Dogs Drool, Cats Rule
Pets are an important part of our lives. According to a recent study published by the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent an eye-watering $96B on their pets in 2019. The majority ($37B) was spent on food and treats. Whether it’s Twinkie the cat, Tofu the dog, or Mellow the capuchin monkey, we treat our pets like family. In the old days, dogs ate food that came in the form of big bags of pellets generally referred to as “kibble.” Nobody knew what it tasted like because the pets never complained. Cat food generally came “wet” in tuna-fish sized cans and didn’t smell appetizing.
Sometime in the 70s, food companies realized that people were spending good money on pet food, so they started buying pet-food companies and began elevating the products in the market. They improved the marketing, the appearance, the packaging, the palatability, and raised the price accordingly. Fast forward to the 2000s, and pet food is often comparable to human food. The latest iteration is fresh pet food, which has to be refrigerated and contains basically the same things people eat, with the exception of pumpkin (which some people will only eat in the form of pie with whipped cream — and maybe more whipped cream than pie).
The Risks and the Tests
Pet food safety is regulated by the FDA, and generally must comply with the same regulations as human food, with some exceptions in labeling and nutrition. The Pet Food Institute is an industry group made up of 98% of pet food manufacturers and seeks to educate and promote the safety and quality of pet food.
There are actually two risks inherent in pet food: the risk to the pet and the cross-contamination risk to the owner who handles the food. Generally, pet food is safe, however, it is subject to the same risk of contaminated ingredients or improper processing as human food. For all intents, the microbiological, physical, and chemical contamination risks are in fact the same:
- Chemical: If you can remember back to 2007, the biggest catastrophe to hit pet food was melamine contamination. A pet food manufacturer used the cheap chemical to increase the nutrient value of the food, and it killed numerous cats and dogs before it was identified and its use was stopped. It was a precursor to melamine contamination in human food — when it was added to infant formula. The method of detection was HPLC. Bottom line: Any dangerous chemical added to pet food can injure or kill even in small quantities, given the lower body weights of most animals.
- Microbiological: Includes listeria, salmonella, E. coli, and any of the common pathogens that can and do cause occasional outbreaks, typically because of ingredient contamination or improper processing. Plating and PCR are common detection methods.
- Mycotoxins are naturally-occurring molds and fungus which produce toxins that are hazardous to pets. These can be introduced in the grains and cereals found in pet food. The method of detection is typically lateral-flow systems.
- Food allergens: Proteins in certain foods can cause adverse reactions in your pet, such as rashes and itching. Food allergies are best detected through elimination of certain foods with the advice of a vet.
- Common human food is dangerous to pets. Grapes, onions, chocolate, salt, tea, and walnuts are just a few of the foods that can harm your pet, so don’t feed them these or any foods containing these ingredients.
Marketing diagnostic tests to pet food and ingredient manufacturers
It’s important to understand your audience when selling to this market. Pet food manufacturing is a complex process involving ingredients in different forms, including sprays and powders. Pet food can contain grains, meat and meat-byproducts — basically anything a human meal would have, plus more. Contamination can occur naturally or through processing.
The best way to approach this market is to understand the market, the processes, and the challenges facing the producers. Like other markets, the purchasers of tests and analytical equipment are buying results, and they place a value on accuracy and efficiency. Take a look at your products and determine the value proposition before approaching the customer. The same values in testing of human food will relate to the pet food scientist, and perhaps even more so, because they are likely pet owners themselves!
Pet Food Institute
Human food poisonous to pets
If you need help with marketing to the pet food industry, contact us for a 30-minute consultation.