Commentary: Barking up the wrong tree
That’s because the advertising pitch to pet owners is even more over the top than the taglines and branding messages found on the food products we purchase for ourselves.
You think “natural” is a highly leveraged label claim in supermarket aisles devoted to center-of-the-plate perishables, ready-to-eat entrees and microwaveable convenience items? Try strolling down the pet foods aisle at any upscale grocery store. There, such positioning is way over the top.
Here’s but one example, from NUTRO brand dog food, specifically its Natural Choice line (For Sensitive Skin and Stomach). The packaging on the company’s Venison Meal and Whole Brown Rice Formula — and we should all be eating so healthy — states that, “When it comes to your dog’s diet, they deserve the best natural dog food. At The Nutro Company, we believe the best natural ingredients make the best natural dog foods. NUTRO® Natural Dog Food is carefully made with a premium selection of natural ingredients fortified with essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.”
Did we mention “natural?”
That’s just one example of literally dozens. Obviously, baby foods are branded and labeled to appeal to the moms who are doing the purchasing, hence the attempt at culinary sophistication with choices such as Pureed Pumpkin-Apple Blend, and Peach-Apricot Museli and Beef Carrots & Corn Country Dinner.
Babies or toddlers just open their mouths and eat. They wouldn’t know a Country Dinner from a Bistro Buffet no matter what the jar says. But their moms want to believe they’re providing their loves ones with something a cut above “mashed mush.”
Dogs and cats, if they could communicate their food preferences, would demand meat, and lots of it. Anyone who’s owned either of those animals doesn’t have to run a taste test to figure out Fido or Fluffy’s preferred meal.
But with pet food, although the ingredient statement lists “beef, chicken, or turkey”, they’re formulated with large amounts of added vegetable starch and protein, ie, corn and soy. They’re advertised as delicious, healthful servings of fresh meat and poultry, but they contain lots of GMO ingredients.
However, it would be even more problematic to announce that someone’s beloved pet, who generally sleeps on the furniture, begs at the dinner table and gets showered with all kinds of snacks and treats and toys, is consuming genetically engineered food.
I still say the food industry needs to test market voluntary GMO labeling, and do it on their terms, before some state starts requiring them to follow a proscriptive mandate that would be way worse.
But I must admit that my bright idea to launch such an initiative in the pet foods category is, sadly, a bad idea, a poor choice and absolutely the wrong place to start.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.
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