Pet Food Honesty

You may have heard about the battle between Purina and Blue Buffalo. Purina describe it as a battle about pet food honesty. How many of us who buy pet food, particularly dry pet food, believe that any of the big pet food manufacturers are strictly honest in their advertising and marketing? I suspect not many.

Purina versus Blue Buffalo
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Purina versus Blue Buffalo. A war about pet food honesty.

In the USA, Blue Buffalo have had quite a rapid rise to prominence in the pet food market. This has irritated competing big-name manufacturers. One of the reasons why Blue Buffalo rose to prominence quickly was because they recognised at the outset two important aspects of pet food marketing, namely that:

  1. there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in how pet food is advertised and this is an area where they admit they have a lot of expertise (they used the words “smoke and mirrors” indicating a lack of forthrightness):
  2. the consumer, the concerned cat owner, likes to see quality ingredients in the cat and dog food that they purchase. They don’t like to see anything in pet food which is described as a “byproduct”. Consumers don’t like the look of the word because it makes them think of rubbish ingredients, factory sweepings, roadkill, rotten livestock carcasses with poisons in them etc..

They worked on these two aspects of the business and it helped them to succeed. They realised that they could have their product manufactured by someone else and all they had to do was to focus on good packaging and good marketing which meant a start-up was fairly straightforward.

One of the ways that Blue Buffalo succeeded was to hire staff as in-store representatives of their brand at PetSmart who would surreptitiously approach customers who were utterly confused, as most of us are by the plethora of products and confusing labelling, and steer them towards Blue Buffalo which they affectionately refer to as “the Buff”.

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Knowing their customers had become disillusioned with the quality of pet food they focused on high quality ingredients while simultaneously employing “smoke and mirrors” to imply that other manufacturers were not using high-quality ingredients in their products. In one video a woman sits on the living room couch declaring that in the “true blue test” (an ingredient comparison test) Blue Buffalo products contained what she wanted and none of the stuff that she didn’t. The advertising stated that its food contains “NO chicken/poultry byproduct meals.”

Purina decided to fight back and have sued Blue Buffalo for profiting from misleading advertising. Blue Buffalo have argued that Purina has been defamatory in claiming that they mislead customers in their advertising.  As a result Purina have asked the court for a declaration that they have not been defamatory.

Purina used a third-party laboratory to test Blue Buffalo pet food and they argue in their claim against Blue Buffalo that the company is misleading the public when they say that their ingredients are high-quality because their tests reveal byproducts are present. Blue Buffalo deny it.

In America the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus regulate advertising and they found that the advertisements of Blue Buffalo “to be falsely disparaging to competing pet food companies”.

Purina refers to some of the words that Blue Buffalo used in advertising such as:

It takes a lot to get me mad, but it really hit me when I realized that his big name dog food had chicken by-product meal as a first ingredient – not real meat. It felt like they fooled me, so I switched Leo to Blue Buffalo.

NAD found that big name pet food manufacturers were not actively concealing the truth about the ingredients in their products and ordered Blue Buffalo to correct its television advertisements and to remove unsubstantiated references to competitors and also to amend its website claims with respect to its true blue test. Blue Buffalo are appealing against the decision of NAD.

So we have a battle between two big pet food manufacturers about their honesty and whether they mislead their customers. It’s quite revealing really because it could be argued that both Purina and Blue Buffalo are being dishonest to a certain extent in that they sell dry cat food (described as kibble) in the USA in large quantities without any reference to the fact that it is unnatural and that there are a number of highly qualified veterinarians who question whether it is suitable for the domestic cat as a major part of their diet. Many people feed their cat dry cat food exclusively. I won’t go over the ground again but there is a large amount of information on the Internet about the detrimental aspects of dry cat food no matter how good the ingredients are.

I think we can justifiably say that both manufacturers are being somewhat hypocritical and in litigating their dispute through the courts in America they expose their hypocrisy to the paying public.

It is worth having a quick look at the word “byproduct meal”. It’s a word, as Blue Buffalo state, which is disliked by paying consumers. It refers to ground up chicken necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines but is not supposed to include feathers. Consumers don’t like buying it because as they prefer to be the provider of high quality products for their cat or dog as it makes them feel better, so says the founder of Blue Buffalo, Mr Bishop.

