BY ELLYCE ROTHROCK
In early August, the outcome of a suit against Mars Petcare by the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) was picked up by various
media outlets like dollar bills flying out of a Brinks truck with a
broken back door.
The story revisited the FTC’s
suit that took aim at Mars’ Eukanuba brand dog food, which
the company said in advertising could extend a dog’s life by
several years. The FTC found
the claims to be bogus and announced that Mars Petcare had
settled charges of false advertising related to Eukanuba.
The ad campaign in question
ran in 2015 on TV, online and in
print citing a 10-year scientific
study that purportedly showed
the product could extend dogs’
lifespans by 30 percent or more.
The ads highlighted three frolicking Labrador retrievers—
Iowa, Utah and Bunny—that
the company said were thriving
well beyond the breed’s average
“What we observed was astonishing,” the company said
in its ads, according to the FTC,
which found that the study
showed that dogs fed Eukanuba
lived no longer than dogs of the
same breed typically do.
“Two-thirds of all Amer-
icans have pets at home, and
they spend billions of dollars to
ensure that their pets are healthy
and well fed,” said Jessica Rich,
director of the FTC’s Bureau of
Consumer Protection, in a state-
ment. “Pet owners count on ads
to be truthful and not to misrep-
resent health-related benefits.
In this case, Mars Petcare sim-
ply did not have the evidence
to back up the life-extending
claims it made about its Eukanu-
ba dog food.”
Under the settlement terms,
the company is barred from
claiming that Eukanuba or any
of its other pet food products can
extend dogs’ lives.
Here’s why the story itself
and the outcome are important
to you: This story was widely re-
ported, and if customers picked
it up—or if they read or hear
similar stories from other sourc-
es—they might start asking more
questions. And it could mean
more pet food companies could
become the targets of investiga-
tions or lawsuits.
Whether or not you carry Eukanuba, plenty of the foods you
do offer are made by companies
that make many claims about ingredients and healthfulness.
I happen to agree with the
claims that many pet food manufacturers make—manufacturers
who are represented regularly in
Pet Product News. But the question is whether you, the independent pet retailer, are armed
with the answers that customers
might seek regarding the topic of
pet food, price-worthiness and
how that food might affect a pet’s
long-term health or quality of life.
Clearly, pet owners want
the best for their companions.
That’s no surprise to any of us.
We—and other news outlets—
constantly feature content about
how the humanization of pets
grows by staggering proportions
in every corner of the industry,
touching every pet imaginable.
According to global information and measurement company
Nielsen, 95 percent of U.S. pet
owners consider their pets to be
part of the family. The American
Pet Products Association projects that pet food spending will
account for the biggest segment
within the industry, estimated at
a little over $24 billion. That’s a
lot of dollars at stake.
I know our audience carries
their consciences on their sleeves.
I’ve listened to stories from those
who won’t carry a particular
brand because it doesn’t align
with their core philosophies.
And I know you’re more than
ready, willing and able to back
the brands in which you believe.
Eukanuba made bold claims,
for sure. While other manufac-
turers might not go as far in their
own advertising campaigns,
some consumers might believe
that similar claims are some-
I think those consumer ex-
pectations aren’t out of align-
ment with the brands you carry
and what your customers expect
from you as a trusted source of
information for what they should
feed their beloved companions.
Many people believe—and
there’s science aplenty to back
those beliefs—that eating whole,
natural, locally and sustainably
sourced proteins, vegetables and
grains will extend their lives—or
at least improve the quality of
their lives. That monitoring the
intake of the kinds and amounts
of fat, sugar, preservatives and
calories ultimately will make a
difference healthwise for most
people. Of course owners will
carry those beliefs over to their
pets. Is that not humanization?
Aren’t those the things you want
your customers to pay attention
to? Isn’t that why you carry the
brands you do—because they de-
liver the kind of nutrition you can
stand behind 100 percent?
Whatever you might think of
Eukanuba and the outcome of its
advertising claims, let’s hope this
isn’t the start of a trend of painting pet food manufacturers with
the same broad brush.
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