Larger distribution compromises food quality

Dashing into the grocery store to pick up a few items one evening earlier this summer, I diverted down the pet food aisle to avoid a cluster of customers near the front of the store. Maneuvering the shopping cart around an elderly woman standing in front of the cat food, my eye caught the light blue bag of food that I have been feeding my cats for the past several years. Initially perplexed, I wondered why this particular brand was now available at the supermarket.

Usually high-end, nutritional pet food companies market their products through local pet food shops and larger pet-related chain stores. I have been driving across town to purchase this particular brand for years. When I spotted it on the grocery store shelf, I contemplated the compromise the company had to have made to resort to this marketing plan.

Eliminating a drive into town that day, however, I ended up purchasing a bag of the cat food. When I grabbed it off the top shelf, I noticed the bag was slightly larger than the previous ones I bought at the pet store. After a few days of the cats’ eating from the new bag, small piles of undigested food began appearing around the house. I was unable to determine which cat was having the digestive issues, but assumed it was hairballs from my long-haired female.

I purchased the next several bags of cat food at the pet store, interestingly packaged in the smaller bag. It wasn’t until I bought another bag of cat food from the grocery store that I began to suspect something was amiss. When it happened a third time, I decided it was too coincidental. The retching dwindled when the cats ate the food from the pet store, but immediately resumed after they started eating out of the bags I purchased at the grocery store.

I resolved there had to be a correlation while pondering an explanation of this dilemma. My initial thought was maybe I just happened to get the bags that did not receive a thorough quality control inspection. It is probable that the dissimilar package types were processed at different facilities. Pet food shops often receive shipments of pet food via large supply companies that deal directly with manufacturers. By eliminating the middle man, large corporations acquire products directly from processing plants. Undeniably, the shipments to the two stores had come from separate distributors.

Researching this company further, I discovered they recently had a voluntary recall on one of their dog food formulas. Salmonella was discovered during routine testing at one of their co-packing facilities prompting the recall. However, there was no mention of a cat food recall.

I must admit I am disheartened. I discovered this particular brand several years ago and the cats have done remarkably well on it. They maintain good weight, have beautiful coats and are very healthy. I now face the dilemma of continuing to feed this particular food or change their diet to another comparable product. While I definitely will not purchase the cat food from the grocery store chain, I continue to ponder the fact that the availability of the product in the supermarket has resulted in a compromise of quality. 

I recall a small pet food manufacturing company that built their business on developing a natural complete diet for pets in the early 1990s. They sold exclusively to small boutique pet shops and boasted for years how they would only cater to the little guy. In 2004, they sold out to a very large corporation that continues to manufacture the product today.

The corporation ensured the quality of the food would not be altered; their intent was simply to provide convenient availability of the products. The mass produced pet foods can now be found on most big box store shelves. Through the acquisition, however, the little guy nostalgia became lost in the shadow of corporate America.

I have yet to change the cat’s food, continuing to purchase it from the pet store. However, I have begun researching other products, anticipating an inevitable modification to their diet. Even though the food has benefited them for several years, the brilliant facet of consumerism is that there are always choices.


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