Shop Talk: When Knowledge is Sales Power
Knowing what’s in pet food benefits both retailers and consumers (and their pets).
By Jackie Oakes
Do you know what is in the pet food you carry? Do your customers? Many dog-food manufacturers spend big bucks to praise the benefits of their brands for pets. Over and over again, people see or hear the commercials and, eventually, the message is absorbed and the food purchased. But what if a pet is allergic or sensitive to something within the food? The pet may gnaw at its feet; constantly lick places on its body; display red, discolored and irritated places; experience hair loss; have an irritable stomach; give off an offensive odor and/or have drainage from its ears. These are all possible symptoms of food allergies or sensitivity to ingredients found in a wide-range of pet foods.
In the 1940s, the early manufactured pet foods began using grains as inexpensive fillers and protein boosters to the foods. Sadly, most of these grains never have contained any nutritional substance. Soon after the grain introduction, discarded animal parts from slaughtering plants were chosen to be a protein source and a preservative was required to extend the shelf life of the dog food.
Chemicals appeared to be the best choice for the job and this paved the way for additive-containing foods.
Wheat Middlings: coarse and fine particles of wheat bran and fine particles of wheat shorts, wheat germ, wheat flour and offal from the "tail of the mill”; it is inexpensive byproduct of milling wheat, commonly referred to as “floor sweeping.”
Corn-gluten Meal: a byproduct of corn processing that has historically been used as an animal feed. There is no nutritional value in corn-gluten meal; although higher in protein than wheat gluten, it remains nutritionally blank.
Brewer’s Rice: small milled fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from the larger kernels of milled rice; considered a low-quality leftover, it is sold exclusively for pet-food and dairy feed.
Animal Digest: produced by chemically or enzymatically treating animal tissue (such as flesh, bone, organs, etc.) from slaughterhouses and other sources, in a process akin to rendering; also referred to as a “cooked-down broth” made of unspecified parts from unspecified animals.
BHA/BHT, Ethoxyquin: BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) are antioxidant food additives; ethoxyquin is a quinoline-based antioxidant used as a food preservative and a pesticide; it has been linked to cancer. It is banned from human food, but allowed in small quantities in pet foods. In 1997, the FDA requested dog-food manufacturers to decrease the use of ethoxyquin by half as it may be connected to liver problems in nursing dogs and their puppies. Some manufactured have removed these chemicals from their dog foods—a big step in the right direction.
Holistic pet foods, having only been in existence for a relatively short time, have not had the advantage of the long-term exposure as earlier pet foods. They are gaining much ground—and occasional notoriety. The higher cost of highly nutritious, balanced pet food is sometimes a negative factor when people are looking to change their pet’s diet. As I tell my customers, “You are what you eat.” The same applies to their pets. A pet’s body and digestive system are very similar to a human’s—many medications given to pets are the same for humans. Once the customer understands the benefits of high-quality food, the cost appears minimal. Thus, the cost of holistic pet foods far outweighs the high cost of having pets treated for debilitating or deadly diseases.
After reading the content labels on several different bags of dog food, I found ingredients I did not recognize; such as, wheat middlings; corn-gluten meal, brewer’s rice, animal digest, by-products, peanut hulls, BHA and BHT, ethoxyquin, and many more. Once I discovered the meaning of all those strange words (see sidebar) listed as ingredients in my dog’s food, I set out to change what my pets were eating and ended up founding my own company.
My employees are required to read what I have researched and read literature from pet-food companies so they, too, can give advice to our customers. I also have them listen when I give information to customers who are searching for a healthy food.
To help educate my employees and customers, I have a fact sheet—based on all the research I have done—that lists the not-so-healthy ingredients found in non-nutritional pet foods; it also provides an explanation as to what those ingredients really are. My staff uses this fact sheet as a reference, as well hand out for customers to use when comparing dog- food brands and types. In addition, we explain to every customer why our treats are organic and natural, and that they do not contain any added "bad” ingredients.
It usually does not take long for customers to return to the shop, thanking us for opening their eyes. I also have a handout listing most of the human foods that pets shouldn’t eat and what occurs when pets consume those foods.
Customers usually begin the pet-diet conversation by relating the difficulties their pets are experiencing; they are searching for good treats and food to help combat the problems. After learning what their pets’ symptoms are, we can generally decide if the problem is environmental or an allergic reaction to the food the pet is eating. If it appears to be food-related, we will go over the ingredients in their current food and recommend alternatives. We always advise our customers to seek veterinarian help with their pet’s problems if they appear to be major or chronic.
Thanks to my research, I (and my customers) now have a better understanding of dog-food ingredients. I feel confident I am giving my customers the best information I can provide. The reward is having customers return to tell me their pets have improved so much and they thank me for the help. <HOME>
Jackie Oakes is founder and president of Coastal K-9 Bakery, Inc., which was a Retailer of the Year runner-up for 2008/2009.
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