BOSTON — Dr. Danielle Bernal’s pet industry career has taken her all over the world, from Australia to the United States and South Africa to Russia. As global director of veterinary nutrition for Wellness Pet Company, she has helped lead the company through a period of rapid innovation and development, and remains keen on prioritizing the pet — and pet owner — at every step.

“Everything we create is about enhancing that health and wellbeing,” she said. “…We see nutrition as a cornerstone for achieving that.”

In the following Q&A, Bernal describes how she maneuvered her way into the pet nutrition sector, shares her greatest challenges and accomplishments, and provides advice for other women leaders.


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

Bernal: I came straight out of high school and went into veterinary medicine. After growing up on a farm, it was a natural career progression for me. I’d always had a love for animals, but this was my first step into the world of the pet industry.

As I went through my studies and then started practicing, I realized I had a passion for business and corporate culture but wasn’t in the right spot to do so. When an opportunity came up with Proctor & Gamble (P&G), I made the cross over into the pet industry — that was probably the best decision I ever made.

I spent 10 years with P&G, and it was fabulous. I moved up the ranks, relocated to Singapore for four years — it was the best place to start and really build that experience in corporate culture alongside my passion for veterinary science. After Mars acquired P&G’s pet food business in 2014, I transitioned over to Wellness Pet Company, which has really been a continuation of that corporate and pet industry focus while also leveraging my veterinary science degree. With Wellness, I’ve worked in Australia for four years to build our business there, and then the last five years I’ve spent over here in the United States.

It’s been a great career that definitely started from a love of veterinary science. I’ve really been able to merge those two passions — business and pets.


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

Bernal: In my role across the last 20-odd years, we’ve moved from Sydney to Singapore, then back to Sydney, and now here to Boston — it’s been an exciting adventure, but also very challenging. We’ve had two small kids overseas, away from friends and family. I’m a big advocate that it takes a village, and we’ve sort of left that village, which has not been easy. But it’s one of those things that we would never regret, we’ve just needed to develop more skills — foster new friendships, acclimate to new locations, lean into work, and make sure we could still strike a balance between work and life, even if we haven’t got grandparents nearby or aunts and uncles up the road to help out.

That’s not to downplay the relocations in any way, but it was definitely something I had to consider and work on as my career took me around the world. When you pick up and move, everything is exciting, but it’s also something that takes a little extra balance.


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

Bernal: I always come back to being a little girl from Sydney, wanting to be a veterinarian, who has really taken her career and accelerated it over the last 20 years or so in pet nutrition. I’m proud to look back and know that I’ve worked with breeders, veterinarians, retailers, customers — across the gamut of pet enthusiasts. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across different continents. In Singapore, for example, we were working across 12 different Asian markets. Even now with Wellness, I’ve helped support pet nutrition in over 20 different countries.

As someone who loves adventure, global travel and pets, one of the things that excites me the most is connecting with pet parents around the world. It sounds really cliché, but whether I’ve been in the Japanese market, or over working in Russia or South Africa, despite all the cultural differences, the one thing I’ve seen is the human-animal bond is so strong. That makes me proud to be able to experience and keeps my passion for the industry alive, too.


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

Bernal: As an organization, we’re focused on how we can continue to improve health and wellbeing for pets, as well as a shared sense of wellbeing between pet and pet parent. That’s really at the essence of who we are and we see nutrition as a cornerstone for achieving that. Everything we create is about enhancing that health and wellbeing.

From a personal standpoint, one thing I’m really trying to champion is more education. I think the pet category is probably one of the most challenging for a consumer to try to cut their way through. Every brand seems to tell a different story, influencers have their own misinformation, and for a new pet parent coming into the category, it’s a case of who to believe. I’m super passionate about making sure we can take the technical aspect of pet nutrition and turn it into something simple that pet parents can really understand.


