I’m sorry to say I have now seen many years of recalls in the pet food industry, dating back to the horrific Menu Foods debacle of 2007. I have been writing about the world of pets for a few years now, and would I say this is as bad as Menu? No, not yet, but it is has the potential to be as serious as any we’ve seen in awhile. The reason, though, may not be the one you think.
A recall, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily the end of the world. In an age of modern manufacturing, recalls are bound to happen in any and all industries, from medical devices to lawnmowers to food products. We’d like perfection, but things happen. I understand that, but any public relations specialist will tell you that the proper way to handle a crisis is to be forthcoming, transparent and honest. You can probably think of a politician or three who got those points wrong. Losing trust with your constituents can be fatal. You will be forgiven for making mistakes, but not for covering them up. See: Watergate or look up Edwards, John.
In the pet food industry, as with others, there’s a disturbing tendency to convey bad news (read: recalls) as late as possible on Friday afternoon. This is when the fewest people will be paying attention, and the company fervently hopes you won’t notice they’ve just admitted to having sold you products that may sicken or kill your beloved pet. There’s a term for this practice. It’s called “dump and run,” or “Friday dump and run.” They leave their office, and customer service phone numbers may be set to recordings for the weekend. From Friday through Monday, you could well have nobody to speak to, to ask questions of, or to complain to.
All of Diamond’s brand recalls have been announced on Friday afternoons. But wait, it gets worse. In 2009, the FDA posted a recall from Diamond that had originally been announced in September, but it didn’t become serious for another couple months. The date that the 2009 recall picked up steam was November 27. So what, you say? That’s not just a Friday. You had guessed that part already. No, this was the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. In the U.S. we have a term for that day. We call it Black Friday. People aren’t paying attention to the news, because they’re at the malls. Well played...
The larger news for many pet owners is that multiple brands of pet foods are interrelated. Labels you wouldn’t necessarily realize have any relationship with each other, are in fact manufactured by the same company, or at the very least share a common source supplier. This was the root cause of the 2007 catastrophe. My friends Gina Spadafori and Christie Keith were the ones who broke the story and uncovered the horrifying truth: Chinese supplied raw ingredients that didn’t appear on any pet food package label were laced with melamine, an ingredient that functions marvelously as a fire retardant, but will kill animals who ingest it. By the way, Christie’s thoughts on the current crisis can be read here.
I know for a fact that this recall won’t affect Cami and Harry, because we feed them a diet of reconstituted (dehydrated, and we bring it back to life with warm water) human grade dog food from a little company in San Diego called The Honest Kitchen. THK isn’t prone to the problems that Diamond Foods faces because they’re a responsible company and they care deeply about how they source, manufacture, distribute and market their products. Also, the CEO is a friend. If I sound smug about it, I am. When it comes to my dogs’ health, I don’t take chances with faceless corporate behemoths. I’ll happily pay a couple bucks more for peace of mind and an outstanding, healthy diet for these furry little monsters. I think that’s part of my responsibility as a dog owner.
So what lesson should you draw from current Diamond crisis? First, if you’re feeding your pets any of the foods noted here, stop immediately. Second, pay attention to further updates, because I’ll bet you folding money the list will grow, as will the numbers of humans and pets sickened and killed. Third, a good consumer is an educated consumer. In the future, notice how a company relates to its consumers. Do they announce recalls when the fewest eyeballs and eardrums are likely to be noticing? Do they wait until the Friday of a holiday weekend? Oh yes, that’s an oldie but a goodie. Do they make information related to the recall easy to find on their website. Do you have a resource to contact should you have questions? In short, do they treat their customers and investors like adults or like targets? Remember, there’s a difference.