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Interview

Interview: Bringing Brand Purpose to Life in Digital Experiences, with Loic Moutalt, President of Royal Canin

During this time of quarantine, pets have become even more vital to many people's well being. Royal Canin, a petcare division of Mars, has designed products and product experiences that bring their purpose-driven mission to life. Loic Moutalt, President of Royal Canin, joins Molly Schonthal and Peter to discuss the path of their digital transformation and how they have brought these experiences to life in an agile way.

Transcript

Peter:

Welcome to unpacking the digital shelf where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age. Hi, Peter Crosby from the digital shelf Institute here. During this time of quarantine, man and woman's best friends, pets have become even more vital to many people's well being. I thought it'd be a good time for Molly and me to talk to Loic Moutalt, president of Royal Canin, a leader in science-based cat and dog health nutrition, and discuss the path of their digital transformation and how it has enabled their response during this time. Here's that conversation. So Loic thank you so much for taking time out of, of a busy schedule to appear on the podcast with Molly and me today. Of course, I'm imagining that one of the hiring criteria at Royal Canin is that you must have a pet. I don't know whether that's true, but I kind of hope it is in a way but as assuming you have one tell us about your pet.

Loic:

Yeah, sure. Thank you. Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Molly, for inviting me to to discuss with you. So, yeah, I do have a pet. Her name is Coco. She's a, she. She's a boxer, female boxer beige color with a very beautiful white Sox legs coming from Australia actually that we acquired when we were in in Singapore. So she's been traveling the world, she now lives in a, in Belgium, a seven year old. And we we really love her and especially in confinement time. She has a lot of time playing with us, so it's really great.

Peter:

I know, I do wonder about all the dogs and pets that are going to have to adjust to their, you know, hopefully at some point their, their owners. Sort of changing back to a regular schedule.

Loic:

There's a joke going on that the cats wants you back at work and the dogs are very happy. To answer your question, it is not mandatory to have a dog or a cat working for Royal Canin. I certainly, if you don't like cats and dogs, it's a hard place to work. Imagine dogs. I invited in the office, they are part of our lives and we have catteries and kennels in in our, on our premises where they they are very well treated. I would argue that they are better treated than the employees. They have a pool, they can swim, they can go outside and have workers and we do yeah, they are part of our lives. So rod, can I be very dog and cat centric company?

Peter:

Well that, that makes me feel you know, I, I looking at your, your site and looking at your content, it is so pet owner and pet focused as you would expect, but I think there's a real emotional component to it. And I would, I was wondering how do, how does Royal Canin show up for their customers right now? Like there must be sort of special content needs or, or things that you do in your, your online experiences, your digital experiences to connect with them at this moment.

Loic:

Yeah, I mean, first I must say that you know, despite that the very difficult time, we've been very lucky that we could we could continue to operate. I mean everyday brings a a challenge. But so far we've been we've been blessed by continuing to run and serve our, our customers, the pet professionals that are in our science leaders around the world as well as as a pet owners. And we, we did a couple of things very quickly. We actually moved to a, you know, providing advice on digital content, on all of our platforms around the, you know, how to deal with your pet in times of COBIT. Whether you in confinement or the relationship to the disease itself. You know, we've been scouting the, the science as much as we discovery during this phase and we've been sharing that to you know, the, the sort of social media networks that we are using to help people navigate this.

Loic:

The only things we did was we really helped a lot of our small customers independent pet shops, veterinarians to go online. Actually to be able to deliver the food or what people are not necessarily able to come to the store. So that, you know, we, we help with like, you know, find your product, find your store and how you can get home delivery. I mean, I know investors that the U S from deliveries event, but it's not the case everywhere in the world. You know, what eight en route to markets very, very quickly actually. And there's been fantastic experience in Southeast Asia, in Europe and most patients actually where we, we enabled our customers to continue to operate and, and try to to help them with the kind of online services that they needed to to continue to cooperate and serve the pet owners with the nutrition that their cats and dogs need.

Loic:

That's essential workers. Yeah. So when I ends up, I've been, stayed open for almost everywhere in the world as well as a lot of pet shops in most places. But of course some of them really struggle to operate because of the measures that it required to stay open. Not everybody could put them on. But I, I must say I've been very impressed by the creativity of, of most of them. I mean, I visited close by in, in Brazil that has to reorganize. She's a single vet with one vet tech. And totally, we organize our procedures to be able to continue to operate. But you have to pick up, you know, you can't come in and announce, you have to book the appointment. You can actually order your food by phone and do, she does a kind of drive twice a week where you can pick up the Mendocino, the food. It's amazing what people have come up with during this time to continue to serve their customers. So we to to help support as much in most questions around the world. You know, the, the pet care services, I've been actually considered essential, there've been a rise of adoption in some countries. Others has been a rise of abandonment. So we need to, we need it to help shelters as well to cope with this. And veterinarians by and large have been been allowed to to operate.

