The definition of irony: In May 2014, Purina filed a lawsuit against the well-known company Blue Buffalo for false advertising claims. Purina claimed that independent testing had proved conclusively that Blue Buffalo contained chicken by-product meal, something Blue is vocally opposed to. You might recall Blue Buffalo’s commercials, which make a big deal about comparing your pet food’s ingredients to those found in Blue Buffalo. Every pet parent featured was astounded to find out they were feeding a “sub par” pet food, and vowed to give Blue Buffalo a try. For those of us who champion healthy pet food, this was a double edged sword. While it’s true that we absolutely recommend pet owners research the foods they choose to feed and read the ingredient label, very few of us are actually all that impressed with Blue Buffalo as a company. And that’s not even taking into account the “false advertising” alleged by Purina.
Blue Buffalo was founded by the geniuses behind SoBe beverages. One year after SoBe was sold to Pepsico, Bill Bishop and his sons went on to start Blue Buffalo. Capitalizing on the humanization of pets, Blue Buffalo marketed itself as a healthy, natural pet food. The ingredient list seemed to bear this out, with real ingredients topping the list. But there were still questions: who made Blue Buffalo? Where did the ingredients come from? Blue Buffalo was essentially a marketing firm that generated an idea – other pet food manufacturers were doing the work.
Which is why, in 2013, there were some issues with consumers purchasing Blue Buffalo cat food but receiving a different kibble altogether (allegedly Fancy Feast). The laissez-faire response was that “accidents happen” and “no one is perfect” but it revealed a far more disturbing truth. Blue Buffalo really had no direct oversight over the manufacture of its food. How much did they know about the integrity of the company doing its work?
Considering that they settled the largest pet food class action Lawsuit in December 2015, to the tune of $32 million, obviously not much. At that time, Blue admitted that their products were mislabeled and did, in fact, contain Chicken By-Product. Of course, they also blamed the ingredient supplier for selling them chicken by-product instead of the labeled chicken meal. While the lawsuit and subsequent settlement may not reveal malicious intent in Blue’s actions, they do reinforce the serious drawback of not being involved with the manufacture of the food they sell. Especially for a company that markets solely based on the quality of their ingredients.
There’s no love for Purina in this scenario, either. Purina may claim to be interested in the health and well-being of pets, going so far as to briefly open petfoodhonesty.com in a direct attack on Blue Buffalo, however they are still the producers of one of the most dangerous pet food on the market: Beneful. Starting in 2012, the FDA began receiving reports of sick/dying pets – up to 3 a month – related directly to Beneful. Eventually a class action lawsuit was filed against Purina that claimed Beneful killed more than 1000 pets. It was dismissed in November 2016. Of course, while they were busy pointing fingers at Blue Buffalo, Purina never mentioned that a 2013 investigation lead the FDA to test their food. 6 separate confirmed incidents of adulteration in Beneful were found, including higher than allowed levels of melamine and cyanuric acid. During that investigation, Purina refused to cooperate with the FDA as well, denying multiple requests. Pet food honesty? Indeed.
So as consumers and pet parents who love their dogs and cats, where does that leave us? It’s not enough for the buyer to beware – not when pet food companies are lying to consumers and allowed to get away with it by the very agencies that are supposed to moderate them. Is it, as Blue Buffalo claims, enough to simply read the ingredient list?
Sadly, no. Because the most important ingredient in your pet’s food won’t be listed on the bag and that is integrity.
There are quite a few smaller, family-owned companies that work hard to produce the best, safest food for your pets. They do not have multi-million dollar advertising budgets and they are not engaged in schoolyard brawls with other pet food companies.These companies have good, personal relationships with the stores that carry their foods. They work hard not to grow too far beyond their capabilities to produce a solid product. That means you won’t find these foods in big box stores.
If you’d like to know more about the companies we have personally dealt with and believe in, click on the links below. Nobody is perfect, that is true. But these companies try their hardest to be up-front and honest with their consumers and do everything in their power to include that important, invisible ingredient: Integrity.