Driving through a familiar neighborhood last week, I did an involuntary a double take. A gaping hole in the ground had suddenly appeared where a small café had stood ever since I can remember.
There was no doubt that the eatery was no longer there. But was it gone forever?
That question was more easily answered than some “disappearances” of pet food
More than occasionally an inquiry arrives with some variation of “I can’t find my favorite food. Can you help?” Most of the time the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is maybe. While rare, the answer may be an unequivocal “no.” So what leads to this question in the first place?
Quite often, a pet parent discovers either an empty space or a new food on the shelf where their favorite used to reside. The first, and simplest course of action is to inquire at the location where the food had previously been available. The response to that question will lead to your next step(s).
When you’re told “we’re no longer carrying that food,” take heart. There’s a very good chance that it may be available elsewhere. Depending on the relationship you have with your original shop, they may even agree to special order it for you. Your chances of this may improve if you offer to pay for it in advance. (Shameless plug: Smiley Dog will never ask you to prepay for a special request food. You pay on the day it appears at your door)
Keep in mind that employees may not always know why a food has disappeared. Although you’re told it’s no longer being carried, knowing “why” will help in your quest for a solution.
The decision to discontinue a food is usually made for one of three reasons
The primary reasons a shop will discontinue a food are:
Let’s have a look and explore your options for each. We’ll start by simply following the money.
A shop may decide to discontinue a food for the sole reason that it is not selling well. Keeping a poorly selling food on the shelf ties up cash that could be used for more popular items.
When viewed from a strictly financial perspective, it does not make good economic sense to invest money in a product that sits on the shelf for longer than an alternative product. That economic perspective should be balanced along with a client’s needs and preferences. This is not always the case.
Another financial reason a food may be discontinued is its price. A food may not be significantly different in formulation or performance, but considerably more expensive. These foods can be hard to justify keeping on the shelf for some shops.
This is a judgment call on the part of the shop’s management, which leads to the next reason a food may disappear.
Philosophical differences can result in a food being pulled from the shelves
With dozens of brands and formulations available, some sort of standards must be used to determine the mix of products that appear in your favorite shop. For most independent shops, the philosophical approach of the owner or manager will play a large role in that selection.
When a food or brand falls out of favor with the philosophical approach of a store, that product will likely disappear. The reasons behind the change can range from minor to extreme. It could be the result of a personal snub from a manufacturer’s rep or the sale of a small, trusted brand to a large multinational corporation.
The philosophy of finances can also factor into these decisions. One shop may find it acceptable to retain a small assortment of higher quality, higher priced but slower moving products to satisfy the needs of the “high end” market. Another shop may see these foods not as high end but the minimum nutritional standard they are willing to carry.
In either case, once an acceptable amount of these foods are stocked, there may be no further need, or space, for more. As new products are introduced, the philosophy of each shop will determine what stays, goes or gets introduced. It’s rare for any shop to have unlimited shelf space and resources to make everything available at once.
Which brings us to a final reason a food may disappear.
Availability is often the reason your food has disappeared
The supply channels of the pet food industry are anything but simple. Multiple sources provide the raw materials for all foods. Disruption from any source which affects the production schedule can lead to product delays or shortages.
Since many pet foods brands do not manufacture their own foods, they can experience disruptions that are out of their control. A raw material supplier may not deliver on time or be up to quality standards, equipment may break down, or a mistake by a single individual tasked with ordering can result in a food being unavailable for a week or a month.
Some shops will drop a food when a pattern of unreliability becomes more consistent than they are willing to accept. Unreliability can be the result of a breakdown in any part of the manufacturing or distribution process.
The simplified version of this process is: manufacturer assembles raw ingredients and produces food, the finished product is packaged, piled on palettes and loaded into containers, then shipped to distributors across the country (&/ or the world), distributors store finished product and send it to individual retailers who then stock their shelves for you!
When a glitch arises in any part of this process the end result is the same- a product with poor reliability
Knowing the cause of the unreliability will be helpful in deciding whether to continue pursuing the product. A temporary ingredient shortage indicates the product should be available again in a reasonable time. A change in distribution can be disruptive, but is usually resolved within a matter of weeks.
Changes in manufacturing locations, ownership or reformulations can result in product shortages of a different type. In these cases, it’s always advisable to compare the new product with the original to ensure any changes are acceptable.
Ingredient and formulation changes of this type are not always immediately reflected accurately on pet food bags. Be sure to double-check your bags after a few months to eliminate any unpleasant surprises, particularly if you’ve noticed a change in the food, the way it feeds, or the bag design.
A different type of reliability issue arises when a manufacturer decides to pull its product from a retailer’s shelves. This is usually the result of the retailer not abiding by the manufacturer’s contractual guidelines for pricing, advertising, and sales channels.
One reliability issue resulting in product shortages cannot be overcome
When the decision to discontinue a product has been made by a manufacturer, your only recourse is to scurry around and pick up as much as you can before it disappears. This is usually the only time you’ll be left with the unpleasant option of finding an alternative for the discontinued product.
If you’ve got a good relationship with your local shop, ask them for suggestions of alternatives. Instead of accepting their recommendations blindly, find out why they are being offered.
Be sure to ask (and understand!) how the ingredient list of the new food compares to the old. How does the price compare? Bag size? Are the feeding guidelines/ digestibility comparable?
If you’re unhappy with the responses you get, keep looking beyond those original suggestions. You can use the steps in the Food Guide as a roadmap for evaluating and comparing your options.
For all other situations, track down your favorite food with a few simple steps
First, begin by asking your shop why the food is no longer available. If they don’t know, ask if it can be special ordered for you. If that question can’t be answered to your satisfaction, it’s time to move on.
You can then check around with other shops or online to see if anyone else has what you’re after. If that is unsuccessful, pick up the phone and contact the manufacturer.
The manufacturer will be able to tell you two important things: whether the food is still being made and who distributes it in your area.
If the food is no longer available (i.e. it has been discontinued), sorry, game over. If it is still being made, get in touch with the distributor.
You cannot buy directly from the distributor, but they can recommend a few retail shops in your area that have an account with them. Contact those shops to find out if they are carrying your food. If not, ask if they can special order it for you.
The product mix on retailer’s shelves constantly changes for a variety of reasons
Sometimes this results in your favorite food disappearing from the shelf. When this happens, don’t despair.
A quick check around the “neighborhood” should reveal your finding your favorite food requires following a different path, but is still available. Unless it’s been discontinued by the manufacturer or you choose to move to an alternative, you’ll be back in familiar territory.
And that favorite neighborhood café that was replaced by a giant hole in the ground? I’m happy to report it has simply relocated 3 blocks away and is as good (and greasy) as ever!
If you’re among the unfortunate few looking to replace a food that has been discontinued by a manufacturer, consider picking up your very own copy of The Dog Food Detective. The paperback can also be found in our Shopping Cart, iTunes or Amazon.