Peter:

I would imagine there must be a sense of pride at Royal Canaan for your ability to in the midst of, you know, it's, it's this is upsetting and, and difficult for your employees as well to adjust to this and the fact that you've been able to be nimble and agile in this moment to adjust your stories and to, to get them out to the platforms that they need to be on. That must be a point of pride, I would imagine for you.

Loic:

Yeah, I mean, why can I, in general is a, is a company of passionate employees, you know I mean if you, if you come one day, you have the chance to come to our campus in the South of France, in Denmark where we we have our headquarter or recent research facility and factory, you will notice this you know, people like our employees like the cats and dogs and they like the job they do. They are passionate about it. So it's a job, but it's, I would, I would argue it's a little bit more than a job for most of them. We actually have a lot of veteran ions in our own organization or readers or people who come from families of graders. They're all very connected to that. So the company is, is very, very centric around the annual itself.

Loic:

So we're not so good with pet owner and consumers in general. We are, but we are very, very strong in really understanding the animal and absolutely passionate about that. So when something like this happened I think the, the teams and people ready, ready really together to so that we can continue to serve. We know our products make a difference in some cases if, if certain dogs and cats don't get our product, they really struggled for living. So we make very, very specific therapeutic diets for very sensitive conditions. For example allergies or renal disease or you know, that, that that cannot be substituted by something else. So it's almost like a mission if you want. And when people are really organized by your mission they put the extra mile to use ago. We, we, we, we were the victim of a cyber attack that really put our entire organization on its knees and we had to ready again to be able to come back right with you on the business.

Loic:

So I guess he says equipped us as well and prepared us. So what's what's happening. So we moved people very quickly on, on the home office work. We were equipped from a technology point of view to be able to operate our business this way. What was very new of course was all the sanitary measures and association measure that we had to implement everywhere. But I'm really pleased to say, and I knock on wood, that at the moment we can't operate. We do operate and we also serving veterinarians, breeders, Sheltons and and pet owners around the world and we're very proud of delivering them this mission.

Peter:

One of my favorite product stories is the formula you make first. Is it sled dog?

Loic:

Yes. We make a very special product called marathon. That is a product that you can't sell it to a normal consumer. It is so fatty, it's unbelievable. And it's not in a negative way. When you know who's sledged dogs are running races in the very, very cold weather, of course, full of snow and so on. So they need very, very high energy. And this product is made twice a year only just for the season of st racing in mostly in Europe at the moment they have been developed with machines. So, you know, when you actually work with them and say, okay, what kind of farm do you need? And the idea was that we wanted the dog to a host that's really love racing. That's what they want to do. You, you see them really wanting to go out. But the idea was how do we make sure that when they finish, they are in a good physiological condition, not exhausted and not, you know, whatever, starving or missing any trends. And we have achieved that. So it's, yeah, it's a fascinating product. We only make it for very special occasions. And and again, proud of it a bit like formula one cars for car industry, but this is what marathon is for. Dog nutrition.

Peter:

Yeah. Again, like getting down to the, the capabilities that are allowing you to be as nimble as you are right now. I know that Royal Canin has really leaned forward into their digital that's for medication. And I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about how did that digital shift happened? Like what, what did it take? Cause I know it takes a lot of cross functional collaboration and and, and a shared sense of purpose which takes work sometimes. I would just, I'd love you to talk us through the sort of, the beginning of that.

Loic:

Sure. Peter? Yeah, I mean the, to be honest, it's not a very old journey for us. It started back in 2017. So, you know, Ryan, can I, it's mostly a B to B business and we actually serve between items, Pittsburgh, shady store Grieder, shutters around the world. And of course what the pet owners see is a keyboard in the back. So it's basically a bag of of key foods you know, highly technical nutrition. But but in fact the company is much more than that. We, we provide a lot of services to veterinarians to help understand the, to condition physical condition of the cats or the dogs. We we help breeders understand you know, their liter and their reproduction cycles and we provide dedicated nutrition for that. And so we realize that it very important for us to somehow digitalize the services first that we were providing to pet professionals.

