After World War II, the success of commercial dog food was part of a sweeping societal trend toward modern conveniences that would both improve the overall standard of living and maximize the consumer’s leisure time. Women embraced anything that would free them from the kitchen or ease their household chores. Like drive-through restaurants and frozen dinners, prepackaged dog food was just one more culinary advantage.
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Beginning in the 1950’s, companies switched their promotional strategies to emphasize the convenience of canned and bagged dog foods. “Feeding a dog is simple today,” declared one dog food company advertisement. “It is unnecessary to cook special foods, measure this and that – why bother when it takes less than a minute to prepare one of our meals for your dog?”
Another dog food company in those days played on a similar theme, promising to do “away with all the fuss and bother in preparing food for your dog.” They bragged about the lightning speed with which their dog food could be served and cleaned up, since it did not “stick to the feeding bowl and is easier than ever to mix.
As the pet food market became increasingly lucrative through the 1960’s, it caught the eye of American industrial giants looking to diversify. Quaker Oats, Ralston-Purina, and other breakfast food conglomerates began producing grain-based kibbles and biscuits, and meat packers such as Armour and Swift marketed the first canned dog foods with a meat base. (During this time., too, questions about the safety of cigarettes first prompted tobacco companies to diversify their holdings, and pet food was one of the more popular investments.) Competition among these industrial “big boys” brought new, stylishly packaged products and eye-popping promotional campaigns, which torpedoed smaller, independent companies like Spratt’s, as well as most regional “mom and pop” pet foods.
But too many dog owners persisted in supplementing commercial dog food with table scraps, so companies retooled their marketing strategies. Advertisements ceased to even acknowledge the idea of home cooking for dogs, and put an increasingly derogatory twist on “scraps,” while commercial foods were powerhouses of proteins, minerals, and vitamins.
At a 1964 meeting of the Pet Food Institute (PFI), a Washington-based lobbying association representing American companies, George Pugh, an executive of Swift and Company (makers of Pard dog food) described ongoing efforts to discourage the feeding of anything but commercial dog food. PFI staff also “assisted” Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and fourteen other popular magazines in the preparation of feature articles about dog care, which not incidentally advocated commercial pet food to the exclusion of everything else. And a script prepared and distributed by PFI, warning of the dangers of table scraps, got airtime on ninety-one radio stations throughout the country.