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Samples of Beneful Prepared Meals, a line of gourmet dog foods by Purina. (NAM Y. HUH/AP)
Samples of Beneful Prepared Meals, a line of gourmet dog foods by Purina. (NAM Y. HUH/AP)

Persuasion notebook

Pet food makers growling at each other over advertising claims Add to ...

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail’s marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe’s marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Two pet food companies are fighting over truth in advertising, and things are getting hairy.

Last week, Nestlé SA-owned Purina sued competing pet food maker Blue Buffalo, claiming that the smaller company’s claims – that its products are more natural and healthy than the big-name brands – constitute false advertising. In documents filed in a St. Louis, federal court, Purina said it could back this up with independent laboratory tests.

At first, Blue Buffalo responded by saying that it would “aggressively defend” its brand and products. Now it has made good on that promise, announcing that it plans to sue Purina for defamation. In an open letter, founder and chairman Bill Bishop called Purina’s claims about his company’s product quality “outrageous” and a “malicious attempt to undermine the trust of our pet parents.”

In a statement, Purina said it was confident in the findings of its tests.

“In light of the public threat from Blue Buffalo ... we have amended our complaint to ask the Missouri federal court to review our website and our public statements, and rule – as a matter of law – that they are not defamatory,” the statement said.

Advertising claims that foods are natural and wholesome are becoming as important for pet products as human ones. In recent years, pet marketing has drawn much closer to the types of trends and messages seen in advertising of products for humans – whether that means claiming that a food is rich in antioxidants, or that a product can cure bad breath. With more consumers looking to buy the best for their pets, and an industry worth more than $3-billion in Canada alone (including both pet products and pet food), those claims can be worth plenty to companies.

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