The History of Commercial Dog Food and Marketing



 The inception of commercial dog took place in England around 1860. James Spratt, an American working in London was supposedly inspired by sailors, throwing hardtack, which was a thin cracker or biscuit and part of the sailors’ diet, to the wharf dogs. These were leftovers from their meal and had juices and food remnants attached. Mr. Spratt’s formula contained wheat, beef blood, vegetables and beetroot, and was made in the shape of a biscuit. In 1950’s the Spratt’s Patent Limited Company was sold to General Mills. In 1960 it was sold to Spillers, a UK subsidiary of Purina, and is still available today under the name “Bonio”.


 That bit of history is included to make the point that from the very beginning commercial dog foods were made from the parts that were “thrown away”.


 As we follow history we will see this throw away mentality arise again and again. After WW1 horse meet was cheap and plentiful and led to the invention of canned dog food by Ken-L-Ration. By the early 1940’s canned food accounted for as much as 91% of the market.


 During WW2 there was a shortage of tin which made canning an expensive proposition. Enter “dry” dog food. Marketing companies began telling consumers that these products were superior because they were able to use recycled or leftover grain products and meat not fit for human consumption.


  After the war, dry dog food sales picked up dramatically. One reason was that dog food was moved into the grocery stores. Today it is not uncommon for pet foods to take up more aisle space than baby supplies. The second reason was a marketing blitz instituted by the Pet Food Institute, warning the public of the “dangers” of table scraps and the importance of feeding a processed dog food. Press releases were used to spread the “word” and were used in newspapers, radio, and several of the large women’s magazines. More marketing strategies include celebrity endorsements, the use of food dyes, and ingredients that make gravy.


  Up until 1974 the National Research Council was responsible for the guidelines for setting nutritional values in dog food. In 1974 AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials took over this responsibility. This organization is made up of individuals in the feed manufacturing business. They relaxed the guidelines for measuring the nutritional components and ended the use of feeding trials.


  In 1985 the National Research Council developed new nutritional guidelines. The most important change was to measure the nutritional content AFTER the food was cooked. These changes were met with such hostility from the food manufacturers and “their” organization,  that we are still working under the old requirements.


  Be aware that your hearts and minds are influenced daily by marketers, who want you to think that whatever they want to sell you is the greatest thing since…… They are professional. They are good at their job. One of the greatest dog food ads on TV right now belongs to the food that topped the list of “ The 7 worst dog foods available.”


 It is your responsibility to do the research and choose the best nutritional program for your pet. Their longevity and overall health depend on it.



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