Shucking pet food marketing gimmicks: One nutritionist’s perspective
"I would never feed my fur baby that."
Do pet owners balk at your pet food recommendations because they contain corn, soy or perhaps—gasp—genetically-modified corn and soy in their ingredient lists? How many calls has your front office staff fielded from clients standing in the pet food aisle trying to make a decision about what to buy? If you trust the companies producing the pet food you recommend, it’s time to think about how to get pet owners on board too. Lisa Weeth, DVM, MRVCS, DACVN, has three client communication tips to help ease what you see as client misconceptions about pet food.
1. When it comes to the ingredient list, talk about the source
Weeth thinks the question of who actually manufactures the food matters—a lot. "Is it a pet food company that works with PhD-level nutritionists for diet formulations, sources their own ingredients, makes their own food and conducts their own quality control testing?” she asks. “Or is it a company with an idea about how to market dog or cat foods to tap into a growing $23-billion-a-year market, but outsources everything?"
2. Talk through the marketing
Some companies hang their hat on “organic” or “all-natural” or “corn- and soy-free.” Is that science-based or just a gimmick? "All of the anti-corn and anti-soy rhetoric I see comes from pet food companies that don’t use corn or soy in their formulation," Weeth says. "It's a marketing tactic to distinguish their products from the competition and sway consumers into purchasing certain—often more expensive—foods."
3. Explain the history
Pet owners should know—and you can tell them—that certain ingredients are common in pet foods because they’ve been used successfully in commercial diets for more than 100 years for dogs and more than 40 years for cats. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, Weeth says. "Not every pet will do well on every diet, so then we bring the question back to the patient level,” she says. “If the dog or cat is eating a complete and balanced commercial pet food, is otherwise healthy, maintains a health BCS, has good skin and coat quality, and produces normal stool, then I’d have no reason to change from whatever diet regardless of the ingredients."