Monday, December 7, 2015

What's an Affordable Alternative to Beneful?

What is a cost-effective, affordable alternative to Beneful? I feed my dogs all sorts of amazing top-quality foods, but this isn't feasible for everybody. The fact is, the vast majority of the general public has no idea what makes a good dog food, and there's a whole ton of fear-mongering on every level. It's tough to sort things out. 

Many, many people feed their dogs Purina's Beneful, and the pending class action lawsuit has a lot of those people wondering what is a safer or better alternative. This topic just came up with a Facebook friend recently. In years gone by, I would have extolled the virtues of raw food, or grain-free food, but these days I feel I can do the most good by meeting people where they're at right now. Beneful is cheap and widely available, I'm not going to get very far by suggesting people double their dog food bill and trek to their nearest specialty store. Here's what I told my friends:

Isn't Beneful Healthy?

Purina spends a crazy amount of money on marketing. They produce attention-grabbing commercials and beautiful packaging that very deliberately conveys the message that Beneful is healthy. The products themselves have names like "Healthy Weight" and "Healthy Smile". The constant message of health and wellness sticks with people on a subconscious as well as conscious level, Purina has done an amazing job associating Beneful with "healthy". This is why tons and tons and tons of people truly think that Beneful is a really healthy food for their dog. 

I've come to accept that most people don't live in the dog world the way I do. Most people buy their dog food at the grocery store, and need never set foot in a pet store at all. These people are probably unaware of the vast majority of dog foods on the market. They see the dozen or so brands at the grocery store, and of those Beneful is the one with the best marketing. People don't just think Beneful is great because they are ignorant, and I feel it is very important to acknowledge the role of marketing in this perception. 

So Why is Beneful So Bad?

Class action lawsuit notwithstanding, Beneful isn't particularly worse than most of the other foods at the grocery store. The issue with these foods is that they tend to be made out of by-products from other industries. Most people can imagine what meat by-products consist of without going into disgusting detail, so unless they ask why by-products are so bad I can leave it at that. 

The first two ingredients in Beneful Originals chicken kibble are ground yellow corn and chicken by-product meal. One of the people in our Facebook conversation said they feed their dogs Pedigree as an alternative. The first two ingredients in Pedigree Adult chicken kibble are ground whole grain corn, followed by meat and bone meal. That's actually worse than Beneful, in my lofty opinion. Neither of these foods rate well in the dog world, Dog Food Advisor gives Beneful and Pedigree both its lowest rating of one out of five stars.

What is a Cheap and Good Dog Food?

There are tons of dog foods out there that are way better than Beneful or Pedigree. I feel it's important to recommend foods that are in the same price range if I want people to truly consider alternatives. Walmart sells a 30lb bag of Beneful for about $30, that's about a dollar a pound. The place I work sells a 33lb bag of Fromm Classics Adult dog food for $33, that's a dollar a pound for a 3.5 star dog food with no by-products, made by a very highly-regarded company that has never had a recall. It's the best value I am currently aware of, though one must go to a feed store or other specialty store in order to find it. Fromm Classics also has more calories per cup than Beneful, so less of it can be fed for a better value. Rachael Ray Nutrish is also around $1 per pound, and while it only rates 2.5 stars on Dog Food Advisor, it doesn't contain by-products and is widely available. 

For other options, I generally recommend people start by reading labels. By-products are undesirable because they can contain questionable substances from questionable sources. Named meats and meat meals are important. Chicken meal is better than chicken by-product meal, which is better than meat meal. Unintuitively, chicken meal is better than just plain chicken, since it is a more concentrated form of protein, and more of it makes it into the finished product. If people genuinely want to know more, I like to recommend the book Dog Food Logic, particularly for things like industry definitions of ingredients since these don't always match the layperson definitions.

And that's really it. I want people to know that there is better dog food out there, and affordable alternatives exist. There is no need for fear-mongering, scare tactics, or tales of woe. Gory details and hyperbole are out, well-cited and reliable sources of information are in.

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