Friday, December 19, 2008

Pet food costs continue to increase, still, pets are a priority

Last Sunday I was getting my physical workout by filling in yet another hole, which our German Shepherd Roxy had dug to escape underneath the fence from the back yard so just that she could sit in front of the house. She amazes me, she doesn’t disappear, and if she does she usually comes back after a short while, she just likes to spend her time waiting for us in front of the house. My wife says it is the Germans against the Germans, as of Saturday it was 4 to 3 for Roxy, since Sunday it is 4 to 4. All I need is one more move to get ahead again. And I have already a strategy on my mind as to how to get there. I am just afraid Roxy probably thinks the same. We will see.
Anyway, while doing that, as the old year winds down, I was thinking about what happened throughout the year. The good and the bad and how it all can be made better in the new year.
One very common complaint from all my customers across the board and country came to my mind. It is the cost of having a pet and feeding it in a healthy fashion. Definitely it was the “pet owner’s choice complaint of the year”.
First it was the cost of shipping, which with increasing fuel prices rose about 40% in fall compared to the beginning of the year. At least with fuel prices coming down, so are slowly shipping rates as well. But then there was also the fact that pet food manufacturers kept increasing prices. Not once, most of them twice, some even 3 times. And talk about increases: The last one coming in the 4th quarter of the year accounted for another most impressive and whopping 20%.
Pet food costs continue to increase. At the same time, many pet owners are experiencing decreased income or at least are worried about their financial security. There are alarming reports that families are giving up their pets in unprecedented numbers. However, beware, it is a fact that these numbers are not as high as some reports would have you believe. Nonetheless, the cost of feeding a pet is causing more concern now than two years ago.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor's Consumer Price index, pet food prices for the second quarter of 2008 rose by an average of 8 to 9 percent compared to a year ago. As I kept looking at pet food prices in local stores, it appears that the foods that list grain as the first ingredient have increased more than others. As with any other industry the pet food industry too has been racked by inflation. This is mostly due to fuel and energy costs and unfortunately the not so good news is that we can expect to see continued price increases on nutritional pet products.The bursting real estate bubble and now our government with its astronomical bailout of financial institutions who got a little too greedy and failed to use sound business practices are just another very clear indication that things are everything but rosy.

There are other numerous areas of concern like the low value of the US dollar in the global market, oil prices never seen this high before and an inflationary spiral we have not seen in 30 years. Add to this the lowest consumer confidence level in 16 years of 50% and it’s time for a call: “Houston, we’ve got a problem.” As oil prices rise and the dollar loses value, inflation across all consumer goods sold is way out of balance. Many manufacturers are levying with two price increases a year by now.
What is the impact on pet food? This category, the core of the pet industry, has also been racked by inflation mostly due to fuel and energy costs. Fuel is important in different ways. It delivers the ingredients to the plants, it drives the food producing plants, it contributes to packaging cost (since most packaging components these days are poly bags) and last but not least, every bag of kibble and every case of cans has to be shipped from the manufacturer to the distributor, the distributor to the retailer and the retailer to the pet owner.

