Thousands of pets have already succumbed to the plague of fake pet food. With the authorities unable to catch every single culprit, the onus lies on brand owners to insist on covert solutions to achieve counterfeiting protection that’s completely tamper-proof.
How Bad Is the Counterfeit Pet Food Problem?
It seems logical that with a huge pet food industry, the scale of counterfeit products would also be sizable. While studies on the scope of counterfeiting in pet food are low in number, large-scale scandals have rocked the market more than once in recent years.
As online shopping expanded its scope in recent years, people started ordering more and more pet food and supplements from international e-commerce stores. This further complicated the fight against fake products as global supply chains are harder to monitor and consequently, fakes harder to spot. There have also been cases (discussed later in the article) where domestic manufacturers found copies of pet food and medicines circulating in legitimate online and offline stores.
Cases in China and the US even prompted e-commerce giant Amazon to embark on a coordinated attack against counterfeits – Project Zero. It enabled brands to participate in the fight against fake products by leveraging automation and machine learning to easily spot and remove fake listings of their products from the platform.
But solutions like these will not solve the problem by themselves. Governments and manufacturers ought to explore innovative ways to protect products against counterfeiting. Solutions implemented at the source instead of at the destination are likely to make a bigger dent in the counterfeit industry.
Global Pet Food Market
Valued at over $110 billion in 2021, the global pet food market is slated to grow at a healthy CAGR of over 5% to reach $163.7 billion by 2029. The COVID-19 pandemic alone contributed a lot toward the sales of dog and cat treats, especially between February and May of 2020. The market shows healthy signs of growth as pet ownership grows and manufacturers go all-in on personalized pet food and other innovative ideas.
The US leads the pet food market by a landslide, contributing more than $43 billion in 2021. The UK is a distant second at $6.6 billion, followed by other European markets like France, Germany, and Russia. The Chinese share of the global pie is only around $1.2 billion despite it being the biggest source of counterfeit products. Japan accounts for almost thrice of the global market as China at approximately $3.2 billion.
In general, the affinity toward pet food in general and customized treats in particular is higher in western markets. This is also one of the reasons for more stringent pet food regulations in these regions. In terms of the type of pet food, dog food has the ‘lion’s’ share at over 59% globally while cat food rakes in approximately 30%. The remaining share is attributed to other pets.
Counterfeit Pet Food Hotspots
Although a large majority of fake goods originate from China, the most at-risk markets are found elsewhere on the globe. According to an OECD report, the most affected economies by counterfeit goods, in general, are the US, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Korea, and the UK.
This might not come as a surprise as these economies, in addition to Russia, are also the biggest pet food markets in the world. In 2007, the US and other North American economies, along with Europe and South Africa faced one of the biggest pet food recalls in history. Even before that in 2003-2004, many Asian countries recalled pet foods from multiple brands due to renal failure in pets. And in 2005, around 1000 animal deaths were attributed to renal failure in South Korea.
Important Instances of Pet Food Counterfeiting
While we discussed the most at-risk economies related to pet food counterfeiting in the previous section, it’s also important to know specific cases where fake food proved disastrous to animal health and sparked legal action against the culprits.
Menu Foods Recalls Cat and Dog Food in the US
The 2007 pet food scandal that rocked North America and Europe started with Menu Foods recalling many of its dog and cat food products after receiving complaints of pets falling sick in February 2007. It was found that wheat gluten, a pet food ingredient, was contaminated with melamine which caused a toxic reaction in pets. In the absence of any regulations, melamine was added to pet food by many Chinese factories. Once it entered the system, it led to melamine-cyanuric acid toxicosis in pets, leading to renal failure and even death.
The recall cost Menu Foods $45 million in recalled products alone. The contamination was traced to the Chinese company Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company, which was shut down by Chinese authorities. The lawsuit filed by multiple parties against Menu Foods, Nestle Purina PetCare Co., Wal-Mart, PETCO, and others, was settled for $24 million in 2008.
Taobao Wins Lawsuit Against Fake Royal Canin Seller
Much more recently, Chinese authorities ordered a vendor to compensate the ecommerce site Taobao for selling fake cat food on the platform. The settlement amounted to 120,000 yuan (around $17,424). The vendor, a man named Yao, was selling Royal Canin (owned by Mars, Inc.) cat food on the site since 2015 and was arrested in 2016 after lab tests proved that he was dealing in counterfeit products.
PetSmart Removes All Chinese-Manufactured Pet Treats
The popular pet food retailer, PetSmart, decided to remove Chinese-manufactured dog and cat treats from its products after the FDA announced that jerky treats from China had been linked with over 1,000 dog deaths and almost 5,000 illnesses in dogs, cats, and even people. The FDA also advises pet owners to seek veterinary advice before feeding any treats to their pets and also if they notice any symptoms.
State of Current Counterfeit Protection
Protecting genuine pet food and supplements from counterfeiting requires unique identifiers to be included in the product packaging. These identifiers serve as a means to guarantee to the customer the authenticity of a particular product. Pet food brands are currently implementing solutions like anti-counterfeit labels that require customers to scratch and reveal a unique code that they can verify online.
These labels, besides the randomly generated verification code, also include a QR code, bar code, logistics code, and other information meant to uniquely identify a bag of pet supplies. But there are fundamental issues with this level of counterfeit protection.
First, such overt identifiers like QR codes and barcodes can be easily replicated by counterfeiters and used on fake products. Even the tamper-proof verification codes can simply be pasted on a fake bag of pet food, posing the bag as genuine.
Second, counterfeiters can simply bypass the original protection solution implemented by the brand in favor of one of their own. Innocent customers will be fooled by the presence of a QR code or seal of authenticity and believe the product is genuine. Not everyone will go to the lengths of checking what unique image or solution was actually chosen by the manufacturer.
Lastly, strengthening overt protection measures by choosing more and more complex imagery and information will keep adding design and printing overheads to the packaging costs.
A better and more advanced way of fighting counterfeiting is with covert anti-counterfeit protection solutions that remain invisible to the naked eye but can still be used to verify the authenticity of a genuine product.
Tamper-Proof Protection with Cryptoglyph
Anti-counterfeiting technology has evolved to a degree that allows brands to incorporate highly advanced verification without the need to significantly modify product packaging. These covert solutions are invisible and are embedded into the packaging using highly sophisticated techniques, hence skyrocketing the effort and finances needed to replicate them.
Today, brands have the flexibility to choose from multiple covert verification measures like hidden fingerprints, embedded micro-holes, highly secure QR codes, and more. Solutions like the AlpVision Cryptoglyph can be introduced easily into standard printing processes with minimal costs. Cryptoglyph adds thousands of randomly distributed micro-dots to the product packaging that remain invisible to the naked eye.
A centralized Brand Monitoring System (BMS) can then be used by the customer, using a mobile app, to scan and check whether the product is authentic or not. Such solutions can even be used in conjunction with overt solutions like QR codes and barcodes discussed above. This will ensure customers trust the visible identifiers but also get access to secure protection with invisible and tamper-proof solutions.
Counter the Counterfeits With AlpVision
The dangers of the counterfeiting plague are more pronounced when it comes to the health of our furry friends. With fatal consequences on the table, the fight against fake pet food needs to be concerted and incessant. Manufacturers need to go above and beyond existing norms and introduce highly secure anti-counterfeiting protection to their products.
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This document can assist brand owners to choose the most appropriate verification solution for their business.