Pet Food Taster
Yup. A pet food taster makes a living doing exactly what you think. But in this case it's a mistake to judge a book by its cover. Pet food tasting is a legitimate industry with an entry-level salary of around $40,000 per year. The top earners make around $120,000 per year. The pet food industry in general is a multi billion dollar industry.
Pet food tasters normally work with dog food or cat food since those are the two biggest pet food markets. Contrary to what you might think, pet food ingredients are strictly regulated and not very different from the ingredients in human food. In Europe, for example, the Animal Feed Regulations of 2010 mandate that pet food ingredients must be "fit for human consumption." In all honesty, pet food doesn't taste that bad; it's just very bland and earthy. Now, if you don't like certain foods, then you won't like certain pet foods. For example, if you don't like salmon, then you would dislike any salmon flavored pet food. It's pretty easy to predict which flavors of pet food you'll like or dislike.
Pet owners who truly care about their pets want them to be well cared for. Things such as healthcare and food choices are paramount to the quality of a pet's life. If possible, some pet owners would feed their pets nothing but human food. The problem with doing this is that human food can be expensive but moreover, dogs and cats can't digest the same foods as humans. Pet foods are foods designed to cater to a particular animal's digestive system. But think about it: cats and dogs can't talk, and we're unable to read their minds. Cats are smart; they pace themselves. But dogs, no. If any type of food is left out, dogs will eat it. How can we know if our pets actually enjoy the food that we serve them or if they're just eating it because it's there? The truth is we can't. The best we can do is have humans test pet food and give enlightened feedback.
What Pet Food Tasters Do (Besides Eat Pet Food)
To start, pet food tasters aren't required to swallow the food. They simply have to chew and taste the food. As touched on above, the main purpose of pet food testing is quality control. The pet food industry rakes in 25 billion dollars per year, and it's competitive. Companies are looking for any edge they can get over the competition. Even if human test tasters are absolutely pointless (which isn't the case), being able to say that all of your animal treats are human tested and approved is a great marketing tact.
In addition to tasting the pet food, pet food tasters closely observe the food's appearance. Some of the key ingredients should be visible in the food. I.E. if the food is blueberry flavored and real blueberries are used, then there should be blueberries visible in the food. Also, all the food needs to smell good. Smell and taste are closely interconnected. Often times tasters can predetermine whether they'll like a particular food simply based on the smell.
You'll have to write reports about each food's appearance, smell and taste with a focus on texture and consistency. You also be required to suggest enhancements or changes that can be made. It's as though your critiquing a painting or some other crafted item. The top art critics in the world have years of experience in the field and are able to "diagnose" weak points as well strong points in a painting. The same goes for pet food testing. As you gain more experience, the more refined your taste will become. To really excel in this field, you'll probably need to love animals so that you're motivated to continually refine your taste. You'll be motivated because you genuinely want animals to be healthy while eating foods that taste good to them.
The companies that hire pet food tasters are obviously pet food companies but also consulting firms hired by pet food companies. These consulting firms are hired to optimize profit which often involves bettering the product.
If you Google "consumer taste tester" you'll find results from many research companies and consulting firms holding taste tests for products. The pay for these taste tests is normally $15 per hour. It helps if you have some culinary background in order to be chosen for these tests. That said, these taste tests are for human products, not for pet based products. The beauty of the pet food tasting industry is that a lot of people don't know it exists. And many who do won't even consider getting into it because the notion of tasting pet food is gross to them. That's really just a mental block. As noted above, pet food is very bland and earthy, but not that bad. Anybody can chew it briefly then spit it out.
You'll want to contact as many pet food companies as possible. Ask if they're currently hiring food testers. They probably receive few inquiries pertaining to this job since the field is a little bizarre. It's likely that your message will be read; there's a 50% chance that they'll respond which is a pretty high percentage for job inquiries.
One pet food company that employs human tasters is Lily's Kitchen. Lily's Kitchen is one of the UK's premium pet food brands. In general, a lot of European pet food companies employ human tasters. Most of these companies have North American branches. Most companies that employ human tasters on a large scale are the ones that are more high end within the pet food industry. Human tasters can be costly—up to $120,000 per year. Only the top brands can afford to employ a team of tasters. And quality control is very important to the top brands. They charge a lot for their pet food on the basis that it's the best. To be the best, it needs to be evaluated and critiqued by humans.
Just like any other industry, you'll need to market yourself to get hired as a pet food taster. If you were an SAT tutor, for example, then to market yourself maybe you'd make YouTube videos in which you discuss the basic structure of the SAT. Maybe you'd have your own website on which you provide contact information for those who wish to hire you. With pet food testing, you have to be a little more savvy with respect to marketing so that people don't think you're crazy. The industry is legitimate but somewhat new and jarring to those outside of it. If you, for example, posted YouTube video after YouTube video of yourself eating dog food, people may think you're eccentric to a fault.
There are no books written on this industry. There's no authoritative presence in the industry. Some people say Simon Allison is the industry leader, but I disagree based on Simon Allison's lack of online presence. You could potentially be the pioneer who takes this industry mainstream.
A good way to sell yourself could be to say that you have a culinary background—either you like to cook or you've been a professional chef. Maybe you also have some experience in product development. You can say that you love animals; you own three dogs or whatever. For years [or "For some time now"] you've been developing your own dog food to serve to your dogs. For this reason, you've tasted a lot of different dog foods over the years in addition to conducting ample research on dog food ingredients as well as the different options available on the market today. Another angle you could take is if you're a veterinarian or have some veterinarian experience, you could say that you're very familiar with the biology of cats or dogs and you've tasted their food in order to further your understanding of their digestive systems.
If you actually establish yourself in this business, you could make a lot of money since the pet food industry is so lucrative. If you're a tasting authority and the top brands come to you, you could easily charge at least $100,000 per account. You could also develop your own dog food brand and market it on the basis that you've tasted everybody else's and yours is better. Be creative, and don’t worry too much about what other people think. Some people may think you're crazy—that's okay. Time will tell who's the crazy one.