Pet Owners Losing Faith
In Pet Food Companies

Published April 2007

A far-reaching and ever-growing recall of tainted pet food that is suspected to have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of cats and dogs has left pet owners feeling "betrayed" by the industry.

Some observers predict it won't be easy for the business to regain consumers' trust.

"I think this recall has and will continue to cause pet owners to question the food they feed their pets," said Elizabeth Higgins, a research analyst with Euromonitor.

"Many owners have already lost trust in the brands they've been using for years and I expect it will take some time for manufacturers to win that back."

Originally, Ontario-based Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans and pouches of its cuts-and-gravy-style food, sold under 95 brands, after hearing reports of kidney failure and even death in dogs and cats that ate contaminated food.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it had found traces of melamine -- a chemical used to make plastic kitchenware and as fertilizer in Asia - in some pet foods.

Wheat gluten imported from China has been fingered as the source of the contamination.

Since then, Hill's Prescription Diet m/d Feline Dry food, Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy wet dog food from Nestle Purina PetCare and Jerky Treats Beef Flavor Dog Snacks, Gravy Train Beef Sticks Dog Snacks and Pounce Meaty Morsels Moist Chicken cat treats from Del Monte Pet Products made between specific dates were recalled after learning wheat gluten was supplied to them from the same Chinese company.

The recalls have shaken the inherent trust owners put in their pet-food brands, if not the industry as a whole.

Menu Foods has been flooded with more than 300,000 calls from concerned pet owners. Frustrated by a lack of response, many callers are turning to the Internet to vent.

"I will NEVER purchase anything created by Menu Foods again!!" one man writes.

Even pet-food makers not affected by the recalls are bound to feel the effects.

"So many consumers have lost their trust in these brands, and even if the pet food they were feeding their pets was not the exact type that was affected, I would expect consumers have now come to question the overall quality of the brand," Ms. Higgins said.

"I think we'll see certain brands greatly affected by the recall of yet other brands -- especially those that emphasize their natural or human-grade qualities -- will likely benefit."

Karen Campbell, who co-owns and operates Totally Raw, an all-natural raw dog food company outside Truro, N.S., said her business has doubled.

"[The new customers] feel almost betrayed by the kibble industry," she said.

"A lot of them mentioned that they were buying high-end kibble and they believed that it was so totally different from the quality of the lower-grade kibble and they seemed to think this recall has put all that into question."

Proponents of raw dog food say that cats and dogs should eat like it would in the wild -- a lot of various kinds of meat.

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