Pet food is big business. And the big pet food companies spend a lot of money on their marketing campaigns.  But beautiful packaging, catchy slogans, and generous use of trendy buzzwords, have nothing to do with the ingredients or the quality of the food, and everything to do with enticing the consumer to buy a certain brand.  Following are some of the more common marketing tactics that you want to be aware of. 

  • Deceptive images are often used. For example, a bag of pet food can have a picture of a juicy grilled steak, when there is no beef even in the food! Vibrant whole fruits and vegetables may be on the front of the packaging, but they often make up less than 1% percent of the recipe– think half of a blueberry to a 40 lb bag. 
  • Unverified claims are often used. For example, a label can say, “Made with Superfood, Backed by Science” when this statement is completely false. Health claims such as,  “supports healthy joints” do not require any proof. One brand proudly states that “every ingredient has a purpose”, but the food contains dangerous chemical coloring. 
  • Trendy buzzwords like holistic, gourmet, simple, human-grade, organic, and ancestral, have no regulated definition in the pet food industry. The term “natural” is one of the most overused.  If something is “natural”, we think that it is healthy and of high-quality. However, there is nothing natural about ingredients being processed at temperatures over 600 degrees, which is how most kibble is made.
  • Superfood ingredients such as kale, blueberries, cranberries and pomegranates are becoming quite popular in pet food. However, these "superfood" ingredients usually make us less than 1% of the food and are so highly processed that their impact is minimal to nothing. 
  • Credibility statements like breeder recommended or veterinarian approved are used to build trust in the brand.   Unfortunately, these claims are meaningless.
  • Celebrity endorsements bring all sorts of publicity to a brand, but why should your pet food purchases be influenced by someone that knows nothing about pet nutrition? Perhaps the perception is that pet food endorsed by Rachael Ray, Trisha Yearwood, or Paul Newman is human grade? Higher quality?  Whatever the reason, just look at the ingredients and you will easily see that these celebrity foods are seriously lacking in quality nutrition.
  • “Made in the USA” is an effective marketing tool. However, the problem is that the food only needs to be packaged and put together in the United States. The ingredients used could come from countries with extremely loose pet food regulations, like China.
  • “Clean Food” is capitalizing on the clean eating trend in human food. There is no definition of what “clean food” is, and any company can make this claim. One company is aggressively promoting their “feed clean” philosophy, yet it contains a long list of “clean” ingredients that is no different than most other highly processed pet foods.
  • Green Washing is a marketing technique that uses words like sustainable, eco-friendly, ethically raised, full transparency etc. to build trust in the brand and make consumers feel good about their purchase. Sometimes these claims are true, and sometimes they are just words with little meaning.
  • The “with” and “flavor” rule mean that if a product lists food as being “with chicken” or “made with real beef”, it is only required to contain at least 3% of that ingredient. A product that says “beef flavored” does not need to contain any beef at all! 
  • If you see “Meat is the #1 Ingredient” ,  it is probably not true. Here’s why: Ingredients are listed in order of weight, which is determined before processing.  Meat is about 75% water, so when the moisture is removed, the meat would be much further down on the list.  There is also the deceptive practice of dividing a more abundant, yet inferior quality ingredient into different categories.  For example, you might see peas, pea flour, pea fiber and pea protein.  Rice may be listed as whole rice, brown rice, rice flour and rice bran. So you are actually buying a pea or rice-based food rather than primarily meat.  

Here are a couple articles that have a bit more in-depth information.