IN MARCH, CONSUMER trust was tested when reports of kidney failure and death among dogs and cats that had consumed Menu Foods-produced pet food began to surface. The news prompted the recall of 60 million containers of pet food produced at Menu Foods' Emporia, Kan., facility during a three-month period.
Complaints coincided with the introduction of a new wheat gluten ingredient sourced from China.
Menu Foods manufactured pet food for more than a dozen retailers' private-label lines, including those that bore the Wal-Mart, Publix, Wegmans, Food Lion and Stop & Shop/Giant Foods-Landover brand names. The supplier also contract-manufactured national-brand pet foods, including some varieties sold under Eukanuba, Iams and Science Diet brands.
But the recall was not limited to dog and cat foods produced by the supplier. When all was said and done, 5,300 varieties of pet food produced by 11 manufacturers had to be pulled from store shelves, and thousands of pets were reported sick or dead, according to published reports. The recall ignited a firestorm of controversy about the safeguards the Food and Drug Administration has in place to ensure the safety of imported foods. It also produced major sourcing challenges for retailers.
In June, Menu Foods announced that three of its private-label retailer customers discontinued their contracts with the manufacturer, deciding instead to produce pet foods themselves or to source products elsewhere.
Manufacturers like Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., whose products were recalled, tried to rebuild shoppers' trust with shelf tags stressing the safety of its products.
But such efforts weren't always enough.
Many shoppers turned to premium, natural and organic dog and cat foods.
Premium pet food sales experienced a 25% spike immediately following the recall.
To win back sales, chains like D'Agostino adjusted its product mix accordingly. It found that some shoppers are willing to pay double what they did before.
Similarly, in September, United Supermarkets reported that organic and natural pet food unit sales increased 32% over the same time the previous year.
The safety of people food was also brought into question in 2007 — especially when the presence of salmonella was detected in containers of ConAgra's Peter Pan peanut butter and jars of Wal-Mart's private-label Great Value brand of peanut butter. Both were manufactured in ConAgra's Sylvester, Ga., plant.
The supplier initiated a recall of 100% of the peanut butter products it produced there, and samples collected by the FDA revealed the presence of salmonella in the plant environment. The manufacturing facility temporarily closed.
ConAgra's facility reopened in August with stricter food safety standards, and Peter Pan Peanut Butter returned to shelves shortly after.
Potentially fatal botulism exposure became another shopper concern in July when processing malfunctions at an Augusta, Ga., plant led to the recall of pet food, chili and hot dog chili sauce produced by Castleberry Food Products. Recalled foods included Meijer, Food Lion and Bloom private-label hot dog chili sauces, among others, as well as a number of Natural Balance Eatables dog food varieties. Several store brands of contract-manufactured chili, including those merchandised under the Big Y, Kroger, Lowes, Meijer and Piggly Wiggly private labels, were also included on the recall list.