<A version of this article was published in the June 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>
In this first of a three part series, Don discusses the importance of looking at the companies behind the foods.
Not a day goes by here at Green Acres without at least somebody asking us, “Which brand of pet food is the best?” And when pet food companies are in the news, either due to recalls, buyouts or lawsuits, we are asked this question with even more frequency. Unfortunately, there is no single commercial pet food that will be the best food for all pets, despite of what some food companies try to tell us. Individual animals have different needs and these may shift over time. Additionally, pet food formulas and the people and companies behind pet food brands can and do change; today’s great food might become tomorrow’s worst. This is why we choose to offer multiple brands of food in our store and why we are constantly monitoring the foods and the companies behind them. It’s also why taking a close look at the company is the first step in selecting a food.
Our first preference for a pet food company is one that is a family owned and primarily focuses on making pet food as opposed to pet food being a sideline business. These companies typically own and operate the plant where the food is manufactured, know the farmers that produce the raw ingredients for their food, have tighter quality control measures in place, and also usually only produce their own food. These brands very rarely advertise on TV, preferring to spend their money on the ingredients that go into the bag. They know that when you have a superior product, nothing beats “word of mouth” advertising.
On the flip side pet food companies that we avoid are “marketing only” companies. These companies typically don’t have a plant or manufacturing facility, nor do they have a permanent research and development staff. Instead they contract a nutritionist to develop a formula and then contract out the sourcing of the ingredients and manufacturing of the food to the lowest bidder. Often the plants that manufacture these foods vary from contract to contract, and they are also often the plants making the lowest quality foods in the market; the generic brands and house brands for supermarkets and discount stores. These marketing companies focus on what they are best at, manipulating the masses to believe that their food is the single best food available. They typically do this by creating a website and TV advertisements that tug at your heart. Like a dirty political campaign, they focus their efforts on pointing out why other brands are bad instead of why their food is good.
In the middle are the other types of companies in the pet food business. Often held by conglomerates such as Colgate-Palmolive or Procter & Gamble, these companies will sometimes still produce high quality pet foods and fund R&D in their facilities. That being said, these pet food lines continue to always require close scrutiny because of less than positive histories in the pet food industry. Two huge candy conglomerates, Nestlé and Mars, own a number of pet food brands and by some accounts may hold as much as 78% of the market share for pet food in this country. Other pet food companies are owned by venture capital funds that typically have a goal of developing a brand until they can sell it, hopefully for an enormous profit. Now the fact that they may be investing in the food usually means good things, but that may be temporary. The reality is that knowing who owns a pet food company and their motivations for being in the business is huge in selecting a quality, healthy pet food.
In my next column I’ll discuss looking at the various brands and individual food formulas offered by a pet food company.
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.
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