Pet Food Marketing 101: What Consumers Should Know about Purchasing Pet Food

Martin J. Glinsky, Ph.D.

A Guest Blog By: 

By Martin J. Glinsky, Ph.D.

Chief Science Officer of SmartBones (

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.”

Dakota enjoying his SmartBone

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.

Dakota and his SmartBone

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.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 1:00 am  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for sharing the tips, Dakota!

    • you are welcome Priscilla!!

      Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  2. Good information and good idea to check behind the scientific facts. The other high-end thing I like (besides potential health benefits) is the low stool volume! :0)

    • Dawn thank you!! Now THAT is a good point!! I am sure all doggy parents would definitely appreciate that! Love from Dakota’s “Mom”

  3. This is a real eye opener. Thank you. I worked in a feed store IFA for six years and the salesmen all had a tail to tell a bout the pet foods they pedaled along with a free t shirt for all us employees. I feed the store brand from IFA which is under the name sun pro which is their premium brand. My dog Maggie died this last month at the age of 14 plus. Always healthy and fit. She was an Aussie. We got a new pup and thats what I’m feeding her. Sun Pro lamb and rice. My maggie had the best coat, and no health problems and I fed this to her her whole life. For one year I went to a cheaper IFA brand and she looked terrible and felt terrible with no energy, We felt that an older dog would be fine on a cheaper brand. The proof is in the dog.

    • Mary thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I am deeply saddened to hear that Maggie died this past month (I am so terribly sorry) but you are just wonderful to share your experience with us. (((((hugs)))) and love, Dakota’s “Mom”

  4. Hey Dakota,

    That’s interesting buddy – I never even thought of it like that – I just know that Mum finds it all very confusing when it comes to Pet Food – Me, I find it pretty simple – do I like it? Yes or No!! Tee Hee

    Have a fun weekend,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

    • My Mum finds it confusing too Snoopy, I am with you, if i like it I eat it.

      You have a great weekend too!

      Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  5. Marketing is just that. Creating sales. As you mentioned check on the facts and don’t just buy it because it sounds good.

    • great advice! Barks and licks and love, Dakota

  6. There haven’t been studies to prove that things like corn, wheat, and soy are bad for dogs because the companies that have the money to do it use corn in their food. Smaller, “higher-end” companies are usually unable to afford expensive laboratory tests. I believe that too much of anything is bad, it creates an imbalance, and if your dog can get the vitamins/nutrients he needs from something fresh, it’s better. The same concept applies to humans, and that’s proven. So, for example, I would avoid a dog food that lists corn in three different ways in the top five ingredients, but if I see corn once as the third, fourth, or fifth ingredient, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve put my allergic dog(Jack) on corn free, wheat free, grain free, chicken free, whatever, and the food doesn’t affect him drastically. It’s environmental for him, and that’s what it is for most dogs: their people just don’t realize it.

    • Good points! I can’t speak that much about dogs but I know my cat (Cody) has allergies and he isn’t allowed to have any grains, no chicken, no dairy, no corn….he only eats Royal Canin Rabbit, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. He hasn’t had a flare up since fall (knock on wood) which seems to be the longest he has gone without a major flare up

      Love, “Mom”

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