Loic:

That digital technology will enable us to reach many more professionals with higher quality services and what we can do in a physical world. And that's how we started our journey was basically to equip readers around the world with you know, tools that will help them be better in their practice. Same with veteran ions. And this was really a very strategic for us because we, we, we wanted to bring to them more than the product, but the knowledge that we have to make this product and the education that goes with it so it helps them make better diagnostic of the situation and provide a better nutrition solution hopefully from us. But this is how it started.

Molly :

So I know you started out of almost necessity to scale the integrity of the Royal Canin business, but can you tell us a little bit about the ecosystem that you're building that incorporates not only breeders and vets, but consumers?

Loic:

Yeah, so I mean the, the, so as be dimension, we are a very purpose led company. So we, we, few years ago we really set out to, we believe, you know pets play a very positive word in society. We believe they make a better world for humans. We don't ask everybody to agree with that, but that's our point of view. And therefore our mission is to make a better world for pets. That's what really what we gather around and the way I cannot deliver on that is by providing the best possible health nutrition solutions to get some docs. So we believe nutrition has the power to transform an animal. It can actually improve health. And why? Mostly because contrary to human food, the cat and the dog don't choose their food. The owner gives it to them and by and large, 90% of the calories come from a single product for you. You make the choice. So if your cereals are contaminated with mycotoxins in the morning, your body can deal with it because it's a couple of percent of your diet. But if it happens for doc, actually the, the, the, the health feedback could be much more negative. And so we really rally behind this cause that nutrition can transform an animal. But what we realize very quickly is actually pet owners really struggled to understand their pet. They think they know their bad, but in fact the project they own picture and they own feelings on their pets.

Molly :

I have no idea what you mean. But my cat is really tough time lately. Yeah. New York is not the city that my cat loved once.

Loic:

Yeah. I mean, cats and dogs bring unconditional love. Okay. So I don't about you, but love is not always unconditional between human, but cats and dogs definitely bring unconditional love, but they're actually hard to understand. They don't speak, they hide them. So it's really complicated to understand their true physiological condition. So for us, we said if we want the health outcome that we can provide with nutrition, we need to help pet owners and pet professionals to understand the true physiological condition of the pets so that they can provide the right tuition solution. And then we can monitor progress by doing that, basically being the proof point of the improvements. And that's really how we digital became energizing for a company. It just simply broad our ability to achieve our purpose to a much bigger scale, but as with much greater precision to help the pet owner and two worlds pet professionals. So if I have to summarize it for us, digital technology is enabling us to bring the full, how power of what while it can I can offer to pet owners and to pet professionals. Bye. The product they're providing is when the services, the education and sharing some of the knowledge that we have

Peter:

And thereby earning your margin. I mean, just part of that, that people then are willing to, to pay for a relationship and an educational experience, et cetera. Is that that part of the business

Loic:

Calculation? Yeah. So now I'd be nasty and I don't know what you give your dog or cat Peter and Modi, but if you knew what you knew what I do and if you really love your dog, you know, you will definitely be a wild cannot by now. Yes, we can actually prolong you know, in a way Doug can eat anything that of course, depending on what they eat, they will live. Definitely potentially better. They will have better skin, but a code, better vitality, better energy and so on and so on. So of course, I mean I cannot, honestly, it's not the, is a brand that brings very technical products. So you know, there is an affordability question on most products of UC but they make a difference. They make a difference. The health and you know, the example I have in mind recently is we launched an innovation at the end of last year in in France, which is totally digitally enabled. It's called while, can I individualist? And it's,

Peter:

Could you say again, what is it called?

Loic:

Right. I cannot individualist basic and individualize nutritional answer. So basically a veterinarian makes a diagnostic based on blood, urine samples and physio physically diagnostic. We get that data and then we will, we have another group that basically compute the ideal nutrition solution for that single pet. And then we make the product and if the owner agrees, we will basically ship it directly to their home. And it's, that product is totally unique to that pet. And the innovation is as much in the nutrition itself because it's very complicated to organize that any of the manufacturing that is totally reverse engineers because the product is not made in advance of the recommendation. It is actually made post diagnostics, which is a totally different value chain. But as well in the algorithm, the AI and the relationship between the veterinarians diagnostic tools, the pet owner at home and interaction and while cannot. And so, you know, I know, of course this is not know. It's not cheap in the sense that it's a multi pathology nutritional answer. So it, it's reserve in extreme cases, but it's an amazing innovation. Totally 30 enabled by digital tools.

