If you’ve visited a Mud Bay recently, you might have noticed the new veterinary style scales in our stores. These scales represent the culmination of more than a year of planning to coincide with the launch of our new pet profiles and feeding calculators. While you’ll be able to take your pet into any of our stores to get an accurate weight, you’ll also be able to track that weight and get a personalized feeding plan for your dog or cat.
To understand more about Mud Bay’s feeding calculator and pet profile, we met with our Chief Merchandising Officer Al Puntillo. Before he started at Mud Bay, Al spent over twenty years working for pet-industry companies like Nutro and Animal Supply Company. Now he spends his time overseeing health and nutrition, category management and marketing for Mud Bay.
Here’s his outlook on what Mud Bay’s custom feeding plans can do, and how our tools differ from other companies’ feeding calculators and pet profiles.
MB: What made Mud Bay decide they wanted to launch a feeding calculator?
AP: Actually, we never started this project with the intent to build a feeding calculator. We started building a different tool called What Should I Feed My Dog or Cat which was a much deeper exploration of the different nutritional requirements that are best for each individual pet. Our team will launch that later, too.
But as we got nearer to launching What Should I Feed My Dog or Cat, we assembled a group of people known as the Experience Team. This group of store-based and home-office Muddies spent a lot of time figuring out how What Should I Feed will change our recommendations around food. And what came out of those conversations was that we were missing some critical things that we could help cat and dog owners with.
The Experience Team said: “Well, this is really good, but honestly, we only have that deep-dive conversation that requires specific food formula information with one out of every 20 conversations about food.”
“Most people want to know, what did I purchase last time? How much should I feed my pet? I’ve got a dog that’s underweight, or I’ve got a cat that’s overweight, how do I help him get to a healthy body weight?” They say: “You sent me home with samples last time, but I don’t remember what samples I took.”
We realized that there were so many other opportunities that we were missing to foster even more useful conversations between Muddies and our customers. So, we started redesigning all the pieces we needed. Eventually, all those pieces will feed into What Should I Feed My Dog or Cat. But for right now, we’ll have all these different tools to help customers with their day-to-day needs.
MB: Most feeding calculators only ask about age and weight. Why does Mud Bay’s feeding calculator need all this extra information about each dog or cat?
AP: Asking for this information is actually a big part of this tool’s innovation. Dr. Katy—our in-house veterinarian—found all this great research to inform our approach in putting together an accurate feeding calculator. Body condition; activity level; age; neutered, spayed or intact: These are all factors that affect the calorie requirements of an animal. Knowing that information is important if you want an accurate feeding recommendation.
The interesting thing is that nobody—that we’ve seen—had ever collected all these different factors to come up with an accurate and consistent calorie calculator. It kind of blew our minds. When we were actually looking for the ratios and the individual pieces that make the feeding calculator work—all of these specific pieces, I was blown away.
Dr. Katy did months of research. She called other veterinarians and talked to other people in our network trying to find out what the internal calculations should be. She talked to a lot of people because she thought there already had to be a set standard out there. But there wasn’t.
We have really trusted food partners who put feeding guidelines on their bags. And when we called them to ask about the numbers they were using to calculate guidelines for different types of animals, most didn’t have a consistent number from brand to brand or within their own product lines.
The situation made us realize that there is such a need for this standardization across the industry. So, we decided to standardize feeding recommendations for our customers. We decided that we’ve got to build our own feeding calculator.
MB: In addition to the feeding calculator, customers can also save their personalized feeding calculator recommendation in their pet profile. What are some of the things that customers can do with their pet feeding profile right now?
AP: So, right now, you’ll be able to create a custom feeding plan and save multiple feeding plans. That’s great for someone who might not feed the same thing every day. Muddies can also write notes about previous visits and information we’ve given you in the pet profile.
When you come into a store, you’re not always going to have the same Muddy helping you. This communication tool helps us give you a consistent experience across all staff members. So, if we’ve given you a recommendation on pet food, but we also know that your animal has a specific intolerance, the next Muddy will be able to see that information when you visit.
You’ll also be able to see your whole purchase history. Muddies can look it up for you in store. You can also see it online at my.mudbay.com from home. There you’ll be able to track samples that we’ve given you, and you can mark whether your pet liked it or didn’t like it.
MB: There are other companies online that offer different feeding calculators. What’s the difference between Mud Bay’s feeding calculator and what other companies give their customers?
AP: I think there are two primary differences. The biggest difference is a lot of them are from manufacturers. If it’s from a manufacturer, it doesn’t have any scope. The feeding calculator is only going to work for that manufacturer’s brand. If you’re trying to combine different foods from different manufacturers, that’s going to be a real challenge.
The second thing is, even for the feeding calculators that do include different brands, they’re based on the individual manufacturer’s feeding guidelines. They’re just taking data based on what a manufacturer has said—their feeding recommendations—and putting them together for customers.
These calculators are just automating what you can already find. There isn’t any new intellectual content. And these calculators aren’t that accurate. I think that people will see when they go to use some of these calculators, it’s going to have the same accuracy problems as some manufacturer guidelines. I just don’t think it’s going to be an accurate tool.
Mud Bay really strives to be a very objective, third-party in determining feeding guidelines. But that’s up to our customers to decide if they agree. Our feeding calculator has not been created to create sales or to drive someone to a certain brand. Our feeding calculator is nothing more than a tool to help our customers make the best decision for the day-to-day food requirements for their pets.
Chief Merchandising Officer Al Puntillo has been at Mud Bay for five years. You can find him at our Olympia home office, where he’s instituting his own dog’s healthy weight regimen, which will include less snacking on stolen bread and dental retainers and more exercise.