Who is Eating This?

In my dog food roundup posts, I’ve been witnessing a lot of “humanized” dog food. This is something that we’ve all seen. Even the worst kibble at your supermarket probably has a picture of a vegetable on the bag somewhere, or runs a commercial where the dog’s dish is filled with real meat and vegetables.

Most of the foods I’ve been looking at lately have taken this to a new art form. The kind of person who buys a $3 can of dog food is a certain kind of consumer. As per usual, I am of many minds.

I’m thrilled at the number of dog food companies talking about their free-range or cage-free meat sources and organic vegetables. These are the kinds of things I look for in my own food. I believe that these things are important. Let’s call me the “target audience” for this particular marketing strategy.

The underbelly of the “organic” label, though, is that it may not mean what you think. Given the number of “organic” dog foods out there without the certified organic seal, I’m suspecting that the word is policed more loosely for dog foods. Similarly, cage-free is an incredibly misleading label, even in human food. Some of the organic foods also appear to be cutting the quality of their food (including more grains, for example) in order to compete with the conventional foods on the shelf. Caveat emptor.

“Humanizing” dog food also encourages manufacturers to make stupid choices. I’ll give you two blatant examples: Weruva gives their “People Food for Pets” incredibly unhelpful names like “Marbella Paella” or “Wok the Dog.” Their website copy includes such gems as: “We’ve put a little flare into this organic turkey formula by adding in Kurobuta Pork.” My dog does not need “flare.” He needs a rational, single-protein dog food. Another top offender in the stupid-names category is By Nature, who saddle their canned foods with names like “Salmon with Lentils in Yogurt and Lemongrass Sauce.” They also attempt to cash in on the bacon fad by listing it as the third ingredient on their turkey food. At which point steam emerged from my ears.

I understand the bottom line. The pet food market is very full, and the products all look extremely similar on the shelf. If the foods were all simple and logical, it would drive down the diversity of options. How many cans of “chicken formula, pate style” could the market bear? I like the diversity, because it does allow for us to exercise our particular kind of pickiness. I just wish that companies focused more on the substantive differences–like offering proteins besides beef, lamb, and chicken–than on their ad copy, especially since that ad copy often obscures the most important facts about the food.

How about you? Would you buy Merrick’s “Grammy’s Pot Pie” over Nature’s Variety’s “Chicken Formula?”

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5 thoughts on “Who is Eating This?

  1. My favorite is when they put a photo of a vegetable on the bag that is not even in the food.

    I am actually less worried about some cutesy name than a blatantly misleading name. Like High Prairie with Roasted Bison & Venison. Guess what the 2 main proteins in this food are? Chicken meal and Lamb meal. Drives me bonkers!

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    1. The deliberately deceptive ones make me crazy. One of the companies I looked at for canned food had foods like “96% venison,” and they weren’t single-protein foods. If you’re buying “96% Venison,” chances are you’re trying to feed a dog with food sensitivities. Grr.

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  2. That’s why it is so important to read labels – on dog food and our own people food! I am extremely hard to impress when it comes to that kind of marketing. “Natural”, “organic”, “cage-free” – all of those terms are mostly marketing ploys as you’ve indicated. The proof is in the ingredients! 🙂

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    1. Yep.

      “Organic” in people food is still (as far as I know) a fairly guarded term. You can’t put it on anything that hasn’t been actually checked, although there have been some major attempts to loosen the criteria. “Organic” in dog foods seems to be used more like it is in something like human bath and body products. You can call a shampoo anything you want. Hence, some foods with the “certified organic” logo and some without.

      More to the point is that, as in people food, you have to look at the whole picture.

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