Which food should I buy.My last column prompted a number of readers to email me for recommendations on which brand of dog food they should buy. I appreciate the response; it is gratifying to know my words are being read. The main reason for the column, though, was to help you make that decision in a more informed way.
We have discussed ingredients and labels, and how to read and recognize a good ingredient panel from a bad one. Choosing a brand or company is a different matter, and I will share my thoughts on that here.
The vast majority of pet food is sold by a small number of multinational corporations, in large box stores. The companies sell brands they have grown over decades, as well as brands they acquire through buyouts. It seems as soon as a company has success in making a name for themselves, they become a valuable commodity to these giants and are bought out. In most of these cases, we notice a change In the product, some of the time it is not a positive change we see.
When choosing a brand, you should research who actually owns and makes the food. Many products are marketed to sounds like they are still made by small family owned and run companies, even though they no longer are. Google is your friend again here, and can quickly reveal to you who actually owns and makes the brand.
When I am choosing a food to offer to my customers, it is very important to me that I can trust the owners of the company. It is a benefit of being in the industry that I have met many of them, generally at trade shows, and sometimes having them actually visit my store (pre-COVID). Knowing the person behind the company goes a long way in getting me to trust the product as being of a level of quality to be on my shelves. Knowing who is deciding on what ingredients to buy, and on how and where to have it manufactured, these are essential for me to endorse the brand.
There are many brands I used to offer that I no longer do, and a few brands that I have replaced them with. Many people make these same types of decisions to change brands, based on how a product is working for them. These choices are not made lightly, they require a lot of deliberation. I’m not saying that only my preferred brands are worth buying, there are too many brands out there to say that, and you may have a preference for a different brand that suits your needs better than my choices.
One of the main considerations I take into account is who actually manufactures the food. Some companies own their own plants, buy their own ingredients, and manufacture their own foods. The other end of the spectrum are purely marketing companies that have someone else make the food for them. These companies usually have recipes formulated for them, but hand those recipes off to a different “co-pack” company to make, usually based on price. That company is responsible for buying the ingredients and manufacturing the food. Their name may not be anywhere on the bag, and because you can’t tell what is in a little brown pebble without a laboratory analysis, you have to trust they using good ingredients, and the actual ingredients listed. There have been cases where foods were found to contain ingredients not on the label, or not contain ones that were. Even if they use the named ingredients, there are many quality levels of “chicken”, and a co-packer is going to make It with the cheapest possible ingredients they can get away with using, whereas a quality company will use the best they can afford.
Yes, this all sounds scary, and it can be. While recalls are not the only indicator of poorly made foods, they are a red flag, and a very easy indicator to check. Recalls can be for minor things, or they can be for life threatening things. If you are not sure about your pet food, you may want to make a google alert for recalls of the brand, just in case.
There is no “best food”, or “best value” out there, there are a multitude of options, and the pet in front of you is what we are most concerned with. What works for one person may be a disaster for the next. Some may think one brand is a great product for its price, and some don’t care what the price is. And yes, sometimes an expensive food in a fancy package may not do as well for your pet as a cheaper one.
Celebrity endorsements, pictures of prime cuts of meat, and slick marketing catch phrases mean nothing if the food is not made with quality ingredients in a safe manner. A little time and effort can lead you to the best food for your pet.