Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Marketing at its brightest: the LOLCats edition

If you ever watch any of the commercial channels, you might have noticed a new series of adverts for Iams cat food, with a number of our feline friends saying: ‘I am not a vegetarian’.

And of course, cats are most certainly not veggies. Dogs, like us, are omnivores, but cats are straightforward carnivores. They need animal protein. That’s what they have evolved to require.

So the Iams ad is rather heartening, as it stresses that Iams has much more protein than other products.

Now let’s start by pointing out that Iams is not a budget product. Quite the contrary. We’re talking £5.39 for a kilo at Ocado at present, which, as part of its ‘low price promise’, means that it’s no more expensive than the same product at tesco.com.

According to the packet, that size will do one cat for 15 days. Or three cats for five days, in a household such as ours.

Everything on the packet just reeks of expertise and quality.

It was “developed with vetinarians”, apparently. It’s “good for life”.

The packet in front of me talks of “proactive health” for adult cats, “with wild ocean fish and chicken”. That “wild” incidentally, is in smaller letters than the rest of that bit.

There’s plenty more, though.

“Chicken and fish for strong muscles”, it declares. “Prebiotics and beet pulp for healthy digestion” – oh, those lovely whatever-they-are-biotics! “Antioxidants to support a strong immune system” and “7 essential nutrients for a healthy heart”.

And that’s just on the front of a bag – there’s barely a space that doesn’t continue the same message.

So let’s look at what’s actually inside, remembering the maxim that pet food is subject to more rules etc than human food.

Sticking with that wild ocean fish and chicken, I decided that, rather than type out what was on the bag that I have in my possession, I’d do a cut and paste from Ocado’s site (where I purchased it). This is usually entirely reliable.

This is what came up:

“Chicken meal, maize, wheat, animal fat, ocean fish (>4%), dried beet pulp, chicken digest, dried whole egg, potassium chloride, brewer's dried yeast, calcium carbonate, fish oil, DL-methionine, sodium chloride.”

Something struck me as odd, so I looked again at the actual bag. This is what it said:

“Dried chicken and turkey (35%, a natural source of taurine), maize, wheat, animal fat, rice, ocean fish meal (4.4%), dried beet pulp (1.9%), hydrolysed animal proteins, fructooligosaccharides (0.69%), potassium chloride, brewer’s dried yeast, dried whole egg, calcium carbonate.”

So let’s stick with this.

“Fructooligosaccharides”? What on Earth is that? A little research reveals that it’s an artificial sweetener. Okay, it’s a small percentage, but cats do not need sweeteners – artificial or otherwise.

“Beet pulp” sounds fairly healthy though. Ah, well according to Felicity Lawrence, it’s a by-product of sugar production.

Now to be fair to Iams (a Proctor & Gamble company, just so you know), it does seem that that subsidiary’s products do contain more animal protein than others.

I vary my cats’ diet around. At present, they’re just finishing a bag of Purina One Natural Balance. Oh, you wouldn’t believe how healthy that bag looks. It’s “rich in ocean fish” – 18% – and has some “dried poultry protein” and, of course, maize and oats and brown rice and so forth. And blackcurrants, as an antioxidant.

This, to be clear, is a Nestlé product.

Why, oh why, do cats need sugar or artificial sweeteners or even the leftovers from sugar production?

Why do these animals, which Iams in its adverts stress, are most decidedly not vegetarians, need all sorts of grains and rice?

It couldn’t possibly be partly because, as Lawrence explains in Eat Your Heart Out, US agricultural subsidies mean that we have a surfeit of grains going cheap, could it?

As Dr John Briffa points out in Escape the Diet Trap, we tend to think grains are innately healthy, but don’t forget that that is precisely what geese and ducks are fed to fatten their livers up for foie gras, not something containing fat.

We shifted our cats to dried food precisely because the vet told us it was healthier.

Now, looking back, I remember how our locum vet at the time didn’t consider anything about Mack’s condition apart from getting me to buy his food – Iams or something similar – directly from the vet, and having a bit of dental work for him.

The fact that my boy was seriously ill with kidney disease – which I didn’t know at the time – was clearly not the main issue.

And that, as only a very slight aside, should tell us something about the nature and priorities of privatised healthcare.

Now I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would think that the attachment that I – and many others – have to their cats is bonkers.

And that’s fine. They’re absolutely entitled to think that.

But with feline diabetes figures rising, I’m frankly appalled to find that what I thought was sensible and healthy is not necessarily the case.

And who the bloody hell feeds sugar and/or artificial sweeteners to a cat, unless they’re trying to get that cat addicted to a certain foodstuff?

Shame on you, Iams – and you’re not even the worst.


  1. Hi! I work for Iams. I saw your tweet which brought me to your blog post. I'm not sure where you found your information about fructooligosaccharides and beet pulp, but I can tell you that you do not have a full understanding of the significance of these ingredients and how they work in our diets.

    Fructooligosaccharides, or FOS, is a naturally occurring fiber that provides digestive and immunity benefits. Research has shown that 70% of a pet’s immune system lies within the digestive tract. Natural prebiotics like FOS can help strengthen your pet’s defenses. FOS is readily and selectively broken-down by certain beneficial bacterial species in the gastrointestinal tract. In dogs and cats, the most important of these include Bifid bacterium and Lactobacillus. Conversely, certain species of undesirable or pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, Clostridium, and E. coli do not efficiently metabolize FOS. As a result, feeding FOS promotes the proliferation of desirable bacterial populations and inhibits the growth of undesirable species. Iams was the first company to include FOS in pet food for digestive health and has been using FOS in products since 1994.

    By definition, beet pulp is that material that remains after the sugar is removed from sugar beets. Therefore, beet pulp contains no sugar. Beet pulp is a source of fiber in dog and cat diets. It is a moderately fermentable fiber, and provides bulk for normal feces and provides energy for cells lining the intestine. It also enhances intestinal health and is broken down by intestinal bacteria to provide short-chain fatty acids, an energy source for intestinal cells.

    Both of these fiber sources help by working inside the digestive tract to promote healthy digestion and strong defenses. That's why we include them in our diets.

    Thanks for your interest in our products.

    1. Hi Bev.

      First of all, thank you for responding – and respect to Iams for doing so.

      Some of my information was from Felicity Lawrence's 'Eat Your Heart Out' and some was from good old Google.

      But I think it's interesting what you have addressed and what you have not addressed here. So for instance, you have not approached the issue of a cat food including rice and grains.

      Now, as I think I've been clear in pointing out, Iams is not remotely the worst product in this sense, but grains/rice are not natural cat foods, which – at the very least – risks making a mockery of the Iams advertising campaign that is predicated on the basis of 'I am not a vegetarian'.

      After all, for a cat, 'I am not a grain eater'.

      But I repeat: thank you for coming here and responding. That deserves respect.