At the same time the price of raw ingredients has gone through the roof. Corn, for example, is up 35%. Predictions are that due to the flooding in the Midwest it will rise even more. It is a principle protein source for many brands and is also being fed to chickens, which are a primary protein source in natural, holistic and organic brands.
Veterinarian Joseph Wakshlag, Ph.D. and Assistant professor of Clinical Nutrition at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, estimates that consumers are paying, on average, 80 cents to $1 more for low end dry pet foods (grocery and mass merchandise market brands) and $2 to $3 more for high end vet and specialty store distributed pet foods. But Wakshlag points out not all high end pet food, regardless of whether it is dry or wet food, is worth the hefty price tag. "A more expensive brand of (pet) food will sometimes have more digestible ingredients," he says, "but that's not always the case. There are some really high-end foods out there that have some pretty poor (ingredients). It really comes down to going with a product that has worked well for your (pet) for a long time." There are ways that will save you cash while still assuring your pet receives the best quality nutrition available. Purchasing cheap foods is the worst kind of false economy. Quality nutrition is one of the best health protections you can provide your pet. In my column for Paw Prints The Magazine I wrote last month: “All I really hope for is that all pet owners will still be able to feed their animals healthy quality food rather than cheap fillers. It is my wish that they make educated buying decisions and understand that “cheap” usually stands for “not so cheap” and “unhealthy, disease promoting junk and garbage”. Because if the dog gets sick, it’s going to get really expensive.”
Buy the best food you can afford. Before you do so, check out the quality of the food by reading the label; you want to purchase a food that lists a form of meat (NOT meat by-products) among the first two ingredients whether you are shopping for a dog or a cat. Best by far are foods that contain no by-products of any sort. Additionally, check the recall lists. You will be surprised to find most of the heavily advertised foods on these recall lists at one time or another. Shop for discounted sales of the food you prefer, every place selling pet food has frequent promo deals going on, check for manufacturer rebates. Clearance sales are another route to go. The Internet makes comparison shopping so much easier these days. Buy in larger volume. Not just do you get a significantly lower per lbs price, but you also save on shipping cost if buying off the Internet or mail order. Canned foods most of the times have ample of time left on their expiration dates. You can safely stock up with enough food to last until the next sale comes up again. With dry foods buy the largest size bag you can afford. Keep enough meal for one week in a plastic container and put the rest in your freezer. Freezing the meal will prevent bug infestation and keep the food fresh.

Cassandra Kane, Staff Writer for The Lebanon Daily News wrote on 12/07/08:
“For pet owners in the Lebanon Valley feeling a need to save money when it comes to their pets, buying cheaper food is not a common option, music to the ears of area veterinarians.
At the PetSmart at the Lebanon Plaza, the purchase of premium pet food brands increased 13.9 percent since November 2007, said store manager Larry Mann.
“People are more concerned with what they’re feeding their pets,” he said. “They’re sacrificing fringe items like toys and dog treats, where we have seen declining figures.”
Pet Headquarters in Palmyra sells a variety of natural dog-food brands, and according to trainer Tammy Sickles, area pet owners continue to switch to the premium brands. She said quality is important for concerned owners, especially those of dogs with allergies to corn, wheat or soy.
“It (premium food) makes them healthier inside and out,” she said.
Keeping pets healthy with the right food is a must, said Stone, who advises her customers to “not skimp on nutrition.”
“Skimp on a new collar or extra toys,” she said. “Take care of health and nutrition first.”
Because food has a major effect on the bodies and health of pets, McNamee encourages pet owners to feed their animals high-quality food formulated with vitamins and minerals. Especially for overweight pets or those with diabetes or food allergies, owners must continue to purchase the prescription foods.
“You’re saving maybe 25 percent up front (when you buy cheaper brands), but it will come back to haunt you,” she said.
Tami Morgan of Annville is experimenting with food brands for her 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Meadow, until she finds one the “extended family member” likes. Price does not play a role in Morgan’s decision, although she said she would never spend thousands of dollars on an operation or procedure.
“You have your pet and you need to take care of them,” Morgan said. “It’s just what you do. You invest in having a pet, and you have to be willing to undergo taking care of it, within reason.”
When their two Jack Russell terriers, Maxwell and Daisy, and yellow lab, Ginger, require veterinary care, Mimi and Doug Shade of Richland do not hesitate to take their dogs immediately to Stone.
“You do what you got to do for your animals in your family,” Mimi Shade said. “For all those pet owners second-guessing whether they want to keep their pet, they should keep it and do what they have to in order to take care of it because they bring so much joy to your life.” “
I agree with Cassandra’s conclusion as she summarizes what most pet owners she had interviewed expressed: “You can’t really cut back”.

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