NQV8 CEO reminisces on his Petfood Forum journey


Petfood Forum recently spoke with longtime event supporter John Kuenzi, president and CEO, NQV8. Kuenzi shared the many reasons he continues to attend the conference and exhibition each year.

Petfood Forum: What is your earliest memory of Petfood Forum, and what role did you have in the industry at that point?

Kuenzi: That was a very long time ago, but I believe my earliest memory was attending Petfood Forum when it was at the first location before moving to Rosemont. I was also very new to being in the pet industry as I had graduated from K-State and had recently taken over C.J. Foods as president after my dad had passed away in 1988. I believe it was my second trade show (IFT) and my first pet food trade show. At the time C.J. Foods was making the transition (pivoting) from human foods to pet. I remember being pretty intimidated as I didn’t know much and was not a big traveler at the time (I grew up in a town of 200 people) and had never been to Chicago before. We didn’t have money and had a hard time making payroll. I was attending by myself because there was no one else and we could not have afforded it if there was. I had no idea what to expect. It was a great introduction to the industry, and I met people who are still my friends today.

Petfood Forum: What do you consider the biggest challenge or opportunity ahead for the pet food industry?

Kuenzi: It really depends on where you live in the industry and how you think about challenges. I think the biggest challenges are often the biggest opportunities if you can overcome them. We work with a lot of different kinds of individuals and companies in the pet space, but the majority of our work is with early-stage startups who have identified opportunities in the market and have a unique capability to both maximize them and defend the position. What is key for these companies is surviving the bottom of the startup J curve with enough time and resources to move into the momentum phase of the business. Most startups don’t successfully navigate these challenges. Once they have worked through these difficulties there is tremendous upside potential as indicated by the current valuations of the successful startups in our space. If you can survive, the rewards are quite significant. Having a plan and guide to do this is critical along with tremendous tenacity, patience and resilience.

Petfood Forum: Why do you continue to attend Petfood Forum, and why should pet food industry professionals join us?

Kuenzi: I love going to Petfood Forum. I’ve been very fortunate to work with amazing people both inside and outside my organizations. As a whole the people of the pet food industry are remarkable. Yes, there are always a few that make it more difficult than it needs to be in any industry but as a whole it really is like a family. Petfood Forum creates an environment like a family reunion where everyone has something they like to do and people they like to be with. Honestly, it’s a great way to sharpen your saw and keep things in perspective.

When I first came, I was really there to make connections and learn. It’s still the same but I also feel like it’s simply a great use of my time to connect with people who I simply would not see any other way. I’m not fantastic at keeping in contact with people even if I really care about them. Petfood Forum allows people like me to have one place where everyone comes and generally has the same attitude. I never come away from Petfood Forum without a notebook of ideas and follow ups. Normally it’s one meeting or supper after another. Time flies and I am always glad I went. It’s one of my team’s favorite places to go every year.

Petfood Forum: What’s your recommendation for Kansas City fun during Petfood Forum in May?

Kuenzi: I’ve had so much fun over the years. There are some very entertaining people (I won’t name names) in this industry. Power and Light is a must at some point and it’s within walking distance. Great steaks and BBQ all around. There are dozens and dozens of places to get a bite or drink.

The older I get, finding one that isn’t too loud so I can actually hear the conversation is key. I also have a very energetic team who tends to embrace the opportunities for more active social interaction.  I’ve got a lot of miles on me, so I let the younger talent handle those past a certain time of night as I slip out the back. Even so, my absolute favorite part of Petfood Forum has been and always will be seeing old friends and having a drink and telling stories in some quiet corner. If I can, I try to meet with someone getting started like so many that helped me.

WATT Global Media has done a fantastic job listening to their customers and applying their recommendations. The next always seems a little better than the last Petfood Forum but again, some of that is the perspective gained over 30 years in the industry and realizing at some point the last show will be your last. As strange as it may sound, there really is a lot of love in that big room. I’m looking forward to what the next 30 years will bring. Congratulations WATT on a job well done.

About Petfood Forum

The 30th anniversary of Petfood Forum is scheduled for May 2-4 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Petfood Forum includes an agenda packed with opportunities to network and collaborate with industry professionals, learn the latest in pet food innovation and discover new tools for business success.

Register here to make history at Petfood Forum