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

Bernal: First, definitely a focus on health benefits, but alongside ingredients. What we call “next-gen pet parents,” or Millennials and Gen Z, really want the best life they can have for their pets and themselves. That trend, I think, is going to be here to stay. As we think about that nutritionally, however, benefits will still be an important consideration, but I think the ingredient piece of it will become table stakes. There are a lot of brands out there making benefit claims, and people want to know exactly what they’re feeding their pet and how it’s going to help support their overall wellbeing.

Another trend I think is pretty clear is more food options in formats that require less processing. When we talk about next-gen pet parents, we continue to hear that in a crowded market with so much information — and misinformation — they are defaulting back to their own health and nutritional insights. We’ve seen this in the acceleration of the fresh category, the frozen category, kibble plus, all these emerging, alternative feeding options. I think these formats will face headwinds with social economic and cost of living challenges, but right now, if pet parents are not feeding any of these formats as full meals, they’re probably using them as toppers or bowl boosters. A few years ago, something like 38% of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers were putting something on their pets’ regular meal — that’s now up to 67%. The use of mixers and toppers is rapidly accelerating.

The last one is sustainability. Yes, the industry uses a lot of animal proteins, but this whole category really came from optimizing partnerships with human food production and working in harmony to truly utilize most parts of those animals. I think that’s a great story, but today we are seeing more companies pushing human-grade, which may actually cause more challenges down the line. It’s also important to consider how we can address packaging waste, and we’ve been steadfast on that front by transitioning to recyclable options for numerous packaging options.


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

Bernal: Most pet parents buy a bag of dog food, pour it into their dog’s bowl, and that’s probably the only interaction they have with it beside picking up stool in the backyard at the end of the day. I don’t think they realize the level of food safety, quality assurance and scientific testing that goes into high-quality, premium pet food brands. There are so many tests that have to happen in order to ensure trust and safety before the food reaches the bowl, but pet owners are largely unaware of all that.

Understanding the true depth and rigor of the pet food brands consumers are choosing — above and beyond what it looks like on packaging and brand websites — is so important, and more pet parents need to have visibility behind the scenes to truly understand the lengths we go to keep their pets safe and healthy. It’s not an exciting or glamorous part of the industry, but when you think about pet nutrition being the end-all-be-all meal for a pet, ensuring safety and quality is essential.


PFP: What advice would you give to other women in this industry?

Bernal: Pursue your passions. For me, my love for animals and veterinary science was a career path I chose because I knew every day would be different. Then, when I realized I had a strong passion for business and management, I pivoted and managed to blend those two passions together. By doing that, I really found my niche and was able to develop a great career built upon my passions.

Dr. Danielle Bernal, global director of veterinary nutrition for Wellness Pet CompanySource: Wellness Pet Company

Find a company that will champion your development and leadership. I’ve been fortunate at Wellness to have additional responsibilities beyond veterinary medicine and the technical side of pet food. Seek out these opportunities. Yes, it’s going to be additional work, and yes, it might test you in an area you feel inexperienced in. So many of my successes and breakthroughs have come from times when I ventured outside of my comfort zone in regulatory, import/export work, brand marketing — you know, all things that wouldn’t normally be done by a veterinarian. Those experiences have really built my skills to allow me to deliver more to our customers.


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. 

Bernal: I’m a dog and a horse person. If I could have any animal in my backyard right now, it would definitely be a horse. But actually, for the first time in decades, we don’t have any pets right now. We have three young boys and we’re traveling and working, but I have been getting weekly, if not daily, pressure from the boys about when the next four-legged family member will be arriving. I have a feeling it won’t be too far away.


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

Bernal: We’re in a culture of sharing our positive successes and wins, but don’t forget to share challenges and hardships as well. I’ve learned so much from my failures and have taken those learnings on to future challenges. Having a network, especially for women, where you can share the good and bad helps us grow as a culture overall, and also as individual, amazing women in this industry.

Danielle Bernal started her practicing veterinary medicine in Australia before joining Procter & Gamble in 2006. At P&G, she leveraged her passion for pets and veterinary science while honing another passion for corporate business development. Bernal joined Wellness Pet Company in 2015 and has held various roles across the company since. She earned her bachelor’s in veterinary science from the University of Sydney.

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