Pet food labels: Made in the USA

Labeling a pet food or treat as “Made in the USA” can enhance consumers’ trust in that product and help those dog and cat foods stand out to buyers.

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Labeling a pet food or treat as “Made in the USA” can enhance consumers’ trust in that product and help those dog and cat foods stand out to buyers, but also creates issues for pet food formulators and ingredient procurers.

“It’s a twofold challenge,” said Robert Lee, vice president of operations for American Nutrition. “For one, you are limiting yourself to a single location as your source for ingredients. Then you have to compete with others who are not.”

This article is part of a Petfood Industry series that explores labeling issues.

Other articles in the series:

Pet food labels: 3 new product trends at SuperZoo

Pet food labels: 4 popular natural dog, cat food trends

Pet food labels: Made in the USA

Selling a US-made product may mean buying vegetables from a local farmer or vitamins from a limited number of US-based industrial labs. Those materials tend to be more expensive than pet food ingredients purchased from overseas sources, where labor, equipment and land may be less costly. That translates into higher prices for “Made in the USA”

“The other issue is beating the rush,” he said. “Everyone has a similar buying season. A lot if it is based on crop cycles and when you harvest different animals. You have to beat the rush to get a dependable, high quality supply at a good price.”

Made in the USA labels build pet owner trust

For those pet food manufacturers that beat those challenges, “Made in the USA” claims on pet food packaging can draw consumers’ attention, Don Tomala, managing partner of Chicago-based Matrix Partners, told Petfood Industry.

Specifically, Made in the USA claims on pet food packages can help make an impression within the critical first three seconds of being seen, he said.

“When shopping the pet food aisle, customers scan for graphic cues such as grain free icons and ‘made in USA’ flags when they encounter an unfamiliar brand,” Tomala said. “If they don’t quickly see something relevant to them, they will keep on walking.”

In the wake of the 2007 pet food recalls, dog and cat owners became more wary and critical of the ingredients in their animals’ food. The melamine-tainted ingredients that resulted in the 2007 recalls came from China, which shook pet food buyers’ confidence in ingredients from China. Seeing the Made in the USA label at least assures pet food buyers that they know where their ingredients come from, Lee said.

“The big thing is that it gives them a little more comfort,” Lee said. “From a consumer level it’s cloudy. They don’t know about food safety laws in other countries like China or Brazil, but they probably have some idea about ours just from living here…. The unknown is uncomfortable, so people look for something made down the street or one state over.”

Regulatory issues for Made in the USA pet food

Finding that ingredient supplier located just one state over can be difficult. Some ingredients are simply not made within US borders, and that can lead to problems.

In April, a US federal judge dismissed a class action lawsuit against WellPet. The lawsuit alleged that WellPet marketed its dog food as “Made in the USA,” although the product used foreign ascorbic acid. However, since no US facilities make ascorbic acid, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may have allowed WellPet to call the dog food “Made in the USA,” argued WellPet’s lawyers.

FTC mandates that pet foods must be made “virtually” entirely of materials from the US and processed in facilities located in the US. However, FTC has never established a percentage for the amount of non-US materials, like litigious ascorbic acid, that can be included in a product labeled as “Made in the USA,” said Lee, though California has.

The FTC guidelines are not etched in stone and aren’t always easy to follow, he said. For example, if a foreign-sourced ingredient is used, then the qualities of the finished product must be substantially different from the raw material. What exactly that means can he hard to pinpoint. Other uncertainties arise at the macroeconomics level of the US federal government.

President Trump has declared that US industry and employment are a focus of his administration as part of his “America First” agenda. It’s too soon to know what affect this may have on demand for US-made products or availability of ingredients, said Lee.

However, Lee believes that much of the US pet food industry is ahead of the game on “Made in the USA.” For the past decade, the mainstream US pet food industry has already been focusing on finding ingredients from US farms and factories, then making their products under increasingly strict pet food safety regulations, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

“We in the industry, especially American Nutrition, are already there,” Lee said. “Anything that happens is not going to be a shock.”

Pet food labeling issues series

This article launches a Petfood Industry series that will explore labeling issues relevant to the pet food industry. Once per month, Petfood Industry will explore topics including differences between natural and organic pet foods, what “real meat” means and the requirements for human-grade labeling.

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