As a pet owner, you want nothing but the best for your furry friend. Because of this, you may feel guilty when you instantly gravitate toward the cheaper dog food — after all, you don’t dine on filet mignon and lobster on a frequent basis, so it’s okay if your pet doesn’t gorge on top-shelf food on a daily basis, right? Yet, despite all your rationalization, you’re often tempted to invest in the more expensive, premium brand of dog food because hey, pet health, right? But is the premium food really better for your pup? Or is it just a marketing ploy to get pet parents to overspend on dog chow? Unfortunately, it appears as if the answer may be the latter.
Pet Pampering Has Led to an Increase in Pet Food Prices
According to an interview transcribed by Business Insider, pet owners spent a whopping $69.5 billion on their pets in 2017. In 2007, the average price of pet food per pound was $1.71. 10 years later, it was $2.55. Experts believe this is due to millennials.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, millennials are foregoing parenthood in favor of becoming pet owners. However, because the human body naturally desires a baby by a certain age, many millennials fill the void by treating their pets like their firstborn child, a phenomenon of which marketers have taken note.
Premiumization and the “No List”
“Premiumization” is a tactic marketing experts have been using for decades. Though it was first used by the alcohol industry, it has since spread to health and beauty products, clothing, human foods, and yes, pet food. Premiumization refers to the concept of enhancing the perception of the value of a product by calling it “premium.” More often than not, the “premium” product offers no more value than the nonpremium product, but people are more likely to buy it because of their desire for luxury goods.
When it comes to dog food, premium diets don’t necessarily contain ingredients that nonpremium diets don’t have. Rather, marketers play to what pet owners feel in their guts pet food should contain, or, more significantly, what it shouldn’t contain.
The “no list” is a popular tactic with human foods, so it makes sense that it would work for pet foods as well. The “no list” is precisely what it sounds like — a list of ingredients a diet doesn’t contain. In the case of dog foods, that list usually looks something like this:
- No wheat
- No corn
- No grains
- No potato
- No byproduct
The list is often longer the more expensive pet food is. You might find bags with labels claiming “No preservatives!,” “No artificial colors!,” and, more recently, “No gluten!” This lack of ingredients doesn’t necessarily make a pet food any healthier and, in some cases, might make it even less so.
Sifting Through the Advertising To Find the Best Food for Fido
If you can’t count on labeling to direct you to the best dog food for your pooch, what can you count on? Your own knowledge. Whole Dog Journal provides guidance in the form of a list of ingredients of which to be wary:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial preservatives
- Sugars and sweeteners
- Anything ingredient with the term “flavor”
- Corn byproducts or any foods with corn
Each of the above ingredients have been implicated in canine health disorders, so ideally you should avoid any foods with those labels. You should also avoid foods that contain questionable sources of protein. Foods that have whole meats such as chicken, beef, and lamb listed in the top three ingredients, and that contain eggs, wheat, and rice, however, are likely of higher quality.
At the end of the day, Clinical Nutrition Service encourages you to not get hung up on price or labeling. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford and find the best food available that is within your budget. This is the best way to ensure the dog food you purchase is a good value rather than just appealing to your innate desire for premium products.