Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

An Analysis of Pet Food Label Usage

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

An Analysis of Pet Food Label Usage

Article excerpt

We use the 2008 Health and Diet Survey to investigate the extent to which pet owners consult pet food labels. We find that pet food label usage has not penetrated shopping behavior to the degree that using the Nutrition Facts label has for human food purchases. While we find no gender difference in using pet food labels among dog owners, women may be less likely than men to consult labels among cat owners. The data also suggest that usage increases when at least three pets are owned; cat owners consult pet food labels less frequently than dog owners; and usage is not dependent on the type of product purchased.


The Nutrition Facts label has been required on most packaged food since 1994 and provides consumers with a wide array of valuable nutrition information. Recent data from the National Health and Examination Surveys showed that 42% of adults used the label all or most of the time when shopping in 2009/2010, which was up from 34% in 2007/2008 (Todd 2014). Additionally, Campos, Doxey, and Hammond (2011) and Ollberding, Wolf, and Contento (2011) found that label users exhibited better diet patterns than nonlabel users.

Many of the benefits from standardizing the labeling of food also potentially apply to the labeling of pet food. One goal of pet food labeling, much like the labeling of packaged food, is to help pet owners make smarter choices and thereby provide a higher quality of care for their pets (Michel et al. 2008). Acknowledging the well-established correlations between proper nutrition and pet health, the American Animal Hospital Association provides recommended pet nutrition guidelines with the aim of enhancing the length and quality of pets' lives (American Animal Hospital Association 2010).

With 95 million pet cats and 83 million pet dogs in the United States, together cats and dogs outnumber the number of children under the age of 18 by almost two to one (American Pet Products Association 2014). According to the American Pet Products Association, almost 56 billion dollars was spent on pet products in the United States in 2013, with almost 23 billion dollars being spent on pet food alone. Moreover, expenditures on pets have been increasing at more than a 6.5% annual rate since 1994 (American Pet Products Association 2014).

Despite the potential health implications for pets and the economic importance of the pet food market, a lack of data has precluded an analysis of pet food label usage from being conducted. The 2008 Health and Diet Survey (HDS), however, collected data on pet owners and their feeding habits. Using this data set, we investigate the extent to which dog and cat owners consult pet food labels for nutritional information when purchasing a pet food for the first time. We also compare consumer use of pet food labels to their use of the Nutrition Facts label. Furthermore, the survey design of the 2008 HDS allows empirical analysis of the usage of pet food labels by the number and type of pets owned. The results presented here provide a baseline for comparing behavior in 2008 against future results when other surveys interview pet owners about their usage of pet food labels.

In order to differentiate between the labeling of food meant for human consumption from pet food, we refer to the Nutrition Facts label as the "food label" and refer to a label on pet food as the "pet food label." Additionally, "pets" refers to dogs and cats, and "pet food" refers to dog and cat food products. Finally, "pet owner" is taken to mean a pet owner who self-reports in the 2008 HDS as being a primary shopper for pet food.


From a legal standpoint, pet food products are a subset of all products marketed as food for animals. Animal foods are regulated at both the federal and state levels with most state regulations imposing additional requirements beyond the federal requirements. Because each state enacts specific laws and regulations for animal foods sold in the state, the potential exists for multiple sets of divergent requirements for the labeling and composition of animal foods. …

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