Data and Dogs

Mars Petcare, the pet health and nutrition division of Mars Inc., has announced the launch of a project called Kinship. They are seeking to explore opportunities in the $100B pet care industry, with data on their side. A statement on the initiative’s website reads: “By working together with our coalition of business and research partners, we’re finding new ways to realize the promise of digital health, data analytics, machine learning, and other transformational technologies to create a brighter future for pets around the world.” Will dog-related data pawsitively change the industry? Or will the transition be ruff? 

Mars Petcare has 85,000 associates and a portfolio of almost 50 brands, including Pedigree and Whiskas. You could say they have a dog in the fight. Kinship strives to meet the needs of pet care startups at different stages, from pre-seed, to seed-round, to growth-stage. The coalition offers a live pitch event for up-and-coming innovators, an immersive accelerator program for businesses in need of a boost, and a $100M fund that aims to empower growth without infringing on independence. 

Matt Keylock, Head of Data & Analytics at Kinship, told DMN that the coalition will pursue better science and care for pets, smarter business through data-driven strategizing, and new sources of value. 

Pet data can be used to improve veterinary treatment and nutrition, but there’s another category of data concerning the pet owners themselves. How engaged are they? What causes them to miss veterinary appointments? This data can lead to better products and services, more attractive pricing, and refined marketing and communications. 

Kinship is still in the early stages of its data analytics. As development continues, it will look more broadly at industry-wide trends. But at the moment, Keylock said, they’re focused on specific use cases with different brands and banners. He said that Kinship is extracting insights from business data as well as lifestyle and geodemographic data. They are applying those models to prospect data, in order to drive smarter acquisition for relatively niche products in petcare. 

Prior to joining Kinship, Keylock had a background in online luxury fashion. He was a director of data insight at Yoox Net-A-Porter Group. 

“There are a lot of parallels just in terms of understanding consumer engagement and how they behave and what their needs are,” he said. “Both fashion and pets are high emotional engagement categories.” 

When companies look deeper than the function of their products, they can infer social behaviors and connect with consumers in more relevant and personalized ways. An outfit choice makes a statement about evolving identity. A pet signifies a distinct, loving relationship. 

Winson Wong, Head of Labs at Kinship, came from a business development background at Twitter. He also emphasized that pet care is an emotional category, based on compassion. His love for animals is one of the reasons why he joined Mars Petcare. 

“A lot of people want to work in pet care, they just don’t know how,” said Wong. “And they don’t know what jobs are available for them outside of just a typical manufacturing job or becoming a vet.” 

Kinship hopes to attract top talent by appealing to this humanity and making connections across different disciplines. 

“If you’re coming from tech or a traditional business background, there are opportunities for you across all these companies within pet care that you might not even have imagined,” said Wong. 

He said it’s great to see how many people light up when they realize that they can play a role. He noted that pet care is a broad category that includes food, pet tech, GPS tracking, toys, veterinary health, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, in addition to Uber-style apps that connect people with dog-walking and grooming services. Kinship is designed to support startups across this entire spectrum. 

Wong said that they started the accelerator program because a lot of venture capitalists were putting money into fresh, direct-to-consumer products, like The Farmer’s Dog or Pet Plate, but few VCs were looking at the petcare ecosystem as a whole. Now, Kinship hopes to impact the entire industry for the longer term by bringing in capital, showcasing innovation and supporting founders. This could be a purr-fect opportunity for innovators in the petcare industry.

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