One scientist states that byproducts are not actually that bad. In fact, he states that they are an excellent source of nutrition for pets (Kurt Venator, a Ph.D. vet employed by Purina).

If Purina win their lawsuit and if they get the judgement that they desire then Blue Buffalo may have to pay up to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation so there is lots at stake.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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7 Responses

  1. kylee says:

    Hi i know this is off Topic, but today i tried my Cats on something new. Theres a new Pet Food Shop here in Town, just down the road. All natural Products so I thought I would try my Kitties on some Meat
    Its 100 beef- it says on the Pottle Beef, Flax seed Flake,carrot, preservative. As soon as i bought it home Jasmine eated some of it, just give a spoon full. Which is Promising I noticed they have other varieties like steak and rabbit and only costs 3.60 a pottle. Ozzie just looked at it and sniffed it.

  2. Sylvia Ann says:

    1. How many cat-‘owners’ would think of reading the list of ingredients? Some do. But nowhere near the millions of Walmarters on the lookout for the cheapest sack of pellets.

    2. Even Dr. Pierson (who doesn’t work for Purina) writes that byproducts are reasonably okay.

    3. There’s a passage in Robert Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative (underlined) that may partially echo the earliest stages of cutthroat competition. Though Ardrey’s scholarship was titanic, they say he’s read, fifty years later, as much for his style as his accuracy of content, which some anthropologists describe as ‘anecdotal’ (the ultimate put-down). But anyone into Monty Python. . . . .well, Ardrey’s views of the human race aren’t to be missed.

    Here’s a paraphrase:

    A social psychologist fretting over the outcome of man’s bellicose ways – his stone age tradition of bloodshed in defense of turf, his lukewarm interest in quelling his compulsion to grab what isn’t his – will come to realize how much can be learned from the baboon. Its ferocity takes second place only to man’s. The noble baboon popped from the womb with fists at the ready, a gangster preordained for the gallows. Unlike the gorilla – that milquetoast of apes – the swashbuckling baboon, in the debate between freedom and oppression, provides the oldest contradiction to the sham-insistence that tyranny is bad. He’s meek as a 16-wheel rig. Mild in intent as a Sherman tank. Timid as a gas-powered mower. He’s a plug-ugly with brassy orbs that look like a paddlewheel cardsharp’s. He’s a predator whose notion of ultimate bliss is pouncing on and eating baby antelopes. He has an eye for everything belonging to others. That, and sticky fingers. This muscle-bound monkey – his ways mortifyingly like our own – shows how a blend of physical prowess, IQ and clout is a winning combination. He runs the show with his crew of ‘thugs’ – with their semblance to us – demonstrating how despotism and the terror it engenders can guarantee order.

    • Even when you do read the ingredients it is not really clear what they mean. It is difficult to compare dry and wet food.

      Robert Ardrey’s view of the world is probably correct but depressingly so. It seems that many counties are not ready for democracy and brute force and domination is still the way things work in large parts of the world. We have a long way to go.

      I always hated the corporate mentality. The old boy network and stupid politics. I have always struggled to live in the capitalist world as it just seems so crude and disharmonious to me.

  3. Dee (Florida) says:

    A look at one of my kitchen counters will tell you that I am a Purina fan. I keep about a 5 day supply at hand all of the time. I feed wet covered with dry to all. It may not be exceptional, but I believe that it is the best of the mediocre.
    I frequent Petsmart and have been handed sample packs of Blue Buffalo. Not even the raccoons would eat it.

    • LOL. Well the story indicates that Blue Buffalo is a bit doggy or at least the senior management is. They have played dirty tricks in my view. The outcome of the litigation will tell us whether my hunch is correct.

      • Dee (Florida) says:

        No doubt that the makers of Blue Buffalo will stand by their claims. And, they may well have some improved nutrition.
        But, who cares if the cats won’t eat it? Nor scavenger raccoons, for heaven’s sake?
        My belief is that Purina is more credible in disclosing that some “junk” is in their foods. Blue Buffalo claims that they have none.
        I hope it comes down to both being put under microscopes.
        I believe that Blue Buffalo will be discredited – selling nearly the same for 4 times the price.

        • I tend to agree with you Dee based on the court documents that I skimmed. Blue Buffalo admit they are a bit brash and flash and misleading (“smoke and mirrors”) while at least Purina come clean and say that byproducts are OK (in their opinion).

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