Molly :

This reminds me quite a bit of the L'Oreal case, Peter, that you and I have talked about with perso. So when I look at digital maturity, and the reason that I wanted to have the week on the phone is, you know, the first reaction a lot of consumer or consumer pet vet focused businesses have to digitalization is they have some sort of digital accompany meant to a product. Meaning, there's the product that exists in the world. And then there's a website or a mobile app or an SMS service that is meant to offer advice or information in addition to the product. And then what you see is sort of products that integrate, you know, the product and a digital service. Like with the cosmetics or beauty business. It was ModiFace, you know, checking your face and then adding color that compliments you. But the third phase, which I've seen L'Oreal do and now and, and RC do as a case, is the digital part of the business becomes the product and the differentiation.

Molly :

So Peter and I have talked about L'Oreal's perso which is a little machine that you have at home that dispenses formula, L'Oreal beauty formula, exactly for your skin type, for your color preferences. Because they innovated for several years trying not to change the product at all. But they found that something like 50% of women can't find the right skincare. Right? So the last, the last thing they could do was put that digital innovation inside of the product. Make it one in the same thing. And you've done that too. In fact, you started this journey five years ago because I was there, I remember for the first individualization with like just a sticker that we would put on a bag and Hansworth the kibble. So in that way, you know, RC is way ahead of the game because you've got, you know, all, all of the areas of digitalization. You've got, you know, accompanying information, you've got information, press the product, and you have a digitalized sort of version of a personal personalizing the product. How do you think about your journey from here? Where do you go from here?

Loic:

Well, I would say we are not we're not I mean it's, it's nice to hear we are way ahead of everybody else and it will be very easy for me to be very happy about that. It's actually, it's still hard work. And the reality is but you're right in a way, I mean digital tools, I mean invaded R and D has invaded communication and invaded Salesforce, you know, the teams now, but the visitor veteran ions, you know, they're able to download a complete tutorial on some of the pathology they need to talk about right before going there. So there are many, many functions that start to be truly, you know, impacted by digital tool and a, and a, an experience that helped them just being better professionals and for us to provide a better product. I think, you know, the, the, the answer for us today is at the moment our successes in this area are still like it's probiotic flagship experiences yeah.

Loic:

That we, we managed to create and and sort of shows the way they are not yet systematized. Totally. Yeah. In all of our process experience and ways of working and interaction with, with the pet owners or the professional. So you know, where we, so for example, communication. I think it's, it's interesting what we've been able to do for COBIT for example. It's probably the first time that I could get all of the different component of my different communication channels sitting down around the table and say, okay, now what do we do? Yeah. So whether you are scientific communication, whether you consumer care, whether you external affairs, whether you are you know, mainstream communication to pet owner, suddenly we were able to probably do what we need to do every week in two years, which is later when he built an editorial line for next week and, and where all of the channels are consistently going to the different stakeholders in our ecosystem.

Loic:

We have a coordinated communication now today it takes a crisis for us to pull that together. I mean, the question tomorrow is how can we do that in a systematic way? And similarly, you know you know, we make products that are very specific for each breed, for example. Yeah. And many pet owners don't even know that. And so how do we reach out to, to be, is to be spent on us believe that maybe this is a marketing gimmick. You know, in our case, our breed nutrition range is really, the keyboard is shaped to the mouth of the animals so that they really manage the digestion property and so on. And the formula is totally specific to their body condition. So we have,

Molly :

There's a cool Lake for cats, right? So the cats can get a certain kind of cat that has an underbite. Do you know what I'm talking?

Loic:

Yes, exactly. That's how it started actually. We were watching the cat grabbing the food for a glass window to really understand how they, how they govern the food and we realize not all the categories,

Molly :

Whatever you guys that can go viral actually.

Loic:

Yeah. And and you know, my, my dog is a boxer and they, they are the wave people, which is super hard to make. And it's because they, they tend to not to if the keyboard is not shaped properly. And so it creates a lot of digestive issues. So you need to slow down the pace at which they eat. So we designed the keyboards for down their chewing process so they impact positively digestion. I mean, anyway, I can go on and on.

Molly :

Why are they, why are they doing this for human beings? Like I would love food that was me for the fact that I eat too fast and too much.

Loic:

I'm not, I'm not sure you will want us to control that.

Molly :

I don't know. They won't. It raises a good point, which is that the science is already there, but it's sort of the humans or using digital to educate the humans about why it exists and that that is.

Loic:

Yeah. So that's exactly the big challenge is, as I said, the dog and cats come speak. They really cannot express and they hide their pain. You know, this is really the most difficult one, is that you don't really see where they are in pain. I think, you know, our job now is to basically to bring this knowledge and education out and use digital technology so that we have a, you know, pet owners that are more aware about the country's surgical condition of their pet. And similarly for veterinarians, it's not easy to generalize the condition of a cat or dog when the acute disease is there. Of course it's abused, but when it's not, you know, it's difficult and I think they are digital tool now that really diagnostics that are more available inside the clinic and not just at the reference lab or they can be actually in home and you can, you know, we have a partnered with a sister company of Canada, a whistle that is a, an activity monitoring device that you can put on a color and it can now detect itchy.

