Dog Food Economics and Marketing
By: Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Why are there so many different brands of dog foods on the market? The answer is simple, economics. This is an extremely profitable business. This is also the same answer to the majority of questions asked about the foods themselves. Why is it that so many commercial dog foods have such a high carbohydrate content, when dogs are primarily carnivores? It is simply because meat is more expensive than the foods that are being used. Regularly feeding high carbohydrate foods to dogs is similar to people eating junk or fast food at every meal. We all know where that leads.
Dog Food Economics
Dog foods have huge profit margins and there are currently almost 200 different brands on the market. However, 80% of that market is controlled by only 5, very well-known companies. Colgate-Palmolive makes Hill’s Science Diet, and Procter & Gamble are the makers of Iams and Eukanuba. Mars is the maker of Pedigree, Nutro, and Royal Canin, while Del Monte Foods produces Kibbles and Bits, Gravy Train, and Nature’s Recipe. Last, but not least, is Nestle who makes Beneful, Mighty Dog, and Alpo.
You’ll notice that these companies are very easily recognized names from the human food industry. That’s not a coincidence. Commercial dog foods began, and still thrive today, because they heavily use the by-products of human food production. These companies had a waste product and saw a way to turn their left overs into a huge profit. Today, over 6 million tons of dog food is sold in the U.S. every year.
You’ll also see that these huge corporations are technically competing against themselves. Why? Economics. They can produce, and market, many different products, with different labels, widely varying claims, and at a wide range of prices. Unfortunately, the food inside the packaging is remarkably similar. Many times the actual manufacturing process is carried out by entirely different companies from the ones that own and market the individual brands.
Dog Food Marketing
If you have a great product, but no one really knows about it, you probably won’t be very successful. On the other hand, you can have a very mediocre product, but market it well and be extremely successful.
Pet food is a more than $20 billion industry. $1 billion of that is annually spent on marketing.
One reason that pet food manufacturers spend so much on marketing is that most people are not interested in taking the considerable amount of time that it takes to fully understand what their dog should be eating and what’s actually in their dog’s food. Instead many people base their choice of food on what’s easiest and what is most appealing to them.
The marketing concepts used to market dog foods are so successful that the same ideas are applied in many different industries other than dog food. When a product is marketed to, and bought by, someone other than the consumer, there is actually a term used to describe the techniques used. That term is “Dog Food Marketing”.
So naturally, all of the marketing strategies target the dog owner. The reason this is important is because when evaluating a food, every decision that you are considering should be made from the viewpoint of your dog. This is even more important considering the fact that commercial diets are designed to be fed every day, which means that whatever is in the food, is going into your dog on a very regular, unvarying basis.
Marketing Strategies and Gimmicks
Compare the images on the outside packaging of dog foods, to the actual contents or the list of ingredients, and you’ll see they are rarely representative.
Like many other types of products on the market, dog food is sold with gimmicks and marketing language that helps to make it a hugely profitable business. All of the language that is used, is targeting the purchaser, not the consumer.
Any dog food can be labeled as “Premium”, “Super Premium”, “Ultra Premium”, “Gourmet”, or “Holistic”. They don’t have to contain any different or higher quality ingredients than any other food, and they don’t have to meet any higher nutritional or manufacturing standards. Companies will also use terms like “Nature” or “Natural” in the actual name of a food, without any type of qualification. These are just a few examples of how misleading dog food marketing can be.
As we’ve seen from the history of pet food contamination, recent pet food recalls, and from the results of recent studies in early 2015, choosing a premium brand and paying premium prices doesn’t ensure that it’s a safe or good nutritional choice for your dog.
A very athletic, extremely active dog, or a working dog will require more quality calories in a typical day than a couch potato. However, foods that claim to be specifically for athletic dogs or for a certain breed are all purely marketing. There are only two nutritional standards for dog foods, one for adults and one for dogs that are growing, pregnant, or lactating. Any other claims are simply marketing.
Dog foods that claim to contain “human grade” ingredients don’t actually have to contain them. They only have to be produced in a plant that is approved to process human food. This is very convenient in the case of some of these major corporations, as this usually occurs at night after human food production has ended.
True dog food marketing is not geared toward animals. The reality is that dogs don’t care what color or shape their food is, they can’t evaluate it for its healthiness, and they definitely can’t go out and purchase it. They don’t really get to decide what they eat or don’t eat. They have you for that.
By: Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM