First Impressions: Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center Tour

Kansas Historical Society where we had a private dinner the first night

What a whirlwind three days.

Hill’s, flew in about 10 journalists, writers and bloggers, this week to their pet nutrition center in Topeka, Kansas to tour their facilities, learn about their company and give us some overall understanding of the pet food industry, pet nutrition and more.

Yes, they paid for our transportation, meals and hotel as part of the media tour, but these opinions, and the ones I will be sharing in the next several days and weeks, are mine and mine only. These are not sponsored posts, and Hill’s didn’t compensate us in any other way.

In fact, their product was never really pushed on us — no sample bags, no excess of dog or cat treats waiting in our room. No asking us what we feed our pets. It was actually very nice.

 There was so much valuable information we learned about pet nutrition overall, I’m still trying to figure out a creative and fun way to share it with all of you, that may not resemble a typical article I would normally write. I’m even thinking of possibly doing outlines of what we learned with links to more information, because I have to say, we learned a lot — and not just about Hill’s, but about the whole pet food topic area. The most important being, how to read pet nutrition labels.

As someone who gets paid to walk the editorial and marketing line for a living, I’m always very sensitive to that balance when I’m dealing with others, and if I had to single out one thing that impressed me professionally, it was the way their people walked that same line during the tour. You could tell these people had pets, loved their pets and really believe they are doing things to make their pets, your pets and my pets’ lives a little better.

I never felt like I was being marketed to. They were pretty realistic when answering tough questions from the journalists there — including one about packaging I asked and got a pretty blunt answer. {More on that later}

Hill’s does a lot of client tours for veterinarians and those retailers who sell their product to educate them about pet nutrition, as well as their formulas. I felt like I was on one of those tours and not a media tour put on just to get good press. We were treated as industry professionals and not as if giving us a bunch of swag would sway our opinions, or post-visit writing.

I asked one of their reps how different our tour was from the ones the clients go on, and they said it was pretty similar, although the others are a little longer and a little more technical — they dig deeper into the vet stuff.

So, you might be asking, why I’m writing this? Have I decided that Hill’s is the best dog and cat food out there, and I’m switching Toby to it immediately?

Not exactly. But, what they did do was gain my respect.

They not only opened their offices up to us, but they opened their animal care area, vet hospital, cat wing, dog wing, manufacturing plant and more to us. They had their top people — the ones who actually hold the patents for some of their prescription food formulas — teaching us, eating dinner and lunch with us and asking us questions about what we do.

Their CEO shook our hand, introduced himself to each of us individually and was there throughout the day to answer our questions. And, if they didn’t know the answer, they told us that and found it out.

It’s the little things that make a difference, and I think it’s important for readers to know about this — especially when dealing with an industry where that has been so closed off for such a long time that it breeds a high amount of speculation, rumors and trust issues.

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