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Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Good Companies Promote Bad Ideas

Recently a reader joined in a discussion from a couple of years ago, and asked a very good question.

As per your responses it makes me think of two additional things. I have read the replies from you and even others that grains are not bad for our dogs and you seem to imply that the brands you mentioned do more research and would be better but have you noticed that even Purina Pro Plan and Iams and Hills Science Diet are getting into the grain free or limited grain dog foods? I do not mean this as a gotcha question but rather it all confuses me.

This very thing is something that has been bothering me lately.  I consider Purina, Iams, Hills, and Royal Canin to be good food companies who have put a lot of money into nutritional research and the development of good quality foods.  So why are we seeing them make diets that nutritional specialists routinely say are unnecessary or misinformed?  Why are they making foods similar to those produced by companies that perpetuate false nutritional information?

I hate to say it, but it comes down to money and market share.

A few years ago somebody started saying that dogs and cats shouldn't have grains in their diets.  The idea started spreading and soon people were thinking that "grains are bad" and we need to eliminate them from pet foods.  Some manufacturers made a big deal about this idea and people on the internet started writing about it and spreading it.  Yet there has never been any legitimate scientific basis for these claims and board-certified specialists and nutritional researchers have disputed the information.  While there is strong evidence that grains are perfectly fine and readily digestible for most dogs and cats, somehow people started buying into the idea that grain-free diets were somehow better.

People mistakenly thought that they were buying good food for their dogs and certain food companies heavily marketed this aspect of their diets, disparaging other brands in the process.  Poorly informed consumers started buying these foods in larger amounts and the companies who promoted grain-free diets prospered and gained larger shares of the market.

Now the following is speculation on my part, but I think I have some very valid points and with some knowledge of the various companies and the real science behind pet foods I think I'm right on the mark.

Even though Purina, Iams, Hills, and Royal Canin are all good companies and produce good foods, they exist to make a profit.  Their boards of directors and presidents were probably looking at the expansion of grain-free foods in the market and seeing their own sales decrease.  So what do you do if you're a large company?  Do you spend time and money to try and correct the misinformation and have campaigns that talk about how ridiculous grain-free diets are?

Well, that would be the right thing to do.  But when do we see companies do this?  And if they do, how successful are they?  

So these companies did what pretty much every company does.  They make products to meet consumer demand.

The same thing has happened with gluten-free foods for humans.  For the vast majority of people there is no problem with gluten in foods.  Even many of the people who think they have a gluten sensitivity really don't.  But we now see a large number of products manufactured "gluten free", and even existing products that have never contained gluten changing their packaging to say "gluten free".

The large companies aren't saying that grain-free diets are better.  If you notice, they're still making plenty of foods that contain grains.  What they're doing is recognizing a demand and interest from pet owners, then making foods that cater to those people.  By doing so they are regaining some market share and selling more foods.

This drives me absolutely crazy because now we have even good companies who are upholding the myth that these kinds of foods are somehow better.  But the only way to fix it is for people to start sharing the correct information and bust those myths.  

As I am trying to do. 

Well informed pet owners will stop buying these foods, which will decrease demand and will result in fewer products and less misinformation.