Monday, April 9, 2007

FORBES - Misnavigating the Pet Food Crisis

Thank you Forbes! I couldn't agree more... I'm trying to keep everything other than Pet Food info over at my other blog, but since this made me feel so much better to read, I figured it might help a few of you too.

Misnavigating The Pet Food Crisis
Marc E. Babej and Tim Pollak

The tainted pet food crisis has roiled a passionate market. And the story isn't dying: As the recalls mount, and the threat moves from cuts-in-gravy to staple dry food and even to treats, feeding pets seems like Russian roulette. How have the pet food companies involved reacted? Too little, too late--and, for the most part, the wrong way.

For most pet-owning families, their pets are family. This is hardly news to the nation's pet food manufacturers, but it might as well be. They've been strangely, almost eerily, silent. Such behavior consumers might expect from a big, impersonal corporation, but not from the people who make the food for their beloved pets.

A recent tour of their Web sites was almost surreal. As you might expect, the worst offender was Menu Foods, maker of the majority of the food affected by the recall. Rather than a heartfelt apology, the Menu Foods site displays puppies joyfully eating out of bowls emblazoned with the corporate name.

The consumer brands aren't doing much better. The home pages of Hill's Pet Nutrition, Del Monte Foods and Nestlé Purina PetCare offered links to press releases that sound like the product of a chemist, a lawyer and a publicist huddled around a conference table. MasterFoods trumpeted its non-involvement. Iams also led with good news: "This recall does not affect any Iams or Eukanuba products marketed outside of the U.S. and Canada." But what about their North American customers? Two more clicks, and buried in a page of technical copy is the following line: "We want you to know that we care deeply, and we continue to take action on your behalf." Sounds good--but what actions are they taking?

To Iams' credit, so far alone among this caring crew, it ran a national newspaper ad acknowledging the crisis. It expressed the sentiment that its employees were "heartsick that any of our products were involved," but provided little in the way of reassurance to jittery pet owners. Worst of all, the ad said nothing of substance about the steps being taken to ensure this would never happen again.

So far, pet food brands have been hiding behind each other, feeling secure in the knowledge that their collective market dominance leaves pet owners with few options. Sure, there are alternatives--high-priced organic specialty foods such as Merrick or Abady, or the fresh, refrigerated dog foods being rolled out to national retailers by Freshpet. Even homemade recipes have been getting a lot of attention. But these options can't possibly satisfy the hunger of an estimated 100 million America dogs and cats.

What should the industry be doing?

First, say you're sorry. Act like you really care about the animals. You may not think you owe an apology, but in pet owners' minds, you do.

Second, offer to replace the pet food in people's pantries, even it it's not your brand. Every new recall announcement creates more doubt about the food that's already out in the market. It might not be the cheapest solution, but it would buy a lot more goodwill than an ad campaign.

Third, stop being defensive. Simply reassuring people your other products are safe isn't very reassuring. After all, a few weeks ago, you were de facto assuring that all your products were safe. Do you trust the guy who says "just trust me" right after he messed up? Probably not. To regain consumers' trust, pet food brands have to give consumers reasons to trust that their food is safe.

Fourth, offer some substance. Explain what really happened, and what specific steps you are taking now to prevent something like this from happening again.

Fifth, send a message from the top. Jim Burke, the legendary head of Johnson & Johnson (nyse: JNJ - news - people ), personally managed the 1982 Tylenol crisis. The pet food manufacturers are all hiding behind their brands--to wit, the full-page ad signed by "The Employees of Iams and Eukanuba Pet Foods," not by A.G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter & Gamble (nyse: PG - news - people ), which owns both brands. The pet owners of America deserve to hear from the CEOs to whom they entrust the health and well-being of their pets. There are differences between this crisis and Tylenol's, but there is no less need for corporate courage, integrity and leadership.


Anonymous said...

I read the following information on regarding the dog food scare and it made me think of another concern.

“In animal studies, ingestion of large amounts of melamine in monomer form may lead to kidney stones, cancer or reproductive damage. The melamin polymers used in household products are far less reactive than melamin proper and are not known to be toxic in humans.”

“In early 2007 there was a recall by Menu Foods of certain canned and pouch pet foods due to suspected contamination. On 30 March 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration reported it found melamine in the recalled pet food, in samples of wheat gluten imported from China used in the production of the food, as well as in crystalline form in the kidneys and in the urine of affected animals. The compound's presence has not been conclusively linked to the animals' deaths. It is important to note that this was melamine proper, a monomer, and not a melamine polymer as those used in household products. US FDA "Import Alert" for Wheat Gluten containing melamine.”

I have noticed on the shelves of many stores (Wal-Mart, etc) that different brands of dry dog food are being packaged in Woven Polypropylene bags imported from China. I also understand that these bags are normally printed with solvent inks (versus water-based inks used on the paper dry dog food bags). My question is will my dog get sick if he eats dry dog food out of this type of bag? Will the tiny bits of plastic dust (from the manufacturing process of the bag) covering the dog food makes my dog ill? What will happen to my dog long term?

Anonymous said...

The Animal Lovers Act Now! Petition to All Concerned Animal Lovers was created by and written by Robyn Korn .

Keep it going guys! We Need to reach everyone!

Thanks! Robyn

Volunteers Needed! Get food off shelves...,,,, and have joined together to ask for your help.
Update 6-10: Recalled food was purchased from a
California store on 5-29th – this stuff is still out there!
We need Volunteers to help get recalled food off store shelves. Read this post at Spocko’s Brain for instructions. Print a list (or two) on this site. Visit stores, then report safe stores here at

Printing Information:
1. Print the main FDA Pet Food Recall page – this will be handy to show retailers who haven’t heard anything about the recall. (3 pages)

2. Print the list of 14 Major National Brands - it includes flavors and date information where applicable so you can tell if specific products for these brands have been recalled. The brands are: Alpo Prime Cuts, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Doctors Foster and Smith, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Jerky Treats, Lick Your Chops, Mighty Dog Pouches, Natural Balance, Nutro, Pounce, Royal Canin. (It’s 7 pages and includes FDA contact information.)

3. Print the List of All Brands – it will remind you what products have been recalled - but it does not give you date and flavor information, there is just too much to put in one document. (7 pages, but the 7th page is links to more detailed information so you don’t need to print it)

If you want, and are going to a store that you know has store brands that have been recalled (such as Walmart), go to that recall information at the links on the summary or at the FDA site and print it out. Some of the information is formatted in ways that make it difficult to read (one of the main reasons for this site), but it’s better than nothing.

Note: The FDA is the official source for all recall information and recalled products. This is an unofficial volunteer effort to help get the word out and get recalled foods off of shelves. We’re doing the best we can but can’t guarantee these lists are completely accurate. Again, here is the official recall site: