course of eight months, he has gone through multiple surgeries to correct some of those medical issues, and he’s a completely new dog now. We love him immensely and will be forever grateful that he made his way into our lives.

Rousey, the blue merle Great Dane, is also 7 years old. She came to us through a rescue organization based in Northern Illinois and was about a year and a half old when we first adopted her. She has blossomed into a fantastic dog over the years. Rousey was our first Great Dane, and my husband Kodie and I joke that she set us up to be a Dane family going forward.

We can’t forget about our beloved little Dachshund Chihuahua, Bella. She’s about 12 years old and came to me during my time at the Wisconsin Humane Society. She was my first foster dog but, as the story goes, she ended up being my forever companion.


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

Opetz: Immerse yourself in as much as you can, and gather all the education and experience you’re capable of obtaining. It really sets the foundation for your career path and provides direction on where your true passions lie. Keep seeking the education, knowledge, and experiences — whether that’s volunteering or participating in continued education or attending industry workshops — to help build your profile of knowledge. I think that really helps in terms of uncovering your passions, but also following them.

The last five years were so dynamic and threw me a lot of curve balls, but being able to navigate them, adapt to changes and be flexible are key components to being successful. Things aren’t always going to go the way you plan, and that goes for anything in life, but being able to navigate those times can really help you prosper in challenging situations.

Danielle Opetz, Ph.D., first became involved in the pet industry as an animal care technician and adoption counselor with the Wisconsin Humane Society. From there, her curiosity about pet food led her down a career path in animal nutrition, which she found in various nutritional, customer service and training roles with Fromm Family Foods, as well as through extensive higher education. In November 2023, Opetz assumed the role of doctor of companion animal nutrition at Fromm Family Foods, following the achievement of her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology/animal biology from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, as well as a master’s degree in animal sciences with an emphasis on companion animal nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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