21 December 2018 Pet Product News International
BY DAVID LUMMIS
I’ll never forget the moment. Day one of Petfood Industry’s Petfood Forum 2007, and I was up next to give a talk. With what would come to be known as the Great Pet Food Recalls well underway, the mood was already grim at the typically upbeat
annual event. But like salt in the wound, word now had it that Natural Balance had
been added to the recall list. It was significant not just as a continuation, but because
it marked the expansion of the recall from mostly mass into pet specialty brands, from
wet foods into kibble, and from a single melamine-contaminated ingredient (wheat
gluten) to a second (rice protein concentrate).
For the next several months, the ordeal dragged on, with more than 100 well-known
pet food brands linked to a dog and cat death toll that would climb into the thousands.
Industry committees were formed. Congressional hearings were held. And new pet food
safety initiatives were signed into law, including authority for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to order mandatory product recalls, Current Good Manufacturing
Practices (CGMPs) for all animal feed facilities, more frequent plant inspections and a
zero-tolerance policy for pathogenic bacteria including salmonella. Implementation of
the measures has been slow and at great expense to manufacturers, but as of 2018, the
new systems are more or less fully in place.
Why then, seemingly every week, does another pet food recall pop up in my pet
industry newsfeed? One can argue that such “catches” are a sign that the new safety net
is working. But it also seems fair to observe that, 12 and a half years following the Great
Pet Food Recall, there’s still cause for concern. U.S. pet owners agree. In Packaged Facts’
Q1 2018 Survey of U.S. Pet Owners, 57 percent of dog owners and 55 percent of cat owners
agree that “Fear of pet food contamination/product safety is a key consideration in the
dog foods/cat foods I buy,” and 69 percent of dog owners and 63 percent of cat owners
agree that they are concerned about the safety of the pet food, treats and chews they buy.
Within months of the start of the 2007 recalls, numerous industry watchers, myself
included, speculated that, horrific as the disaster was, there might be a silver lining for
products perceived to be safer, and that prediction seems to have played out mightily.
Post recall, annual sales growth of natural and organic pet food surged into the double
digits, lifting the natural/organic segment from less than 5 percent of overall pet food
sales in 2007 to nearly one-third at present—and more than 70 percent of pet specialty
channel pet food sales, per GfK.
For more than a decade, natural foods have driven the pet food market, along with
spin-offs promoted on claims including limited ingredient, made in the USA, free from
ingredients sourced in China (the primary culprit in the 2007 recalls), non-GMO and
“clean.” An even half of dog and cat owners feel that natural/organic brand pet prod-
ucts are “often better than standard national brand products,” the Q1 2018 survey found,
with 49 percent considering natural and organic pet foods to be safer than regular pet
foods, an increase of 7 percentage points from 2017. Marketers of regular pet food are jus-
tified in pointing out that there’s little if any proof that natural pet food is more nutritious
or safer. But at the
very least it seems
logical that prod-
ucts with fewer
sub-optimal ingredients might be, and pet owners who buy natural foods for their own
consumption probably need little convincing.
Now perhaps more than ever, product marketing messages—backed up, of course,
by products that deliver—need to capitalize accordingly. Pet food recalls aside, as of late
2018, the U.S. pet food market is a different place than it was even three years ago, facing
headwinds including intensive pricing pressure from online sellers and mass premium-ization, and a possible association between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and
grain-free foods. At the same time, the cost of producing pet food continues to rise due
to the increasing costs of ingredients and, yes, compliance with the new governmental
Already, product safety is implied in many of the current marketing claims, as well as
apparent in corporate efforts toward transparency regarding production and ingredient
origins. But a straight-up safety pledge might go a long way for an industry that is in
search of a new superpremium pet food standard (customized home-delivered? freshly
made in store?), not to mention one catering to pet owners willing to do almost anything
to protect their “fur babies.”
In response to the 2007 recalls, marketers came on strong with advertising, pub-
lic relations, online programs, and packaging emphasizing product safety and quality
control, including proprietary safety seals and independent laboratory testing of in-
gredients. At present, however, most such messaging seems to have been relegated to
small-print FAQs on pet food websites.
Safety concerns are not limited to pet food, with problems having also arisen in other
areas of the market, including plastic products and chews. One somewhat unlikely pet
market contender (crossing over from automotive accessories) tackling the issue head-
on is Weather Tech. In a television advertising campaign substantial enough to have
smacked me in the face several times during major cable news programming—and the
first I can recall for a pet feeding/watering product—the company is touting its made in
the USA PetComfort Feeding System (stainless steel bowls and elevated plastic stands)
as the only NSF-certified bowls on the market, “making them safe for even human
food.” The website further states, “the PetComfort Feeding System is not just BPA free.
It is also free of phthalate, lead, radium, mercury and other toxins.”
It’s an approach that might or might not be entirely suitable for pet food, but it got
David Lummis is the lead pet-market analyst for Packaged Facts, a division of
MarketResearch.com, and author of Packaged Facts’ U.S. Pet Market Outlook,
2018-2019—August 2018 Update ( packagedfacts.com/Pet-Outlook-11819832).
Data cited are from Packaged Facts’ Q1 2018 Survey of Pet Owners.
It’s been 11 years since pet food recalls sent a shock wave
through the industry. Has enough changed since then?
would do well
to bring their
pet food safety
SLEEPYPOD INTRODUCES PET SAFETY
RESTRAINTS FOR CARS TO EUROPEAN MARKET
Sleepypod has launched its pet product lines designed for safer travel in Europe.
“With an expanded footprint in Europe, Sleepy-
pod is better able to accommodate the growing de-
mand for its crash-tested safety harnesses and pet
carriers,” said Michael Leung, co-founder of the
Pasadena, Calif.-based company. “There has been a
surge in requests for these Sleepypod lines of prod-
ucts that are proven to be effective in restraining a
pet, particularly in the United Kingdom, where car
drivers are required by law to restrain their pets.”
Sleepypod has crash-tested its entire family of pet
safety restraints for cars at U.S., Canadian and Euro-
pean child safety seat standards. The company also
collects voluntary data from its customers who have
survived accidents while using Sleepypod pet safety
restraints. This data is analyzed for future product
“Sleepypod’s safety record does not end in the
crash lab,” Leung added. “Real life accounts from
customers who have survived accidents offer tre-
mendous testimony to the effectiveness of Sleepy-
pod’s pet safety restraints. Without data, safety is just
a guess. When given a choice, European consumers
also want what works when it matters the most.”
Sleepypod carriers and safety harnesses include
Pet Passenger Restraint System (PPRS) components
designed by Sleepypod to secure a pet in a vehicle
and restrict harmful movement during a sudden vehicle stop or frontal collision.