Issue: Consumers learn that expensive and store brand pet-food are not very different
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
One of the most disturbing aspects of the national pet food recall is the illusion of superiority it has shattered for buyers of expensive pet-foods. Processor Menu Foods not only makes store brand petfood for stores as diverse as Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie and Wegmans but also premium brand pet-foods including two Procter & Gamble brands, Iams and Eukanuba. In all, 53 brands of dogfood and 42 brands of catfood are affected.
Why is this so disturbing to consumers? Not just because Fluffy or Sparky might die from kidney failure. The other bad news from the consumer point of view is that the premium food that they have been lovingly feeding to these extended family members is no different from generic store brands.
How did this happen? A combination of greed and laziness was to blame. For much of the petfood industry, co-packaging (or producing generic products using a third party manufacturer alongside branded products with identical ingredients and a higher pricepoint) has been a fact of life for years. This is greed plain and simple, and the brands engaging in this practice surely deserve the fate they will experience
Procter & Gamble is a slightly different case, however. AdAge quotes a Procter & Gamble spokesperson as noting that “Iams and Eukanuba dry products are not manufactured at Menu Foods and are not affected by this recall. Only a small portion of our wet canned and foil-pouch products for dogs and cats are affected by this recall.”
Iams was popularized by Clay Mathile who purchased the company from its founder in 1970. The brand was sold through veterinarians who promoted it as a scientific solution to pet diets. This vastly increased the strength and credibility of the brand, so much so that it attracted the attention of Procter & Gamble, who purchased Iams in 1999.
The Iams brand survives on the belief that it is the best brand for pet health and further bolstered by the P&G introduction of Eukanuba, which is sold through veterinarians.
All of this has been endangered by the news that the brands are co-packaged with generic pet foods. The question is, why did Procter & Gamble, one of the worlds pre-eminent brand companies, allow this to happen?
Most likely, a brand manager recommended that a wet-food line extension for Iams and Eukanuba be subcontracted out to Menu Foods to spare cost and manufacturing complexity. Nobody watching the brand asked the question – is this manufacturing practice consistent with our brand promise for these premium pet-foods? And now, even though the majority of Iams and Eukanuba branded products were not packaged by Menu Foods, they are going to be tarnished by the same brush.