Friday, November 28, 2008

Pet Food Isle: Magic Kingdom or an Empire of Smoke & Mirrors? Part 2 conclusion

Yesterday we looked at a number of marketing claims made by mass producing pet food manufacturers.
What most consumers don’t know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food and agriculture industries. Pet food provides a convenient way for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered “unfit for human consumption,” and similar “waste” products to be turned into profit. Additionally, the pet food market has been dominated in the last few years by the acquisition of big companies by even bigger companies. With the billions of Dollars at stake in the home and rapidly expanding foreign markets, it comes as no surprise that some want a larger piece of the pie. Acquisitions result in the fact that numerous brands are now all coming from the same company. It is not unusual that sometimes up to 20 brands come from one and the same manufacturer. So then, are all these foods different? Not really or very often just minimally. Then there are private labelers, which are manufacturers making food for house brands for retailer super markets. Co-packers, producing food for other makers are additional players. The three major companies in those two categories produce food for dozens of private label and brand names. It is interesting that all of them have been involved in all major pet food recalls that sickened or killed many pets. The 2007 recall brought to light some of the pet food industry’s darkest secrets. With surprise we learned that one of the largest “manufacturer’s” canned foods are not made by that manufacturer at all as we all were made to believe. In fact, they signed an exclusive long term contract for the production of all of its canned foods by a co-packer. This is a very common arrangement in the industry and only makes business sense. It was first illustrated by recalls, when dozens of private labels were involved. These recalls included large and “reputable” companies with their high end, so called premium foods.
The big question raised by this arrangement is whether or not there is any real difference between the expensive premium brands and the low priced “bargain” generics. The recalled products all contained the same suspect ingredient
Part of the attraction of using a co-packer is that he can buy ingredients in larger bulk than any one pet food maker could on its own, thereby reducing cost and increasing profits. Forget about pet food, Wall Street counts. It’s likely that many of the ingredients that cross all types of pet foods are the same. So, are one company’s products, made in the same plant on the same equipment with ingredients called the same name, really better than another’s? That’s what the makers of expensive brands want you to think. You draw your own conclusion. The recalled premium brands claim that their co-packer makes their foods according to proprietary recipes using specified ingredients and that they must follow strict quality standards. Let’s face it, the contracts undoubtedly include those points. But then there is also something called “the real world”.
Cheap or high end food, whatever the differences between those are or may be, one thing is clear: The price tag does not always determine whether a pet food is good, bad or safe. However, most of the times, the very cheapest foods can be counted on to have the very cheapest ingredients. It is not unusual to see that a brand has now been involved in 3 serious recalls. So when are pet owners going to learn? At the same time, let it also be known that at least one co-packer manufactures canned foods for many companies that were not affected by the recall. Looking at those, it is easy to see from their ingredient lists that their products are made from completely different ingredients and proportions.

This article focused in very general terms on the most visible name brands, the pet food labels that are mass distributed to supermarkets and discount stores. There are many highly respected brands that may be guilty of the same offenses. Perhaps I now owe an apology to these pet food companies. Ok, here it is: I apologize. I didn’t mean to cause harm. At least I didn’t mention any names and this not just because I’m limited on the space generously given to me in this publication. My only intention was to raise consumer awareness. Because I believe that mere polished labels and alleged claims do not make healthy nutrition. In conclusion I would like to say that there are still many, typically smaller and privately owned pet food manufacturers offering healthy food. All you have to do is finding them by keeping in mind what you just read.

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