Friday, March 23, 2007

A scandal for branding?

It looks like rat poison contamination is behind the kidney failure and related pet deaths associated with wet food processed and packaged by Menu Foods. As an animal lover, I am shocked and saddened by this news story, but I think there is a bigger consumer marketing story that isn't being covered by any of the media organizations.

This recall, together with the E-coli peanut butter recall of a few weeks ago, has demonstrated to the American public that many of the brands they see as differentiated are actually prepared and packaged by one manufacturer. That wet pet food from Wal-Mart and Kroger private labels ("the cheap stuff") to more premium food like IAMS are essentially the same stuff should be shocking. After all, there are major price differences among the 100-odd brands listed on the Menu Foods recall list.

Will these recalls raise consumer questions about who actually makes their favorite consumer packaged goods? Will they start asking precisely who is manufacturing the detergent, body lotion, breakfast cereal or mascara they pay a premium for? Will they be shocked to learn a budget brand rolls off the same production line as a more expensive product? Are the ingredient lists that different? How will we feel about ourselves if we learn that the upscale brands with which we associate ourselves are little different from their private label cousins?

How are you reacting to these recalls? Do they change how you think about brands, or have you always been a skeptic?

UPDATE 3/26/07: P&G sent this message to their Pet Care email list on March 21, "You may wonder why some 'wet' food was produced at Menu Foods. In fact, virtually every pet food company commonly uses outside partners for special or small volume items. Nonetheless, the different branded products made by Menu are not "the same". Our Iams and Eukanuba pet foods have unique recipes and important ingredient differences that distinguish them from other pet food brands."