We discovered bags of dog food 5 months - yes 5 MONTHS - out of date on the shelves of one retailer and we got banned from coming into another retailer's store.
All on our first day of research!
Our concept was pretty simple; go on an adventure and visit some local pet stores; chat with the staff about the products and services offered by that store and get their top 3 pick of the best food offered; maybe do a photo op or two. Nothing too serious, after all we are not W5 or The 5th Estate.
Then we would take that information and make up 2 blogs; the first blog comparing the top brands of dog food and a blog at a later date called "Into the Pet Store" where we would talk about our visit to the different stores.
Sounds pretty simple. But where Herman & Betty are concerned, nothing is ever simple.
Pet Smart is a very large store offering a huge selection of foods, so we were completely confident that we could easily locate several foods to begin the test. The dog food section encompasses 2 full aisles. We easily located the organic/holistic section and got ready to get our hands "ahem" paws dirty.
And dirty they got much to our amazement!
Our first choice was ORGANIX Weight Management Adult Dog Food - Organic Chicken, Brown Rice and Flaxseed . The food is offered by Castor & Pollux Natural Petworks.
Our human was really surprised when she pulled it off the shelf and realized that it was covered in dust and dirt ! The bag had to be wiped off to take its picture.. and no it wasn't on the bottom shelf either. Poor housekeeping skills aside, the food itself looked very promising. So after snapping a shot of the front, the bag was turned over to review the ingredient list and that is when things went into the dog house.
Very clearly printed in black lettering was the best before date: 22 Nov 2014
Just to clarify the date we were there was : March 23 2015
My human was shocked. At first she thought she mis-read the best before date; after all no store is going to have product sitting there 5 months out of date right? Wrong.
A store employee came along at that moment and our human stopped her and very quietly pointed out the issue. You will never believe the response that was given:
" Its ok; it doesn't sell anyways. But thanks for telling me."
Now every store gets busy and things get overlooked. It happens in grocery stores, health stores, department stores, pet stores, anywhere that perishable items are sold. Mistakes happen, people get busy; hey its a human thing. If this had been the first week of December 2014 it would have been easier to write this off as an oversight.
But 5 months is a long time. Its almost half a year.
It wasn't just one bag that got shoved aside or pushed to the back. It was numerous bags on a shelf.
This is an organic food supposedly manufactured without preservatives, so that means that the due dates need to be monitored closely, especially if; as the employee pointed out; the food does not sell well at that location.
We contacted Pet Smart that day through their Online Customer Contact Form.
In the form we explained the issue with the expired food and the employee's reaction. We also explained that this visit was an information gathering session for a blog and their response would be posted in our blog
A return email was received that day from Adam at Pet Smart Customer Care. He informed us that he had filed a customer complaint on our behalf. We could expect a reply from the Management Team in 3-5 business days.
Now that we had an email address and a human contact we sent back a reply, explaining that we were writing a blog and had a deadline of March 30 2015. We would like to include Pet Smart's response to the issue in the blog, so would it be possible to have someone address this issue before the 5th business day?
Two hours later we got a reply. This time it was Jeffrey at Pet Smart Customer Care. He politely informed us that we had only contacted them that day and a response would be received before end of business on March 30 2015 which was the 5th business day. No mention of the pet food, the employee or the blog. It seemed that we had hit on an email version of a call centre.
While we waited for Pet Smart's Management Team to review the issue and get back to us, we contacted Castor Pollux the manufacturer of the pet food.
A little bit of research uncovered that Castor Pollux was started by Shelley Gunton and her husband Brian Connolly over 20 years ago in response to their desire to feed their own dog a healthy, organic food. Castor Pollux Natural Petworks was launched in 2000. The ORGANIX brand debuted in 2003 and Natural Ultramix in 2004.
In 2012 Merrick Pet Care Inc. acquired Castor Pollux and expanded on existing lines.
Once again we submitted an online form, outlining the issue and the response by the store employee.
Imagine our surprise when the next morning we received an email from Stephanie DeHay, Pet Parent Relations, Merrick Pet Care Inc. She not only apologized for the issue, but offered to send us samples of the food in question and any other brand we were interested in. Stephanie acknowledged that Pet Smart is one of their largest vendors; but that did not relieve them from due diligence in monitoring best before dates. Stephanie stated she would alert the Territory Sales Manager immediately.
We commend Merrick Pet Care on their prompt and business like response. In reality, none of this was their fault; no pet food manufacturer has control over the way their product is presented by the vendor. Perhaps their only downfall was that the Territory Manager was not diligent enough in ensuring the product line was displayed and monitored appropriately.
With Merrick Pet Care contacting us within 24 hours of our email; we eagerly awaited a reply from the Management Team at Pet Smart. But the days passed and nothing.
Remember, Jeffrey assured us we would receive a response by end of business day on March 30th 2015.
April 2 2015 - we still did not have a reply. So another email was sent. Remember this seems to be an email call centre type of system, so in all probability we will not get Jeffrey or Adam.
Several hours later we did get a reply; this time from Bradley. He informed us that our issue had been sent to the appropriate Management Team for response and we would need to wait an additional 3-5 business days. He did apologize for the inconvenience and thanked us for our patience.
As everyone knows the next day - April 3 2015 - was Good Friday. A statutory holiday in North America. On Saturday, April 4th at 10:00 am we received a call from the Manager of Pet Smart, Peterborough. Incredibly he had received an email on April 3 - Good Friday - from Pet Smart Head Office; giving him 24 hours to contact us.
24 hours! Wow!
Yet it had taken Pet Smart Head Office 8 business days - 11 days - to contact him! And then someone had sent the email on a statutory holiday when presumably he would be off work.
The Manager of Pet Smart, Peterborough seemed genuinely upset with the issue and the response by his employee. He apologized and said he was going to address both the housekeeping issue and the response with his staff.
The only question he could not answer was : How did this happen?
He did assure us it would not happen again.
Its an extremely embarrassing situation.
We can appreciate that a manager relies on his/her staff to carry out duties and responsibilities; we also appreciate that large companies like Pet Smart have protocols, procedures and standards that their stores are required to follow and uphold. It is assumed that the store shelves are subjected to some form of cleaning, sorting and general tidying. Yet all of the bags of ORGANIX - not just the "diet" in question - were filthy dirty. The product was located at the end of a well traveled aisle and clearly visible to customers and staff alike.
We understand that sometimes things fall through the cracks and get overlooked and thankfully no pet consumed the product.
But still it comes down to the fact that for 5 months these bags sat on the shelf, untouched and unchecked. Even if no one thought to look at the due date, someone should have noticed that the product was becoming dusty, dirty and very unsightly. No one did.
Then when we contacted Pet Smart with a very valid issue they could not even respond within their own allotted time frame. They required a follow up email from us before a directive was issued on a statutory holiday to the manager of the local store.
So inspite of the apologies and assurances, there is one thing that we just can't get past :
These bags sat for 5 months gathering dust and dirt without any store employee noticing or doing anything about it and their Head Office required a push to address the situation. A very scary situation.
What started out as a fun research project for the 2 Crazy Cresteds turned into a rather disturbing glimpse into the retail pet store business.
And we haven't told the story of the Pet Store that banned us yet !!!
Stay tuned for that story and also an interview with a lady who has fed the Raw Diet for 15 years