My name is Natalie Asaro, and I am a recent graduate that is just beginning my career in the pet food industry. This is the story of how I got to where I am today, and some words of advice to anyone considering pursuing a career in the industry.
At a very young age I knew that I loved all animals and was determined to find a career where I would get to work with them. Growing up in Toronto Ontario, my interaction with the food and agriculture industry was extremely limited and I never considered it as a potential career path.
I thought that if I wanted to work with animals I only had a few options; become a veterinarian or work at a zoo. So, after high school I started my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, a university with one of the best vet schools in Canada.
Maybe I’ll Work in a Zoo?
It wasn’t until the later years of my undergrad that I began to take interest in nutrition.
After taking a few human nutrition courses, I thought I might abandon my hopes of working with animals to pursue a career as a dietitian. That was until I stumbled along a new course that was offered through my university – pet nutrition.
I explain this as my “lightbulb moment” where I realized I had found what I wanted to do; a career that combined my passion for animals with my new-found interest in nutrition. After enrolling, I went up to the professor to introduce myself and explain my excitement about finding a career I wanted to pursue, and I like to think the rest was history. 6 months later I began my master’s degree in companion animal nutrition with that same professor as my advisor.
Towards the end of my graduate studies, I found myself in the scary world of “job searching”. After landing a few opportunities to interview for pet nutritionist positions, I spent lots of time going through nutrition flash cards to make sure I was prepared.
When it finally came time to interview, I was surprised to be asked very little about my actual nutrition knowledge. My interviewers were much more focused on questions regarding my soft skills – questions like “do you work well in teams?”, “how do you stay organized?”, “how do you set goals?”. I came to understand that although a degree provides one with the written qualifications for a job, employers are truly interested in knowing that you have the skills necessary to work hard, work well with your team, and get the job done.
How Many People Does it Take to Make Pet Food?
After receiving my offer for the position, I could not wait to begin my career in the industry. What surprised me most during my first few months in my role was how many people, departments, and different skill sets go into producing a bag of pet food. I quickly realized that this industry provides opportunity to people with all sorts of backgrounds and strengths:
- You can work in operations; whether that is working for a manufacturer, working in R&D, or logistics.
- You can work in finance, involved in managing the company’s expenses and revenue.
- You can work in human resources, responsible for hiring talent, employee benefits and training.
- Those with a passion for business can work in sales and marketing, which are hugely involved in the pet food industry
- You can work in IT to maintain the company’s technical assets and problem solve in times of technical issues
One of the best parts about working in the pet food industry is seeing the constant innovation that is occurring. Today there exists much more than just kibble on pet store shelves and the overall theme of innovation is creating tons of opportunity. In fact, the global pet food market is growing 4% annually, creating many jobs and making it a great industry for those just beginning their career.
So, my final words of advice to students that are just starting to think about their career, is first and foremost it is okay for things not to go as planned. Things didn’t go as planned for me, and that led me to find my love of pet nutrition.
I would also stress the importance of being open to new opportunities. Going out of your comfort zone to talk to new people or try something new may lead you to find your passion. Finally, it is important to realize that the food industry is quickly growing and full of opportunity for people of all different backgrounds and skills sets – perhaps it is right fit for you!
By Natalie Asaro, MSc
Nutrition Assistant, Petcurean Pet Nutrition
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