Today’s pet parents demand high-quality products from a brand they can trust. The standards are higher than ever for a clear, compliant dog food label. In this blog post, we unpack the crucial elements you need on your bag.
There are two audiences to keep in mind when writing a dog food label: pet parents and AAFCO.
A clear dog food label helps pet parents make an informed decision about their dog’s food. Label clarity has increasingly become a priority over the past few years. Pet parents are more concerned about what’s in the bag, from where ingredients are sourced to how natural a formula is. If consumers can tell your dog food is safe and nutritionally balanced, they are more likely to choose your brand over another.
While the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has no statutory authority to regulate pet products, it does establish the standards for complete and balanced pet foods.
Most states follow AAFCO model regulations, but the exact language and interpretation can vary. The following elements will help you write a clear, uniform dog food label according to the AAFCO standards—but be sure to cross-reference the requirements of the state the bag will be registered in.
How to Write a Dog Food Label
A product name is more than just clever marketing. Depending on how a product is worded, a certain percentage of key ingredients must be referenced. For example, if you name your product “Chicken and Rice Dinner,” the formula must have up to at least 25 percent chicken and rice. But if you name it “Dog Food with Chicken,” the formula only has to be at least 3 percent chicken.
The bag label and overall packaging design must match with the intended species and age. Not only do you have to specify what kind of animal your food is intended for (i.e. dogs vs. cats), you also must indicate which stage of life. For example, you cannot put an image of an adult dog on kibble intended for puppies.
For certain animals, like dogs, specific nutrition requirements must be met – and a specific order in which the nutrients must be listed. The basic requirement: list the minimum claim of crude protein and crude fat and the maximum claim of crude fiber and moisture.
Many pet food brands choose to include additional guarantees. For example, if you claim that your product is a “good source of zinc,” zinc must be listed on the Guaranteed Analysis. And, while AAFCO does not require Omega-3 fatty acids, you can include them on the guaranteed analysis—but with an asterisk indicating “not required” or “not recognized as an essential nutrient by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.”
In general, you must order ingredients by weight. The first few ingredients listed are the major ingredients, bearing recognizable animal or plant names. The remaining minor ingredients usually supply the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients.
The most common primary ingredients are animal-sourced materials, including:
- Meat by-products
- Poultry by-products
- Meat meal
- Meat and bone meal
- Animal by-product meal
- Poultry by-product meal
- Poultry meal
But there are a few grey areas with other ingredients. For example, you can add descriptors to corn, like “ground corn” or “dried corn,” but you can’t reference a brand name.
There’s also a grey area when it comes to listing vitamins and minerals. In some states, you can group them like this:
Vitamins (Vitamin 1, Vitamin 2, etc.), minerals (Mineral 1, Mineral 2, etc.).
But some states prohibit grouping vitamins and minerals. For example, Kentucky requires the guaranteed analysis states detailed vitamin content—Vitamin A, D, or E in international units per kilogram, Vitamin B12 in milligrams or micrograms per kilogram, and all other vitamins in milligrams per kilogram.
Also, vitamins are typically listed by their chemical name. To help pet parents understand your dog food label, you can put the Vitamin type—like Vitamin B1—in parentheses after the chemical name.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
One of the most important claims on a dog food label is the nutritional adequacy statement. This statement indicates that the dog food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage (gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance or all life stages) or if the food is intended for supplemental feeding only. The state as well as the pet food manufacturer must verify this statement.
The nutritional adequacy statement is important because it helps pet parents select food that meets the needs of their pet. So, you don’t want to misrepresent your product by writing the wrong statement – or by placing it in an area that your consumer can’t easily find.
For a dog food label, you can use one of these three different statements:
#1. [Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for [Life Stage].
#2. Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [Life Stage].
#3. [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [Life Stage] and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.
Or, if your pet food does not meet the customary standards for complete and balanced nutrition, you should claim:
#4. This product is intended for intermittent or supplementary feeding only.
Net Quantity Statement
The dog food label must clearly indicate how much is in the bag by weight and volume. The net quantity statement will help the pet parent as they compare products to purchase.
Calorie Statement & Feeding Instructions
The bag must include a calorie statement on a kilocalories per kilogram basis, and appropriate feeding instructions based on that calorie statement, the dog’s weight, and the recommended number of calories the dog should consume per day.
At the very least, the feeding instructions should include verbiage such as “feed # cups per # pounds of body weight daily.” While other factors beyond weight can influence food intake (a gestating or lactating dog would be fed 2-3x more), these guidelines are a good starting place for the pet parent.
Also, sometimes kibble can be less dense, meaning there’s more air inside. A puffier kibble like this takes up more space in a bag, requiring pet parents to feed their dog more. Clear instructions will help the pet parent understand why.
Contact Info for Manufacturer/Distributor
Lastly, you need to include contact information for the manufacturer and distributor. Pet parents need a way to contact you if they come across any issues.
One More Thing: Hire A Regulatory Expert
When it comes to registering your bag in the state, the person reviewing your bag only sees the pet food label’s information, not the formula itself. If they find anything that’s listed incorrectly or insufficiently, they will kick it back to whoever registered the bag to update it. But they can only catch so many inaccuracies.
That’s why it’s important to have a regulatory person on your team that knows the ins and outs of pet food labeling, making sure your brand is accurate and trustworthy. It will only make selling to pet parents even smoother.
More and more pet parents are taking the time to read dog food labels. They care about their pets and want to make the best decision about what to feed them. It’s important to write labels in a clear and compliant manner. If consumers can understand how your product works for their pet, they are more likely to select it.
Alphia helps partners develop market-leading pet food from concept to distribution—including ensuring AAFCO compliance. Partner with Alphia today.