A Guest Blog By:
By Martin J. Glinsky, Ph.D.
Chief Science Officer of SmartBones (www.smartbones.com)
Pet food products have changed significantly over the last 30 years, as have our purchasing patterns. In the 1970s, almost all pet food was purchased at the grocery store and there was not very much real difference between various brands. Corn, meat and bone meal, animal fat and vitamin/mineral fortification were common ingredients of almost all dry pet foods. Today, a significant amount of pet food is bought at pet food stores, mass market retailers, farm and fleet locations and even on-line (although this is fairly limited at the moment).
Pet food formulas have also changed dramatically. Categories now include: natural, holistic, organic, grain-free, hypo-allergenic (the FDA does not allow this terminology any more) and others. Ingredient listings often contain a variety of unique ingredients, including rice, sweet potatoes, omega-3 fatty acids, bison, real chicken, salmon meal, etc. Commonly, this segment is often referred to as the “high-end market.”
From a business perspective, pet stores needed high-end pet foods, not available in mass retailers, in order to increase their margins selling pet food and allow them to make a profit. Pet owners would not pay 15-25% more for the same food sold at the pet store. Thus, pet food marketers kept developing more unique foods for this burgeoning retail segment.
This proliferation of brands and formulas is an area of intense marketing differentiation. Every brand is looking for an identity that key their marketing efforts. “No corn,” “no soy,” “no wheat” have become important formula attributes in this segment. While there is absolutely no data to support the notion that these three excellent grains are somehow “bad” for pets, the high-end pet food segment, needing to differentiate it from “grocery-store brands,” have developed and proliferated this false theory.
There is no doubt that many of today’s high-end pet foods do indeed possess some “performance characteristics” that many pet owners recognize and are willing to pay more for at their pet store. These include higher palatability, lower stool volume, and sometimes, “functional advantages” such as the association of increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a healthy immune system. On the other hand, using false and inflammatory statements to try and debase other products is an unscrupulous way to increase sales.
It is important to differentiate between sound nutritional concepts and marketing hype. Beware of those products that make claims or allude to concepts that seem overvalued. Contact these companies and ask them if they have scientific data to support their claims. The answer may surprise you, but it shouldn’t. Use common sense when choosing the best food for your pet. Pets, just like humans, require specific nutrients, not necessarily special ingredients, to obtain the nutrition necessary for a healthy life.