In May of 2016, Wysong Pet Food filed a lawsuit against six competing pet food manufacturers claiming misleading images on pet food labels sway consumer purchases. The defendant pet food companies have responded, asking a judge to dismiss the case. Here’s what they are claiming…
When the average consumer looks at a pet food label like this…
…how do they interpret that label, specifically the images on the label?
Do most consumers think the pet food includes steak – similar to what is displayed on the label?
Or do most consumers see the grilled steak image and think…’Steak, oh OK. That means this pet food is made with beef. It doesn’t contain steak, it’s simply a beef pet food.’…?
The latter is what lawyers representing Mars, Purina, Big Heart, Hills, Ainsworth, and Walmart believe consumers think. Hill’s Science Diet’s response to the court…
The pictures on the packages inform consumers about the general type of ingredients in the products (chicken, beef, salmon, vegetables, etc.). These easily recognizable graphic depictions of ingredients are a quick, simple way for consumers to know what they are buying.
(Something interesting about the above pet food label…the name of the pet food is Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Beef and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food Dry, the image is a grilled steak…but…the banner in the middle of the label states “Real Chicken Pieces”. Is this a “quick, simple way” to confuse consumers? Is it beef, is it chicken, is only the chicken real?)
Lawyers representing Mars Petcare and all of the other pet food manufacturers in the suit claim…
A reasonable pet food consumer would not believe that images of meat, vegetables or fruits on packages mean that the food is comprised of premium ingredients…
…the images on Defendants’ packaging convey the simple and true message that the products contain the protein (or fruits and vegetables) from the types of animals depicted. The images on Defendants’ packaging depict the ingredients actually contained in the products in a form that consumers readily identify.
Note the words “a reasonable pet food consumer”. Does that mean a consumer would be ‘unreasonable’ should they believe a pet food package displaying pictures of grilled steak or roasted chicken breast should contain just what the label portrays?
If you were to purchase this TV dinner…
…would it be ‘unreasonable’ for any consumer to expect the above TV dinner does in fact contain fried chicken?
Or would it be “reasonable” for a consumer to think of the above TV dinner: ‘Oh, OK. I’m going to have chicken tonight. I have no idea how that chicken is prepared – I shouldn’t pay any attention to the fried chicken displayed on the label.”
That is what the defense of Mars, Purina, Big Heart, Hills, Ainsworth, and Walmart are saying. The defense is saying that the only thing the consumer thinks is chicken – consumers don’t see fried chicken and think they are purchasing fried chicken.
Is is reasonable or unreasonable for a consumer to expect the chicken in their TV dinner is exactly prepared as the label displays?
Would a reasonable consumer purchase this TV dinner for their child…
…and find it perfectly acceptable that the dinner DID NOT contain chicken drumsticks? What if the above TV dinner contained some other portion of chicken – like chicken backs? Is is “reasonable” for a consumer to purchase a TV dinner with fried chicken drumsticks displayed on the label when the dinner contains no drumsticks?
The Mars response to the court (speaking for all of the defendant pet food companies) also argued…
Wysong’s main theory is that the images of meats, fruits and vegetables on Mars’s packaging cause a substantial portion of reasonable consumers to believe that the products contain “ingredients like those they would purchase and cook for their families.” Mars’s packages do not state that the products contain ingredients that a consumer “would feed his family.” None of the packages state that the food or its ingredients are human grade. A reasonable pet food consumer would not believe that images of meat, vegetables or fruits on packages mean that the food is comprised of premium ingredients “that they feed their families.”
Again the lawyers call out the “reasonable pet food consumer”. The argument made by the pet food companies trying to get this lawsuit tossed is that “reasonable consumers” do not believe that a picture of grilled steak or roasted chicken on a pet food label implies human food. Of course ‘reasonable consumers’ are swayed by those images…if they weren’t so effective pet food companies wouldn’t use them. And the pet food companies claim “none of the packages state the the food or its ingredients are human grade”. Actually – they do. They state ‘human grade’ through those images. Those are certainly not pictures of feed grade meats. The words human grade are not used, but the images speak just the same.
And let’s not forget the law specific to those images on pet food labels. 2017 AAFCO Model Regulations for Pet Food – “PF2. Label Format and Labeling – (c) A vignette, graphic, or pictorial representation on a pet food or specialty pet food label shall not misrepresent the contents of the package.”
I fully support Wysong Pet Food in this lawsuit. There is no doubt – many images on pet food labels are lying to consumers while some pet food companies are profiting handsomely from those lies. I encourage Wysong to continue their battle. All pet food consumers will benefit when these lies are stopped.
To read the response from Mars, Purina, Big Heart, Hills, Ainsworth, and Walmart – click here.
To read the response from Wysong – click here.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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