BATESVILLE, IND. — In a rapidly evolving market such as the pet food industry, it’s crucial that equipment suppliers deliver cutting-edge processing solutions to help manufacturers respond to shifting trends and priorities quickly and efficiently, according to Kim Ryan, president and chief executive officer of Hillenbrand. Ryan has had her eye on supporting the pet food industry in this way for nearly a decade and remains a dedicated contributor to what she described as “tremendous potential for growth” in this sector.

“Pets are true companions that can lift our hearts and lower our stress levels. Everything we do to help create quality products that can keep them in our lives longer is something I’m proud of,” she said.

In the following Q&A, Ryan discusses how Hillenbrand and its operating companies are responding to evolving pet owner demands and sustainability standards with processing innovation, and shares her personal advice for other industry leaders.


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

Ryan: Hillenbrand is a global industrial company that provides solutions for industries that include food and pet food, durable plastics and recycling. Several of our operating companies serve the pet food industry — such as Coperion, Coperion K-Tron and Shick Esteve — and we have worked to grow this portion of our business, particularly through our most recent acquisition of Schenck Process Food and Performance Materials, which was established more than 50 years ago and has developed strong relationships with some of the world’s most recognized pet food brands. As we look to continue growth in food markets, our vision is guided by our purpose — Shape What Matters For Tomorrow™. 

Our operating companies’ technologies are used across the pet food value chain for key processing steps, including ingredient automation, feeding, dosing, material handling, extrusion and mixing, and portioning. By leveraging our process knowledge, applications expertise, and technology from across our portfolio, we can develop comprehensive solutions and systems that meet the highest standards of food safety, efficiency and quality.


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

Ryan: I started at Hillenbrand in 1989 and worked in a variety of fields such as finance, strategy and operations. In 2012, Hillenbrand acquired Coperion, which was founded as a food business. I became president of Coperion in 2015, and pet food was high on our list of focus areas where we could apply our technologies and solutions, which range from extrusion, feeding and bulk material handling to ingredient automation, pre-dough systems, mixing and depositing systems. I became CEO of Hillenbrand in December 2021 and have continued supporting the company’s growth and innovative applications for our machinery and equipment processing solutions. The pet food industry remains a core focus to apply our processing knowledge and global footprint in ways that can respond to new trends.


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

Ryan: The industry is growing and evolving, so we must stay current with the ever-changing needs of pets and their owners in many different geographies. The preferences of pet owners are different globally, and companies are trying to create new and unique products to respond to demands tied to dietary restraints or owner preferences. This requires a level of R&D that might not have been prominent in the industry previously but has ultimately become much more prevalent today.


PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.

Ryan: I’m proud that Hillenbrand and our operating companies have developed technologies for a variety of customers, large and small, throughout the pet food industry around the globe. Our integrated solutions have helped to support our customers as they have looked to innovate and respond to trends through new offerings. Pets are true companions that can lift our hearts and lower our stress levels. Everything we do to help create quality products that can keep them in our lives longer is something I’m proud of.


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

Ryan: Consumer preferences and production standards are rapidly evolving and diversifying. For example, in response to an increased focus by pet owners on ingredients, we’re seeing more varieties offered for the same food categories through organic and other options. This makes ingredient-handling equipment more critical than ever to the production process.

Moreover, we’re seeing a notable shift toward enhanced sustainability standards throughout the industry, driven by societal, investor and regulatory pressures to reduce carbon footprints and increase energy efficiency. Equipment such as extruders, ovens, mixers and ingredient-handling systems play a pivotal role in meeting these standards. As financial pressures have caused some food manufacturing companies to outsource production activities, it’s more important than ever to retain the technical know-how to help respond to these industry shifts.

The differentiated project management capabilities throughout our Advanced Process Solutions segment helps our customers better respond to changes in the industry as we work together to identify integrated process solutions rather than simply deliver equipment. 


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

Ryan: Multiple trends in pet food are closely tied to the demand for advanced processing equipment. These trends, particularly those associated with “healthier” pet food, are driving the need for new original equipment and production solutions. Shifts in formulation may require updates to processing lines, including the addition of specialized equipment for storage, batching, mixing and milling platforms; upgraded conveying for gentle handling of high-protein kibbles; and traceability platforms for reprocessing high-value ingredients. 

Some top-of-mind trends include:

  • An increased demand for natural ingredients in pet food. Health-conscious pet owners are driving demand for pet food with natural ingredients and more natural textures. This requires adaptations to production lines, which could lead to an increase in the number of silos used or implementation of advanced extrusion processes to create a “random” appearance of kibbles.
  • Rising popularity of therapeutic pet products that involve micro-dosing, combined with rising demand in functional, often personalized pet products. This requires significant investments in processing lines through such components as micro-dosing pumps, incremental mixers, weigh feeders and dry powder blending.
  • More vegetarian and flexitarian consumers, who are mimicking their own diet requirements for their pets. This has led to the introduction of insect-based protein in production, which requires changes to processes through transporting, silos and extrusion operations. 


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

Ryan: The pet industry has tremendous potential for growth based on secular and macroeconomic trends. On the surface, you absolutely have to feed your pet, just like you must feed your family. For a long time, consumers prioritized their own diets over their pets’, and they considered simpler options, like choosing between wet versus dry food or puppy versus adult food. However, more people — especially those who see their pet as a member of their family — are now looking for more organic, natural and sustainable options to ensure the furry members of their family have nothing but the best. Food trends for humans and their pets are becoming more common. This includes consumers who are consciously choosing food brands that incorporate organic ingredients, sustainably sourced proteins, and use sustainable packaging. This demand is driving innovation in the pet food industry and creating opportunities for growth.


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

Ryan: Few young people coming out of school and entering the workforce really know what their passions are. Working for a company that will expose you to a range of experiences will enable you to explore where your interests may lie. I started as an accountant, and it might never have occurred to me that I would love sales and strategy so much if it weren’t for the variety of experiences I had. It was only then I learned what my “superpower” was, and I’m so grateful I had an opportunity to find that with Hillenbrand. It’s important to have the chance to explore and discover the talent and passion you may not have even known existed within you.

 Kim Ryan's dog
Source: Kim Ryan

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. 

Ryan: I love animals, and I am definitely a dog person. I cannot imagine not having them in my life. We have always had two, and each of my kids also have two. It’s mayhem when everyone gets together for family holidays — and I love it.


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

Ryan: It can be daunting to move into an industry where you’re likely to be in the minority, but don’t view that as a threat. See it as an opportunity for you to bring diversity of perspective and a way of thinking that might not be inherent to everyone else you work with. Your views and ideas can be productive and a key for the business to think differently about how to win.

Kim Ryan has dedicated her career to Hillenbrand, a global processing solutions provider to the food and pet food, durable plastics and recycling industries. She held several roles in various areas of the business before being appointed president of Coperion, one of Hillenbrand’s operating companies, in 2015. In 2021, she took up the mantel as president and chief executive officer of Hillenbrand, where she remains focused on delivering advanced processing solutions to pet food manufacturers, among other industries. Ryan received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Iowa State University Ivy College of Business, where she currently serves as a member of the board of advisors.

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