For 40 years, Pedigree's signature yellow tins and bags have dominated every supermarket pet isle across the country and their relentless advertising has drilled their brand so far into our collective consciousness that, for many of us, when we think of dog food, we think of Pedigree.
Pedigree is the UK's most popular brand of dog food. In fact, it has been the nation's number one food for several decades. Clearly then, they must be doing something right... right?
Well, what they are doing right is marketing. Pedigree spend many millions of pounds on advertising, product positioning and event sponsorship every year in the UK alone. Before the 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed' controversy in 2008, Pedigree were probably best known for being the main sponsor of Crufts (a deal said to be worth £500,000 a year) which has helped to give Pedigree a certain prestige in dog owners' minds. Of course, I have nothing specifically against advertising dog foods but what you have to remember is that a pound spent on marketing is one less being spent on what actually matters... the ingredients.
Reading down the the ingredient list, it's easy to see why so many canine nutritionists wince at the very mention of Pedigree. All of the ingredients are listed as broad umbrella terms like 'cereals', 'meat and animal derivatives', 'derivatives of vegetable origin' and so on. These terms are so broad that virtually any vaguely edible substance you could think of would fall into one category or another making the entire list virtually meaningless.
Granted, Pedigree do shed a speck of light on their ingredients with bracketed information like "including 4% chicken", for example, but all of the provided percentages put together only come to 7.1% of the food. The other 92.9% is a complete mystery.
Providing almost no information on what goes into a product helps a pet food manufacturer in two ways: First, it helps to obscure information and ingredients that might put customers off and, second, it allows the formula to be changed as often as the manufacturer likes depending on what ingredients are cheap at the that time. Our advice is always to look for as much clarity in labelling as possible and to leave foods with broad, ambiguous terms like these well alone.
The only thing we can be absolutely sure about is that Pedigree contains artificial additives. Sodium Tripolyphosphate or STPP is often cited as a mild skin irritant but much more worrying is the unspecified 'preservatives' and 'antioxidants' at the end of the list. These two terms can be used for a whole host of additives including several of the most controversial ingredients found in pet foods. Since it is not made clear which preservatives and antioxidants are being used, these alone are grounds for steering clear of the food as far as we're concerned.
Pedigree's one saving grace is that it no longer appears to contain any artificial colourings which, to their credit, is a huge step in the right direction.
Conclusion: Back-to-back controversial ingredients, almost no labelling clarity and unspecified artificial preservatives. Our advice is to leave it on the shelf.