‘House-brand’ or just marketing?
Large chain stores and online retailers such as Pet Valu, Chewy, Pet Smart, Costco and Petco have their own ‘in-house’ brands of dog food to help build customer loyalty. In reality all these ‘house brands’ are essentially a mimic on top selling pet foods under their private label or “house brand”. Their product is a literal copycat of top-selling foods in the marketplace and does not provide anything more superior to what is available to your local pet store. Sales associates are trained to direct consumers to their house brand because they make more money by selling you their brand.
If you were a Pet Valu customer and was persuaded to purchase their ‘exclusive’ line of food, Performatrin you may be finding yourself in a bit of a pickle seeing as how all US Pet Valu stores are closing. The silver lining is that you may be able to find a suitable or even better replacement for Performatrin while also helping support your local economy. Please, before jumping to Chewy, PetSmart, Petco or Amazon – visit your local pet retailer. You’ll be surprised to see a plethora of innovative and unique products, often for competitive prices.
At first taste, an exclusive line of food from an upscale retailer may appear to have everything you would want in a pet food – quality ingredients made by a small company with a passion for pets. Now with the announcement of Pet Value shutting all stores in the US in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, all of the appealing aspects of an exclusive food are no longer so appetizing. In fact, lines that are exclusive only to one chain, or store are usually known as ‘private label’. In short, most private label brands, despite marketing claims, are not all they’re made out to be. In fact, most do not even analyze their final formulations or products to verify they are complete and balanced!
What is private label?
Private label isn’t always a dirty word – but it can be in several contexts. While there are lot of examples, I’ll try and break it down simply. For example, private label could mean the following:
- A generic formulation of food that exists as several brands, all with differing packaging. However, the ingredient labels and guaranteed analysis will typically read the same.
- A proprietary formulation that is generally made by a large pet food manufacturer (who also makes several other brands), but packaged solely for one customer, or set of customers.
The reality is that there are only a handful of dog food manufacturing facilities in the U.S. This means that multiple, privately-owned brands of food can be manufactured under the same roof, often with the same ingredient sourcing. This is because ‘pooling’ of ingredients results in reduced costs. Other aspects to consider are cost of the facility, machinery, staffing as well as safety and quality certifications. There are several brands that own their own facilities, but that also doesn’t automatically translate to a superior product. Many high-quality products are manufactured in both situations – as a consumer you have to know what questions to ask to determine which products those are.
Why are private label brands problematic?
Private label brands can be problematic as a consumer because if the retailer who had exclusivity to that product closes their doors (e.g. Pet Valu), it leaves you without an avenue to continue getting your pets food. In addition, these private label brands may market themselves as transparent, when in reality they are very good at hiding pertinent information regarding the food formulation, adequacy testing and sourcing. This leaves you, the consumer, woefully unaware of potential issues – or risking not being able to contact the actual company or manufacturer if a problem arises.
Aside from barriers to purchasing these foods (e.g. if a retailer goes out of business), these brands also come with some potential risks – such as lack of nutritional adequacy or validation. As of the date of this article, none of the brands mentioned below were able to provide us with a full 3rd party nutritional analysis or digestibility study.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading and we’ll look at some of the more common “house-brands” and see if you can find them at another retailer.
- Pet Valu: Performatrin (although with their closing, it wouldn’t be unusual to find it offered on Amazon)
- Chewy.com: American Journey
- PetSmart: Authority
- Petco: WholeHearted
- Amazon: Wag
- Tractor Supply: 4Health
- Costco: Nature’s Domain (Kirkland)
How do I find a transparent brand?
While small businesses love your loyalty, it is unfair for them to force loyalty by persuading you to purchase a product you can only get at one location, or chain. As a consumer it is always beneficial to purchase products that are available elsewhere in case the situation should arise. That said, there are numerous quality brands that are ‘independent only’ which are vastly different than the shade of a private label because these brands tend to be more transparent, and accessible.
‘Independent only’ (local neighborhood pet store) brands are typically companies with adequate product development teams, more transparency behind the product and have greater brand stability. As a consumer, it gives you a real company to contact in the event of a problem, or if you have a question. Whereas a private label may leave you with the impression the retailer is responsible for the product – misleading on all fronts.
Personally, as a retailer, I would not put my name on something as ‘my own’ if I did not have nutritional adequacy and digestibility testing done on the final product. Leaving the formulation and validation of pet foods to those qualified to do so is something consumers and retailers should both be holding brands accountable to. The pet food market already has a low barrier to entry, with one of the largest problems being that anyone can formulate pet food and sell it in todays market – even without credentials. It’s also good to ensure that all brands have policies and procedures that require all products be held from distribution until they are confirmed to be free from contaminants and pathogens (e.g. melamine, salmonella etc.)
What can I switch to?
The good news is that there are numerous high-quality brands on the market today that you can easily switch your pet to regardless of sensitivities, preferences, age, or any other factor. The sobering point for you is likely the fact that you’ve been paying top dollar for a brand that is very similar, if not identical to other easily accessible products. If you feed as if you’ve been misled, it’s because you have.
Your local independent retailers are ready and willing to help you find a suitable or even better-quality replacement. However, in the meantime, I encourage you to do your own homework by reaching out to pet food companies and asking questions about who their food is formulated by and in what facility it is made in. This may help to broaden your horizons for pet food options. If you’d like to know more about the ‘right’ questions to ask, and what typical answers may mean (or not mean) click here: 5 Ways Pet Owners Can Improve Pet Food.
Curious to switch? Let us know what you were feeding, and we will happily identify an equivalent or better food when you stop by.