Pet Food Labels Part 2 – Tricks of the Trade

As we saw last time, telling the difference between a good pet food and a bad one is not easy. Every producer wants you to think that their products are the best and many lower-end manufacturers have worked long and hard to find ways within the law to make their foods appear better than they really are.

In the last article, we saw how important the ingredient list is and why the clarity and the order of the ingredients list are absolutely key. The trouble is, many producers of lower grade foods are very aware of what savvy consumers like us are looking for and they have found plenty of ways to put a more positive spin on their below-par ingredients lists. 

 Example Dog Food 

Let’s look at the following, fairly typical dry dog food ingredient list: 

Ingredient list from the manufacturer: 

Trout & Salmon 50% (22% Fresh Trout, 10% Salmon Meal, 10% Fresh Salmon, 4% Salmon Oil, 4% Salmon Stock), Sweet potato 12%, Potato 12%, Peas 11%, Potato flour 8%, Beet Pulp 4%, Pea protein 3%, Minerals & Vitamins. 

Looks great right? Ingredients are clear and individually listed? Check! First ingredient is meat? Check! 50% meat is excellent and sweet potato is a decent carb source. What’s not to like? 

Well, it may surprise you that if you were to buy the above food, what your dog would actually eat would be quite different: 

What your dog would actually be eating: 

Potato 27%, Sweet Potato 16%, Peas 15%, Salmon Meal 14.5%, Fresh Trout 8.5%, Beet Pulp 5.5%, Salmon Oil 5%, Pea protein 4%, Fresh Salmon 4%, <1% Salmon Stock, Minerals & Vitamins. 

What we’re seeing here is an excellent example of ingredient list spin. By using a few simple tricks, manufacturers can take a fairly run-of-the-mill formula and make it look much more appealing to the untrained eye. 

But by knowing what to look for, you can quickly make sure you’re not being led down the garden path. 

Trick 1: Ingredient splitting 

By separating less appealing ingredients into two or more sub entries, producers can push them down the ingredients list and make them appear a lot less significant. This is called ingredient splitting and it is most commonly done with grains and legumes like peas and lentils. 

In the above example, the manufacturer has split both the potato and pea ingredients each into two separate listings (potato & potato flour and peas & pea protein). Without splitting both potato and peas would be much higher on the list. 

Trick 2: Ingredient grouping 

 The opposite of splitting ingredients to move them down the list is grouping similar ingredients together, usually within a bracket, so that the total percentage is large enough to move them up. Manufacturers love doing this with their meat ingredients and sometimes rope in other animal derived ingredients like oils and even stock to make their ‘meat’ content appear as high as possible. 

Again looking at the example above, you can see that the manufacturer has grouped all of the fish ingredients together including the fish oil and fish broth, to make them the first ingredient and provide the highly desirable ’50% fish’ headline. Listed individually, all of the fish ingredients would would look much less significant. 

Trick 3: Fresh meat ingredients in dry dog foods 

To be fair, there are plenty of good reasons for using fresh meat in dog food – not least it’s nutritional quality, but it also makes it easy for manufacturers to claim far higher meat percentages than their foods actually contain.

By law, pet food ingredients need to be listed in order of their percentages in the so-called ‘mixing bowl’ stage – that is when all of the ingredients are put together ready for the final manufacturing process. This includes both ‘fresh’ ingredients (that still contain large amounts of water) and dry ingredients (typically powders that have very low moisture levels). 

The problem is, when the ingredients are processed to make the final biscuit, almost all of the moisture from the fresh ingredients is lost making their proportion in the food shrink considerably. 

In the example above, the food lists 22% fresh trout and 10% fresh salmon – a total of 32% fresh fish. But fresh fish contains roughly three quarters water and once most of it has been cooked away during processing, the proportion will be more like 13% in the finished biscuit. The ‘salmon stock’, which is almost entirely water, is reduced to nearly 0% in the finished product. This means that the total fish ingredient percentage in the biscuit is more like 27% – roughly half of the 50% advertised. 

Seeing through the smoke and mirrors 

As you can see, once you put all of these tricks together, as many manufacturers do, you are left with an ingredients list that is barely recognisable alongside the original but the telltale signs are easy to spot when you know what to look for. 

The next time you’re comparing dog foods, be sure to look out for: 

1. Numerous very similar grain or legume ingredients scattered around the ingredients list 2. Grouped meat ingredients 

3. A large proportion of fresh meat (dry foods only) 

None of these necessarily make the food bad but they do mean that the food probably isn’t quite as good as you might think. 

Let us do the math 

Of course, not everyone has the time or patience to unpick all of the creative labelling employed by many pet food manufacturers but that’s is where AllAboutDogFood.co.uk can help! Our unique nutritional rating system sees straight through all of the smoke and mirrors to calculate the true proportions of ingredients found in pet foods and score their nutritional quality accordingly. You can also use our Review Generator (which uses exactly the same rating system) to get more info on foods that we haven’t rated yet.

Author: David Jackson, All About Dog Food

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