Loic:

So dermatology problem. Yeah. Of the dogs. And so, you know, I think we are, you know, science diagnostic tool. We'll make pet speak if you want. And so we, and by providing this technology, why the two, the two, the pet owners, they will understand their pet better and they will be better, better. And we know when some of it is linked to what we do and what we sell, but not all of it. We've launched a diagnostic tool not long ago that is that you use pray on a liter of the cats and basically it becomes blue if if they are blood traces of blood in the urine and that basically means you need to go to the vet because your cat has a urinary sensitivity. So you know, this kind of diagnostic didn't exist five, six years ago. Now they're are all sort of you know, technology whether they are physical or digital that enables pet owners to to understand better their and simply better care for them. And I think that's, that's what we are after.

Peter:

Well the week I find it super sad that you have no passion for your mission at the company you work at. It's wonderful to hear you talk about, and when I put all of this together, what I'm hearing is that from supply chain and your routes to market, you've, you're trying to innovate on your product and services. You've changed the communication channels that you're talking through. You're trying, you're expanding your range of scale from you know, all the way to talking through broad channels down to kind of one, you know, trying to scale it all to have valuable conversations at scale. And, and then to hear you talk about those sort of, the breaking down of silos even across your communication channels caused by this crisis. You know, so many, there's so many articles being written by now. Like is this a five-year leap in digital capabilities? Is that a 10 year leap and, and how much of it will last? When you think about that, just to sort of close out this conversation, what of this do you think will last? Do you think people will go back to their corners or do you feel like the, the found collaboration will stick and will start to really extend across the ways in which you, you

Loic:

Communicate? Well, you know, it's, it's, it's hard to predict. I mean, if I had a crystal ball, I guess I am, maybe I will not be working on this. I would be sad because I really love what I do. I think, you know, the, the leap in technology isn't going to last. I mean, I think it has only been an accelerator of things that were already sort of moving, but suddenly it became you know, obvious. So you know, everybody has learn how to work digitally in a way. I mean, we are 20, even kids. I've had online classes, which we will never think of. I mean, even the French education system for God's sake has gone online yet, which is, which is really possible. Think about that. So people have learned how to get content from tutorial short videos, you know, exchange much more.

Loic:

So I think this presence of, you know very intimate communication modes for example. I think it's to, you know, it's really it, it has accelerated something that was in the making that now everybody's using. You know, my, my mother is connecting with us for events with the family and, and she's 70 or something. So, well, I think all of that will remain, I think what is difficult for businesses is to understand how does that structure impact your organization and ways of working. And and I find that always difficult what you're able to do under pressure in crisis mode. It's actually harder to embed on a, on an ongoing regular basis. And the ambitious, the danger is that you go back inside the organization to silos, to functional dividers instead of finding a way. So you still need organization.

Loic:

But how do you find a way to to be really at the service of the outcome you reach? And that's the way, at least I, I'm thinking about mrs. I think if you, if you channel the organization towards outcome, you, you, you have more chances to get there. So you, you, you do not, you know, you don't create accountability by function or by by cell function that you give an outcome objective to the organization and then you need to write whoever is competent to participate to that outcome. Now it's easier said than done. But I think this is a true challenge of big corporation to embed all these, these technologies in day to day work and and you know, meets consumer expectation, which definitely are being impacted by this. I mean, everybody wants him very, very, everyone wants to subscription now. Everybody want ease of use, contact free when you can and you want to reserve your social time to real social content, not to go shopping or whatever. I mean, some of people like to go into a store, but they want to go for it now for the experience, not just to have the hassle of queuing and paying. And you know, also the things needs to be frictionless in the future. And in order to make this happen, we need to, I think our project, our organization towards the outcome we want to create.

Peter:

Well, Louie, I couldn't have asked for a better closing that that's precisely, I think what everyone's confronting right now is the challenge of how do we respond in this time and then what are the lessons we take to create better and better experiences for our customers and consumers going forward. So thank you so much for, for joining us and sharing your, your, your journeys at Royal canine. It's super exciting and we really appreciate it.

Loic:

Thank you for having me.

Peter:

That's our show for today. Please share this episode with your colleagues and leave a review. We really appreciate it. Thanks for being part of our community.